Few Patriots fans can forget the 2003 opener against the Buffalo Bills, which the Patriots lost 31–0 just days after releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy. (This was when ESPN analyst Tom Jackson proclaimed "this team hates its coach.")
That was also the last time the Patriots lost a home opener.
Which Patriot most earned a game ball this week?
In 2006 and 2009 the Patriots eked out close wins against the Bills—the 2009 victory memorably required kicker Stephen Gostkowski's recovery of a fumbled kick return in the closing minutes.
So it's little surprise that the 2013 Patriots, with an almost completely new set of skill players, struggled against the Bills, needing to come from behind in the closing minutes to pull out the win, 23–21.
Five players stood out for their work against Buffalo and deserve game balls. First, here are the runners-up for Patriots Week 1 MVP:
Running back Shane Vereen
After fellow running back Stevan Ridley was benched after an untouched fumble in the second quarter that was immediately returned for a touchdown, the Patriots turned to Vereen, a second-round pick in 2011. Vereen responded with the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, racking up 101 yards on just 14 carries. He also added 58 yards on seven receptions, for a net average of 7.6 yards per touch.
He didn't score any touchdowns, but he came up big when the Patriots needed him.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman
Although he did have a couple of drops in the end zone, Edelman, who is playing for near veteran-minimum money (per spotrac.com), did score both of New England's touchdowns, helping Tom Brady extend his passing touchdown streak to 49 games. He finished with 79 yards on seven receptions, and a pretty good Gronk spike impression.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington
Arrington is the second-highest paid player in the Patriots secondary, and he earned his pay today: both of Edelman's touchdowns came after Arrington forced Buffalo fumbles. He did have a couple of lapses in coverage, but giving the offense multiple short fields is always cause for celebration.
That brings me to the final two players, whom I personally will declare co-MVPs for the week.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Unlike Welker, who scored two touchdowns for the Denver Broncos, Amendola didn't score any touchdowns. (On the other hand, Amendola didn't fumble in the red zone, either.)
But his return to the field to help the Patriots secure the win after leaving before halftime with a groin injury helped silence critics, according to Tom Curran of CSNNE.com. Amendola led all receivers in the game with 10 catches for 104 yards. And then there's this stat from The Boston Globe's Ben Volin:
Stat of the Day: Of Danny Amendola's 10 catches, 9 went for first downs, and 7 were third-down conversions. Wow.—Ben Volin (@BenVolin) September 8, 2013
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski had a shaky preseason, missing several field goals. But in this game—where every point turned out to be critical—Gostkowski was perfect, going 3-for-3, including the game-winning kick with five seconds left on the clock.
Gostkowski did more than just put points on the board, though. His six kickoffs were impressiver: two of the six went through the end zone, three more turned into touchbacks, and the sixth was muffed, forcing Buffalo's T. J. Graham to try and return it; Graham was tackled at the Buffalo 12-yard line.
Week 2 brings the Patriots' home opener against the New York Jets. It's a short week, as the two teams open the NFL Network's slate of Thursday Night Football games. With luck, there'll be more Patriot game balls this Friday.