With the Patriots down 24-13 in the fourth quarter, a stat line flashed on the bottom of the screen of ESPN’s Monday Night Football. It reminded viewers that in November/December 2007, Tom Brady led four fourth quarter comebacks.
If Brady keeps up this type of magic, I may be making a lot of revisions to his top five clutch moments of all time.
The offense looked out-of- sync for most of the game leading up to the final quarter of play. Brady was hurried by the Bills’ speed rushers, who continually blew by Matt Light (aka “Todd” Light, as he was continually called by Ron Jaworski...) and forced a lot of pressure on the Patriots star quarterback.
On their first scoring drive of the fourth quarter, Brady continually picked up first downs by dumping off to Kevin Faulk, throwing good intermediate passes to Benjamin Watson, and by utilizing Wes Welker in the slot.
The drive was vintage Brady. Every play was a pass. Brady was 8-for-11 for 81 yards on the drive, and 11-for-14 for 112 yards and both of his touchdowns in the 4th quarter.
The score stood at 24-19 after a failed two-point conversion, which is still much more comfortable than 24-13.
Brady had the help of a huge turnover on special teams, but his first drive alone still gave them a chance to hold the Bills on defense and get the ball back on a punt.
What surprised me was the astonishing ability Brady had to find Moss on all sorts of routes. In routes, flat routes, button hooks, et al. were utilized in the Patriots offense.
With Brady back under center, this offense appears to be back to its 2007 formula. Brady was a whopping 39-for-53 for 378 yards on the night. Although the Patriots held the ball for a full 14 minutes longer than the Bills, that’s still a rather gaudy number for pass attempts in one game.
What about the Pats' defense?
They looked lost at times, and confused at others. They had a very difficult time reaching Trent Edwards all night, despite the Bills starting three brand new offensive linemen, marking only the second time in NFL history that a non-expansion team has done this (the first being the 1981 Redskins).
Edwards wasn’t picked off once, looked comfortable in the pocket, and was even allowed to scramble out two times for big yards. Despite having traded in a lot of their old players for new, fresh young athletes, it seems that the Patriots remain a bend-don’t-break defense that simply doesn’t have big play-ability. They can get the stops at times, yet they totally cave at other crucial moments.
The corners did an excellent job blanketing receivers in spite of the lack of rush, holding Lee Evans and Terrell Owens to a combined five catches for 71 yards; that’s good production for a No. 1 option, but for two receivers billed as top-flight options, that’s quite disappointing.
There’s no lack of intensity out of the players; Gary Guyton lit up Fred Jackson on a screen pass, jarring the ball loose in the process to force the incompletion. Brandon Meriweather continually lit up anyone who crossed the middle of the field. The Patriots’ defensive linemen and linebackers, when they were reaching Trent Edwards, were laying hard hits on him (although two of them got flagged).
They just need to make it a habit of reaching him more often. Too many times, I heard Mike Tirico say that the Pats were rushing three on passing downs. They need to be more aggressive than that, and utilize their speed on the outside with players like Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas.
If they can generate more of a pass rush, this defense could be one of the top-flight units in the NFL this season.
So what have we learned about both teams?
The Bills continue to drop the ball late in the game when they have a lead. This was a problem constantly last season, as we saw them choke in the 4th quarter numerous times.
The Patriots continue to come up clutch. As long as they have Tom Brady at the steering wheel, they can count on that much.