Devin McCourty’s play was of great concern earlier this season. But when push came to shove, McCourty was there to make the big play that mattered.
McCourty picked off Fitzpatrick’s pass at the end of the game, holding off the Bills’ ferocious comeback and closing up the win for New England.
But things weren’t all rosy for the defense on Sunday.
The defense allowed three 80-plus yard touchdown drives and essentially kept the Bills in the game one their own. Vince Wilfork and Devin McCourty came up with a pair of huge turnovers, but aside from them the defense was back to its old mediocre ways.
But where the defense found trouble, Brady found success. He completed 23 of 38 passes for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The ground game afforded the Patriots with some good fortune, too.
Stevan Ridley rushed for 98 yards on the ground, 77 coming in the second half, and Danny Woodhead served his typical versatile role and scored a pair of touchdowns to give the Patriots an early cushion.
In the end, it wasn’t pretty but the end result is all that matters, and the Patriots came out on top with the 37-31 win.
There’s plenty of analysis to come from this game, so keep tuned into NESN.com and be sure to follow Patriots beat writer Luke Hughes @LukeFHughes on Twitter for all the latest.
Fourth Quarter, 2:10, Patriots 34-31: The Patriots really needed a touchdown to put this game away, but instead they only came away with a field goal.
Gostkowski’s third field goal of the afternoon put them up 37-31, but with the defense looking as putrid as it has on the whole today there’s no comfort in giving the ball back to Mannning, err Fitzpatrick.
Wilfork and McCourty have been great all day, but Mayo and Spikes will need to step up if this figures to be any sort of late game stand for the win
Fourth Quarter, 7:10, Patriots 34-31: The Patriots making yet another mediocre quarterback look like they belong in Canton, Ohio.
I’ll give credit to Wilfork and McCourty for playing so well today, but aside from those two the defense has been atrocious.
The Bills have gained 416 yards and Fitzpatrick has thrown for 273 and two touchdowns. Spiller and Jackson have also run for 161 yards on the ground, the most the Patriots have allowed to any team all season.
It’s bad enough that the secondary can’t cover a paper bag with plastic, but it’s even worse when you can’t contain the run either.
Fourth Quarter, 9:10, Patriots 34-24: The Bills were pushing toward the end zone once again, but the Patriots defense finally toughened up.
McCourty was the one in on the forced fumble, and the Patriots were fortunate to get the ball back and keep Buffalo from cutting this lead back to one score.
The Patriots defense has been making opportune plays like that all year and there was just another example of a big time play from a big time player.
Fourth Quarter, 14:10, Patriots 34-24: Just when the Patriots need some offensive relief to ease the defensive woes, Brady delivers.
Well, technically at least, Gostkowski is the one who delivered, but Brady worked the Patriots down the field and got them in position to kick the 48-yarder.
Since that terrible miss against the Cardinals at the end of the game in Week 2, Gostkowski has missed just two kicks and has hit six beyond 40 yards.
End Third Quarter, Patriots 31-24: Tom Brady continues to be terrific with crisp, precise passes, but the Patriots defense just can’t hold Fitzpatrick down.
After three quarters, Fitzpatrick has completed 19 of 25 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown. I’m actually a proponent of Fitzpatrick, because I think he’s a talented quarterback on a bad team. But this is ridiculous.
Three 80-plus yard scoring drives, this defense needs to shape up.
Third Quarter, 1:37, Patriots 31-24: Another 80-plus yard drive, another touchdown against this Patriots defense. Ugh.
After the pass rush made big strides on the Bills first two drives of the half, they were non-existent to end the quarter and the Bills capitalized with an 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive in a little over five minutes.
These long, drawn out drives are becoming a serious issue for New England, as Buffalo now has three of them today.
If Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington can’t cover these Bills receivers then how do they ever expect to contain Andre Johnson or even Brian Hartline later this season. This secondary has reverted back to its terrible ways and the defensive line has been as inconsistent as Mitt Romney’s political stances.
Third Quarter, 6:33, Patriots 31-17: Danny Woodhead may be 5-foot-7, maybe, but he runs like the wind. So height doesn’t really matter.
While Woodhead’s running is what ultimately punched in that 18-yard touchdown, Brady’s precision on that pass was what made it possible.
The Brady to Welker connection is always harped on as the Patriots bread and butter, but the more that Woodhead gets involved the more it seems his rapport with Brady is just as good.
Third Quarter, 8:42, Patriots 24-17: After a so-so first half by the defense, Jermaine Cunningham led the attack on Ryan Fitzpatrick to kick off the second half.
Cunningham got to Fitzpatrick for the Pats’ third sack of the game. He now has 2.5 on the year.
With Cunningham helping add pressure, alongside Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, the Patriots defensive line is looking as stout as it has in quite some time.
2:45 p.m.: The Patriots are ahead 24-17 at the half, but they’ve obviously been struggling in certain areas.
So, with the second half on the horizon, who needs to step up most?
2:40 p.m. (Around the League): With the Patriots heading into the half with a 24-17 lead let’s sneak away for a few minutes and take a look around the league.
The Vikings have put a spanking on the Lions, so far, and it’s been primarily behind the running of Adrian Peterson. With 37 first-half yards and a touchdown, Peterson eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth straight season tying Robert Smith as the only Vikings ever to do that. Peterson has been truly exceptional this season, especially coming off of such a gruesome knee injury. He deserves some MVP buzz, particularly if the Vikes keep pushing toward the playoffs.
The other big story of the day has to be the massive dump the Giants are dropping in Cincinnati. The Bengals have just manhandled the Giants thus far, and with a 17-6 lead New York better turn things around and fast. Or else they’ll be in big trouble.
End Second Quarter, Patriots 24-17: Vince Wilfork got the party started for New England with a big strip-sack to give the Patriots offense some life. But while the offense has emerged, the defense has apparently sunk faster than the Titanic.
After posting a 17-3 lead to start, the Patriots defense allowed two consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives and made Fitzpatrick look like a Hall of Fame-worthy quarterback.
Luckily, Brady has done his part, completing 11 of 18 for 114 yards and a touchdown. But if the defense doesn’t figure out how to contain a mediocre quarterback and a set of good, but not great, receivers. There might be some wholesale changes coming in the second half, and Kyle Arrington could be the recipient of a nice warm spot on the bench.
Second Quarter, 0:31, Patriots 24-17: The Patriots defense looked so promising to start, but they’ve just fallen off considerably since that Wilfork strip-sack.
On two consecutive drives, the Bills have powered downfield for 80 yards en route to a touchdown. Now New England’s lead is just seven, 24-17, and there could be even more problems coming as the Bills get the ball to start the second half.
This secondary needs to stop making Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Peyton Manning, and keep Scott Chandler from appearing to be anything like Rob Gronkowski. This is absurd.
Second Quarter, 2:07, Patriots 24-10: Brady has been good, but the refs have been the real spark the Patriots offense has needed.
Buffalo now has 10 penalties for 115 yards on the day, and even uncatchable balls are now being flagged as penalties.
The Bills haven’t helped their cause any, especially Stephen Gilmore with that atrocious pushoff, but seriously these refs are atrocious.
Either way, Gronk hauls in the incredible 1-yard TD from Brady, then proceeds to spike it 25 yards up the field. Needless to say, Gronk likes touchdowns.
Second Quarter, 6:07, Patriots 17-10: Good grief, just when I start saying nice things about the Patriots defense. Boom, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller happen.
The Bills went 80 yards on six plays in 3:06 and just ravaged the NFL’s eight-best rush defense for chunk after chunk after chunk.
C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson make quite the dynamic duo of backs, sort of like thunder and lightning, and 81 yards on just 12 carries is clear proof of that.
Big Vince and Kyle Love need to press down on those blocks and clog those holes, or else the Patriots could be in big trouble.
Second Quarter, 9:07, Patriots 17-3: Sound the alarm, Danny Woodhead is in the house.
Brady has been on point all day and just dipped and dunked his way downfield, using Gronk, Welker and Woodhead to get some points across — literally and figuratively.
Woodhead, who is the primary back in the no-huddle, has made slower linebackers look like they might as well use walkers all season. He just caught a pair of passes for 22 yards and then ran one in from 15 yards out to give the Patriots a dominant 17-3 lead.
Just like the cowbell, we need more Woodhead.
Second Quarter, 12:07, Patriots 10-3: The Bills continue to be their own worst enemy. As they have been all season.
Buffalo has now been flagged with seven penalties for 50 yards, most on offense, and have continually cost themselves field position.
Fortunately, for them at least, Rian Lindell booted a 41-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10-3. But if this trend keeps up they’ll be dead in the water in no time.
End First Quarter, Patriots 10-0: Vince Wilfork always gets attention for his stellar play, but he’s been an absolute ball hog — a little play off the old ball hawk — this season.
Wilfork forced yet another fumble and immediately provided a spark for the Patriots offense, giving them the ball inside the Bills’ 10-yard line.
With Wilfork playing at such a high level not only are teams struggling to run on the Pats, but apparently they can’t pass the ball either. Big Vince is hungry and he’s just eating up turnovers — nom, nom, nom, nom.
Ok, that was weird — I know. But, for real, the Patriots are dominating with this 10-0 lead, so far. Now, can they secondary hold up?
First Quarter, 3:54, Patriots 10-0: The Patriots front seven have done their job time and again this season, and the pass rush is proving dominant yet again.
Vince Wilfork has had a nose for the ball almost weekly, and a big strip-sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick just continued that trend.
The offense capitalized off of the turnover, as well as a few questionable penalties, and Stevan Ridley pounded it in for the score.
Just as they’ve done all season, this opporunistic defense is giving life to the Patriots offense. As they say, the best offense is a good defense for the Patriots so far today. A big 10-0 lead and this could get ugly quick.
First Quarter, 6:04, Patriots 3-0: Tom Brady has been locked into the zone so far today, yet the Patriots continue to miss opportunities.
Those missed opportunities are what killed the Patriots during the first half of the season, and if Wes Welker’s botched touchdown and another drop by Deion Branch weren’t enough to convince you, then there will surely be plenty more where that came from.
Luckily, stephen Gostkowski nailed a 43-yard field goal to give the Patriots an early lead. But the three-point cushion should really be a seven-point lead.
First Quarter, 10:43: So, all the questions about Devin McCourty’s role on defense were answered on that first drive.
McCourty, who switched from corner to safety three games ago, is sticking at the safety spot even with Steve Gregory back in the secondary.
If McCourty’s at safety without newly-acquired Aqib Talib, then you’ve got to figure he’s going to keep at the position when Talib arrives.
12:55 p.m.: The last time the Patriots squared off against the Bills the result was a 52-28 blowout. But it wasn’t without some drama.
In round 2 of this heavyweight bout, there will be some big challenges facing the Patriots coming out of the gate.
Let’s take a look at some of the big storylines heading into this one.
1. Replacing Aaron — Injuries just keep piling up on the Patriots, but with Aaron Hernandez set to miss his third straight game who will step up? Daniel Fells has done a good job of blocking downfield but hasn’t been much of a threat in the passing game. Visanthe Shiancoe may be able to help that, though, as he makes his regular-season debut.
2. McCourty’s place — Devin McCourty has been an all-around leader, filling in for Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory in recent weeks. But with Gregory back and so many questions still to be answered on defense, will he be back out at safety or move back to his more natural corner. He’s done a great job up over the top, so maybe a permanent switch to safety is the best move.
3. Running away — Stevan Ridley has revitalized a once lost Patriots ground game, but will he, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead be able to keep up their high level of play in the second half of the season? Or will they burn out before it’s over? The Bills aren’t the greatest test, but seeing how the backs respond off the bye week will be an interesting nugget to keep an eye on.
Now, let’s watch some football.
12:31 p.m.: Visanthe Shiancoe is suited up and running around out on the field like a little ferret.
Oh yeah, that reminds me. Apparently, Shiancoe is a big fan of ferrets, at least considering this priceless photo from Andy Gray on Twitter.
Check it out.
Patriots tight end Visanthe Shiancoe poses with his two ferrets – Gee and Smoke: twitter.com/si_vault/statu…
— Andy Gray (@si_vault) November 8, 2012
11:41 a.m.: The Patriots will be without Aaron Hernandez on Sunday, but we already knew that. Now, who else won’t be suiting up against the Bills?
With Hernandez out, Shiancoe, who will make his season debut, and Gronk will be heavily relied upon to make up for the missing production at the tight end spot.
The other big name being left on the sidelines for this one is Patrick Chung, who will miss his third consecutive game with an ailing shoulder injury.
Chung’s absence continues to hinder the Patriots secondary, but Steve Gregory, who has also missed the past few weeks, will be back in action at safety. Gregory’s return adds some much-needed depth to the defensive backfield, but the big question will be if Devin McCourty will still be back there alongside him for a third consecutive game.
As for the Bills, old friend Mark Anderson is the big name out of action on his return to Foxboro. It will be interesting to see how the Bills pass rush does in his absence.
In the meantime, here’s the inactives for both sides.
QB Tarvaris Jackson,
CB Aaron Williams,
DB M Silva,
LB K Morrison,
OL Thomas Welch,
DE Chris Kelsay,
DE Mark Anderson
TE Aaron Hernandez,
S Patrick Chung,
LB Tracy White,
DE Trevor Scott,
CB Malcolm Williams,
DL Jake Bequette
11:25 a.m.: Tom Brady has been having a very good season. Yet, he’s not being mentioned in much of the MVP talk around the league.
While guys like Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Matt Ryan are all talked about weekly, Brady has performed something of a Houdini act this year. Usually a major player in the conversation, Brady has flown under the radar in recent weeks and it may be because of New England’s sub par 5-3 start.
With one of the best QB ratings, fifth most passing yards and a stellar 16-3 touchdown to interception ratio, Brady has been doing his part. But maybe another three-touchdown (four total) performance against the Bills will generate some buzz for the overlooked superstar.
10:30 a.m.: They’re back!
After a nice, long bye week that saw many Patriots players catch up on some much-needed rest, Tom Brady and the boys are back in Foxboro with an AFC East rival in for a visit.
The Bills (3-5) made the trip from Buffalo and are looking to spoil the Patriots homecoming. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson should be back on the field to give Ryan Fitzpatrick a legitimate deep threat, and a spotty Bills defense will be focused on shutting down Brady and the steam-rolling Patriots offense.
Brady will have the ever-reliable Rob Gronkowski available out in the open field, but fellow stud tight end Aaron Hernandez appears to be shelved for the second straight game with a bum ankle. Visanthe Shiancoe, who will wear No. 80, is set to take Hernandez’s place in the offense after being activated from the injured reserved list over the weekend.
With so many moving pieces coming back from a bye week, the Patriots will be looking to settle down early and not let the Bills put up another double-digit deficit before the half.
So, get geared up for game time and be sure to keep it locked here for all your latest news, notes and analysis for everything about your New England Patriots.