Final, Patriots 23-21: That was a close one.
The Patriots squeaked it out in the last seconds. It was a pretty terrible showing for most of the offensive players, but that’s a game last year’s team may not be able to win at the end. Danny Amendola was incredible, as was Shane Vereen, who may have won the starting running back job.
The defense was solid overall, save for some bad play by the safeties on touchdowns. Kenbrell Thompkins really struggled. Dan Connolly struggled on the offensive line, as well.
There’s going to be a lot of teaching moments for New England, who can’t get Rob Gronkowski back soon enough. We’ll have more here on NESN.com about the win, so stay tuned.
Fourth quarter, :05, Patriots 23-21: Stephen Gostkowski came up big when it mattered. The Patriots lead by two with five seconds left.
Fourth quarter, 2:00, Bills 21-20: Anything negative said by Patriots fans about Danny Amendola should be retracted. The slot receiver has been incredible.
The only players Brady should rely on at this point are Amendola, Edelman and Vereen.
Fourth quarter, 4:31, Bills 21-20: The Bills did exactly that, taking just 1:20 off the clock on their drive. The Patriots have the ball again.
The Patriots’ offense is lucky the defense has been so stout. Or that the Bills have been so bad.
Fourth quarter, 5:51, Bills 21-20: The Patriots better hope the Bills keep hurrying to snap the ball. There’s almost six minutes left to mount a comeback. The Patriots didn’t get far on their drive, as Brady and Thompkins still aren’t on the same page.
Unfortunately, Brady can’t throw to Edelman or Amendola on every play.
Fourth quarter, 8:50, Bills 21-20: The Bills haven’t played very smart in this one. They’re still rushing to the snap despite needing to take time off the clock, as Dan Dierdorf pointed out. A huge drop by Stevie Johnson on third-and-two ended the drive. The Patriots have the ball with almost nine minutes left.
Fourth quarter, 10:48, Bills 21-20: The Patriots should have taken the lead during that drive, but Kenbrell Thompkins couldn’t get his hands around a Tom Brady red zone throw. It’s been a terrible day overall for the New England receivers.
The offense, in general, will be coming away from this game with more questions than answers, win or lose.
End third quarter, Bills 21-17: Not sure anyone saw this coming, but if they did, they’re pretty smart. The Patriots have 15 minutes to regain the lead.
So far, the offense has been absolutely brutal. Tom Brady isn’t getting much help from his receivers, but the offensive line has struggled, too.
Third quarter, 1:24, Bills 21-17: If there’s a plus to that last drive by the Patriots, it’s that they didn’t take much time off the clock.
But, yeah, not a strong showing by the Patriots’ offense so far. Even the stars of the game, Edelman and Vereen, had drops in that drive from the one-yard line.
Third quarter, 1:24, Bills 21-17: The Bills were able to move the ball without much trouble on the Patriots’ defense, but New England finally stopped EJ Manuel on third down by getting some pressure on the rookie.
This is a big drive for the Patriots’ offense.
Third quarter, 4:12, Bills 21-17: After a marathon drive, Tom Brady fumbled the snap at the half-yard line. That hurts.
The Patriots’ rookie receivers continue to play like rookies. Kenbrell Thompkins caught the ball on a red zone pass but couldn’t get his feet in. Shane Vereen had a strong drive but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. The Bills should have the ball at the one-yard line.
UPDATE: The Bills have the ball where the play ended, at the 14-yard line.
Third quarter, 11:03, Bills 21-17: EJ Manuel just connected with Stevie Johnson for a diving touchdown catch. Kyle Arrington was in on the coverage, but he didn’t have any help from Devin McCourty over the top.
The play is being reviewed. If the point after is good, the Patriots will be down by four.
Danny Amendola did not leave the locker room, according to multiple reports.
UPDATE: The play was confirmed, and Danny Amendola came jogging out from the locker room in full uniform.
End half, Patriots 17-14: The game’s at the half, and the Patriots hold just a three-point lead. The undrafted rookies, Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld, have looked less than impressive, and the offensive line has had a tough time keeping Tom Brady upright.
The defense has looked good for the most part, but some miscommunication led to a last-minute touchdown from EJ Manuel to a wide-open Robert Woods. We’ll see if Danny Amendola is able to come back in for the second half after reaggravating his groin in the second quarter.
Second quarter, :34, Patriots 17-14: Somehow Robert Woods was wide open on a touchdown pass from EJ Manuel. That play makes this game, well, a game.
That one may have been on Steve Gregory, who was supposed to cover Woods in the deep half of the field.
Second quarter, :57, Patriots 17-7: That was an ugly interception for Zach Sudfeld. Yes. Sudfeld. Brady may get the negative tick on his stat line, but that one should be on Sudfeld, who bobbled the ball.
Second quarter, 1:11, Patriots 17-7: Some great play by Steve Gregory stalls the Bills’ drive. Buffalo had a terrible two-minute drive there. The Patriots get the ball back.
Second quarter, 1:55, Patriots 17-7: Who needs Danny Amendola when you have Julian Edelman? Edelman just got his second touchdown reception of the game.
If Amendola has to miss any time, the Patriots are very deep at slot receiver.
Second quarter, 2:00, Patriots 10-7: This won’t help the Danny Amendola detractors. He just limped off the field holding his groin. Amendola missed the last couple weeks of the summer with the injury.
Second quarter, 3:45, Patriots 10-7: Kyle Arrington has had a heck of a game so far. He just forced his second fumble of the game. He allowed the catch to Marquise Goodwin but then pulled the ball out as he dragged the rookie down.
Second quarter, 5:25, Patriots 10-7: Thompkins couldn’t get his feet in on a third-down pass from Brady, and the Patriots had to punt. LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen shared running back duties. Ridley was on the bench.
Second quarter, 8:25, Patriots 10-7: If the last play stands, the Patriots’ lead may be cut to 10-7. Stevan Ridley slipped on the turf and fumbled. Da’Norris Searcy took it back for a touchdown.
Ridley may have regained possession by the time he was touched, though. We’ll see what the refs say.
UPDATE: The call on the field was confirmed. Fumble. Touchdown.
Second quarter, 10:08, Patriots 10-0: Kyle Arrington has been the best Patriots player so far. He’s forced a fumble and had a really nice pass deflection on Stevie Johnson, who said no one can cover him.
Second quarter, 10:42, Patriots 10-0: The Patriots’ offensive line isn’t doing Brady any favors either, actually. Brady hasn’t had much time to move past his first read. It appears Dan Connolly is still recovering from his injury. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Marcus Cannon get some snaps.
Second quarter, 12:27, Patriots 10-0: The Patriots have had no problem stopping the Bills’ run game so far. And that was supposed to be Buffalo’s strength.
Buffalo’s offensive line has not been doing EJ Manuel or C.J. Spiller any favors.
Second quarter, 13:51, Patriots 10-0: No one picked up Da’Norris Searcy, and Tom Brady was sacked. Ryan Allen’s punt went just 19 yards. Zoltan Mesko may be smiling right now.
End first quarter, Patriots 10-0: The Patriots lead after the first quarter of 2013. So far, the connection between Brady and Amendola looks strong, as does the Patriots’ defense.
First quarter, 2:28, Patriots 10-0: An alarmingly dumb penalty from Cordy Glenn negated a first-down reception. The Bills couldn’t move the ball and had to punt to Julian Edelman.
Joe Vellano was the base defensive tackle for Tommy Kelly. Michael Buchanan came in on third down, as did Logan Ryan as the dime defensive back.
First quarter, 4:47, Patriots 10-0: Stephen Gostkowski’s first field goal of the season is good. The Patriots take a 10-0 lead.
Kenbrell Thompkins got mauled by Leodis McKelvin during that drive. McKelvin held him and had his arm in a vice. KT asked for pass interference and didn’t get it. It’s tough being a rookie.
First quarter, 8:30, Patriots 7-0: Alfonzo Dennard doesn’t look like he needed the preseason. He played a pass to Robert Woods perfectly and almost came away with the pick.
Brandon Spikes went to the locker room before the drive started, so Dont’a Hightower was playing middle linebacker. On third down, Michael Buchanan, all 255 pounds of him, played defensive tackle for Tommy Kelly. The Patriots like using a defensive end in that position on third down.
Julian Edelman was back for the punt. New England has good field position after the Bills got a facemask penalty.
First quarter, 10:46, Patriots 7-0: That didn’t take long. Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman for the team’s first touchdown of the season.
First quarter, 11:26: The Doug Marrone era did not start out well. On the second play of the Bills’ season, C.J. Spiller fumbled the ball. Kyle Arrington forced it, and Tommy Kelly recovered.
New England started out in a nickel defense with Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib all starting.
First quarter, 12:14: The Patriots’ first offensive drive had its ups and downs. The Brady-to-Amendola connection looked strong, but Ridley struggled, the offensive line allowed pressure, and Thompkins stumbled on his first NFL target.
Josh Boyce came in for the team’s first three-receiver set. Julian Edelman came in on 3rd-and-10 in a four-wide set. Ryan Allen’s first punt was a beauty. He pinned Buffalo inside the 10.
First quarter, 13:47: Well, it didn’t take long for Stevan Ridley’s first fumble. It came on his first carry. The Bills are challenging to see if he was down by contact. If he was, they’ll be able to take a few yards off the play.
Tom Brady’s first completion was to Danny Amendola. Amendola, Thompkins, James Develin, Ridley and Michael Hoomanawanui were the starters.
First quarter, 15:00: The Bills won the toss and chose to defer. The Patriots will receive the opening kickoff.
Matthew Slater and LeGarrette Blount are back to receive the kick.
12:50 p.m.: We’re just 10 minutes from game time now. It’s been a long but enjoyable preseason, but it’s definitely time for the season to get started.
The Patriots have a great track record under Bill Belichick in the season opener, and today’s game should be no different My prediction: 34-14 New England.
12:30 p.m.: The Patriots are running through warmups right now, and Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib are the starting cornerbacks, according to multiple reports up in Buffalo.
Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald tweeted that Kenbrell Thompkins was one of the starting outside receivers.
12:17 p.m.: My buddy Nick Underhill from MassLive.com reports Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were back returning punts during warmups. He also said Ryan Allen is crushing the ball, punting the ball between 50 to 55 yards with 4.50 hang time.
The Bills announced Justin Rogers will start at cornerback and Da’Norris Searcy will start at safety. That means the Patriots will have some mismatches to exploit. Thompkins and Josh Boyce may be unknowns, but they’re good players, as is Edelman. All three can beat press coverage at the line with their quick feet.
11:45 a.m.: The Patriots sent out their list of inactives, and the final name is Leon Washington. The team signed him yesterday. By signing him prior to Week 1, that guaranteed his yearly salary.
It’s a bit surprising the team would sign him, guaranteeing his salary, just to make him inactive in the first game. The rest of the inactives are who we previously mentioned: Aaron Dobson, Rob Gronkowski, Duron Harmon, Will Svitek, Nate Ebner and Brandon Bolden.
11:31 a.m.: It was expected, but Jairus Byrd is officially out against the Patriots. Byrd is one of the best safeties in the NFL.
The Bills’ secondary will be weakened in general while facing the Patriots’ young receiver corps. Stephon Gilmore is also injured. Leodis McKelvin will be healthy and ready to go at cornerback, and first-year safety (he was previously a cornerback) Aaron Williams will be starting at safety. Next to them will be either Ron Brooks or Justin Rogers at cornerback and Da’Norris Searcy at safety.
11:25 a.m.: The Patriots announced that six players will be out against the Bills: Aaron Dobson, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Will Svitek, Brandon Bolden and Rob Gronkowski. The biggest losses are probably at safety, where the team now has just one backup behind Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory. Tavon Wilson, who struggled during the summer and appeared to be passed by Duron Harmon on the depth chart, is the lone reserve.
New England also re-signed Marquice Cole this week. Cole has mostly played cornerback during his career, but he lined up at safety during the spring and in the last preseason game. So if the Patriots get in a real pinch, Cole could see some action at the position.
Since the depth is so shallow at safety, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Logan Ryan as the dime defensive back rather than Wilson. Ryan also had a much better summer and may be better suited for that role as basically a second slot cornerback.
The Patriots’ depth in general this season isn’t as good as it’s been in years past. They’re deepest at linebacker and running back. The offensive line should be no issue. They’re most shallow at wide receiver, safety and defensive line. How well the defense performs this season may depend on the health of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
8 a.m. ET: Football is officially back.
All that training camp and preseason stuff was fun for a while, but now, football is really, truly, seriously back. The Patriots take on the Bills in just five hours, and it’s perfectly normal if you were having trouble sleeping last night.
All the questions that faced the Patriots ever since they fell to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game will begin to be answered this afternoon. First and foremost, the rookie wide receivers will be on full display.
The first rookie receiver we will likely see will be Kenbrell Thompkins, who has gone from overlooked and undrafted to fantasy sleeper and possible savior. Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce were expected to be the franchise’s future at “X” receiver, but it may turn out to be Thompkins, who was impressive from the first day of OTAs and hasn’t slowed down since.
Here are five Patriots storylines to watch in this afternoon’s game:
1. Who is the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver?
Danny Amendola should be No. 1 and Thompkins should be No. 2, but who’s No. 3? I expect Julian Edelman to be the first receiver off the bench, but it could just as well be Boyce. Dobson will be inactive.
2. Who starts across from Aqib Talib at cornerback?
It’s either going to be Kyle Arrington or Alfonzo Dennard. Arrington played there all summer, but that’s because Dennard was slowed by an injury. Dennard is healthy, but he may need to be eased back in to the high speed of the NFL.
3. Who plays defensive tackle in sub packages?
During the beginning of training camp, this role went to Jermaine Cunningham. Then he got hurt and Marcus Benard took over. Both players have been released, as has Justin Francis, who played the position at times last season. The team will either elect to play Tommy Kelly on all three downs, use Joe Vellano or kick Michael Buchanan or Jake Bequette inside.
4. Do the Patriots open in a 3-4 or 4-3?
The Patriots showed mostly 4-3 looks during the preseason, especially in the first team. But they were showing three-down lineman looks throughout training camp with Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly on the line. It would be an interesting wrinkle to see the Patriots go back to a 3-4 to start the year.
5. Can the Patriots stop C.J. Spiller?
New England has had no problem stopping running backs who excel between the tackles through the years, but shiftier backs like Spiller have given them problems. Spiller will be a big test for the Patriots’ linebackers.
Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Bolden, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon, Will Svitek and Dobson have already been ruled out for today’s game. I would expect an offensive lineman (either Chris Barker or Josh Kline) or a linebacker (likely Chris White) to be the final inactive.
We’ll keep you updated throughout the morning to all the latest news coming out of Orchard Park, N.Y. Stay glued to NESN.com.