First, they were obviously excited to pull off an 11-point comeback in the game’s final minutes to beat a division rival and start the season with a win. But second, the Patriots understood why they were put in a position in which they were forced to erase a double-digit deficit. To put it most directly, the Patriots performed poorly during the game’s first 55 minutes.
“The main thing I can go home and hang my hat on is the victory,” wide receiver Randy Moss said. “We did some good things out there, but I think Coach [Bill Belichick] is going to give it to us Wednesday about the things that we did out there. I guess you take it as it comes and take Coach’s lashing, but at the same time, we can enjoy this victory.
“I’m happy with what we accomplished [Monday], but we’ve got to get back to work on Wednesday. There’s no telling what kind of lashing we’re going to get, but we can take this victory and hang it up.”
In the long run, the game will be remembered for its wild comeback — which featured two New England touchdowns 76 seconds apart — as well as an ugly Bills turnover that helped fuel the Patriots’ comeback. But if the long run will mean anything in New England, the team has to correct its flaws — both in time for this weekend’s game against the New York Jets, and for the 14 regular-season games that follow.
Some of the flaws are easily correctable. Dropped passes and procedure penalties can be chalked up to first-game nervousness, and they’ve typically been uncharacteristic for Belichick’s teams. And on the whole, Belichick has praised the players’ effort multiple times since Monday night.
More concerning for the Patriots was their inability to finish drives, but that is an issue that can get corrected as the offense develops its rhythm. They moved the ball into Buffalo territory on eight of their 10 possessions — an extremely successful rate — but they only scored on five of those drives. Plus, the Patriots kicked two field goals after driving to at least the Buffalo 11-yard line.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. “We missed some pretty good opportunities. The interception, that was a pretty bad play. You just can’t do that. But you learn from them, and you get focused, and you concentrate on the things you have to do, and you go out there and try to perform better.”
The Patriots’ defense, which did a commendable job in shutting down Buffalo’s big-play wide receivers, succumbed to screen passes at every turn. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Tuesday that the Patriots’ focus on Terrell Owens and Lee Evans might have caused the rest of the defense to falter against the screen pass.
If that’s the case, the matchup issue shouldn’t be a problem against the Jets, whose downfield threats are largely uninspiring. However, if the Patriots can’t stop New York running backs Thomas Jones and, especially, Leon Washington in passing situations, the Pats will have a tough time getting off of the field.
Finally, the Patriots have to establish a more consistent rushing attack. They only averaged 3.2 yards per carry against the Bills, and with their running game stuck in the mud, the Patriots had just six rushing attempts in the second half. Naturally, some of that had to do with the score, but as Belichick said, “We had more production throwing the ball than running it, so we probably favored a little bit more what was going better, what we were more productive doing.”
Granted, every team in the NFL showed some flaws last weekend, and Week 1 reactions tend to lean closer to the side of overreactions. With that said, there are clearly some areas the Patriots are trying to improve, and they’re not getting fat this week with their opening night victory.
“The preparation and work that we put in up to this point, we expected more coming out — definitely in the first quarter, even the first half,” Moss said. “I think we just needed to settle down and really get used to what is going on out there on the field. It’s Week 1. The football season is here.
"When you sit down and look at football this weekend, the first thing that I thought about was getting my chance to go out here and play Monday night. I was a little nervous. I’m not going to sit here and lie. Me, individually, I was nervous just the first game of the season. I settled down and started playing a little bit better. I’m speaking for myself, but it looked like everybody settled down definitely in the second half and started playing football.”