The NFL season has started and the New England Patriots have the same expectations as they have every year: win the last game of the season. The Buffalo Bills are trying to rebuild…again. They have a rookie quarterback fresh from the college ranks, and a rookie head coach who is also fresh from the college ranks. E.J. Manuel and Doug Marrone are learning together, and maybe this time the Bills have the recipe for a championship team. The Bills have a solid running game so the pressure was not all on their young QB. The Pats had a lot of new personnel to get acclimated into the system, and this game was their first test. I thought this game wouldn’t be close, and the Patriots really made me nervous.
When the teams kicked off this afternoon in Orchard Park, New York, it was the start of a new season and a new era in Patriots football. The Pats have a very different look on offense. With Wes Welker in Denver, Danny Woodhead in San Diego, Dieon Branch and Brandon Lloyd on the couch, Rob Gronkowski recovering from offseason back surgery, and Aaron Hernandez in prison, it was going to be different. I’m not sure the new look is a good look. Through one game, the primary targets were Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, two receivers who could be described as a “poor man’s Welker” who gave been injury prone in the past. After fumbling a ball that became a Buffalo touchdown, Stevan Ridley rode the bench for the rest of the game while Shane Vereen became the primary running back. The Patriots were helped out big time by the Bills’ uncanny knack for taking dumb penalties, which is still there under new management.
The best aspect of the game for New England was the way the defense played. Kyle Arrington forced two fumbles, and the defensive unit kept the offense in the game. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are two big impact guys on the line who can really cause trouble for opposing offenses. When the Patriots were winning Super Bowls and not just getting to them, the defense was winning games for them. They didn’t have to rely on Tom Brady to win every game by himself. Hopefully the team is trending back in that direction.
Manuel looked calm and confident taking snaps for the Bills. More experienced QBs have certainly looked a lot worse against this New England defense that was playing in the Super Bowl a year and a half ago. I don’t know if he’s the savior in Buffalo, but the Bills have something to be excited about for now. For all his trash talk, Stevie Johnson couldn’t hang onto the catch he needed to make late in the game.
There are fifteen games left in the regular season, including one more against the Bills. Both teams have a lot of room for growth, but the Patriots are the team with higher expectations. The Bills can leave this game feeling better about themselves than they did before, but the Pats have their work cut out for them if they want to compete with the elite teams in the NFL as the have for over a decade. Bill Belichick has taken disappointing starts to the season against the Buffalo Bills and used them as motivation before, and this time, they didn’t even lose the game. Football season is finally here, and I already can’t wait for the next game!