Week 17 – Buffalo @ New England: The Pats look ahead as the Bills look to win

My alarm goes off at 5am on Monday morning. It’s Week 17 and New England is hosting Buffalo for the final game of the regular season.

Within 10 minutes, two things have happened that have me wondering whether I should just go back to bed.

The first thing is I start viewing the game and discover the list of inactive players for the Patriots – Brandon Browner, Dan Connolly, Julian Edelman, Jonas Gray, Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower. All starters.

The second thing is the Bills’ opening drive. In six plays, Kyle Orton goes 80 yards up the field for a touchdown. The bigger plays are an 18 yard pass to Lee Smith, a 43 yard pass to Sammy Watkins and the 6 yard pass to Robert Woods in the end zone. Three minutes have gone by and Buffalo has a 7-0 lead.

It was as lackluster as I’ve ever seen New England’s defense play. And after watching that drive I had no doubt that I would probably be watching my team lose this game.

Am I upset by this? Maybe a little, but not as much as I would normally be.

This was such a weird game to watch as a New England fan.

On the one hand, I always hate seeing the Patriots lose. We also had an impressive consecutive winning record at Gillette Stadium that ended with this game, so it was annoying to see that go. And the Bills had never beaten us there.

But on the other hand, I entirely understand why it happened.

We have the number one seed in the AFC locked up. Though it’s unlikely any of those inactive players would get injured, the risk is still there. Injuries to Rob Gronkowski have cruelled New England’s Super Bowl hopes before. In 2009, Wes Welker tore his ACL in a Week 17 game that was also essentially meaningless. So the decision to go conservative and not even take the chance on any of those guys makes perfect sense.

It meant that a lot of unfamiliar targets were out there. The ball was thrown to Brian Tyms a lot of the time, when he’s been barely sighted this season. Danny Amendola reminded everyone that he’s actually a $31 million wide receiver, and doesn’t just return punts and kicks.

It makes it tough to rate our offense during this game. No touchdowns were scored so they obviously didn’t play well. Yet again, Tom Brady found himself constantly under pressure with a weak O-line not exactly helping him out. But I wouldn’t say he had a bad game. Just that he didn’t have most of his usual guys he likes to throw to. And the Bills have a very good defense.

As for our defense, they eventually tightened up a bit. They’ve now gone five weeks without having the opposition score a touchdown after halftime. But there was a lack of urgency at times. Getting through the game and preparing for the playoffs weighed heavily on their minds.

The biggest thing to take from this game is Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady left the game about five minutes into the 3rd quarter. So for the first time in his rookie regular season, Jimmy got the chance to have some extended playing time. After the season Brady has had (well, after Week 4) there’s no reason for the Patriots to be thinking about replacing him. But at the same time you have to at least be aware of his age. So it was interesting to take a look at Jimmy.

I like the way he plays. His throws are usually accurate, if not lasers like Brady’s. He seemed to be taking command out there, which is what you want. The area he needs to work on though is his decision-making. Especially not keeping the ball for too long. I suppose it’s better he be safe and take sacks, as opposed to throwing to bad spots that lead to interceptions. But he was probably too cautious. He needs to trust his instincts more. That should happen as he continues to develop in the NFL.

I’m not convinced he’s “the future” though. First of all, Brady keeps talking about playing into his 40’s and obviously I would want that to happen. I think Garoppolo may be an insurance policy if that doesn’t work out, but will most likely end up being traded. If he keeps looking good when he does play, that makes his trade-value much better. A quarterback-hungry team may one day be willing to give up a first round pick for him perhaps. Then, maybe, the Patriots use that pick to find the real Brady replacement.

Anyway I’m digressing, but really the game against Buffalo was that uninspiring that I can’t help it.

The final result was a deserved 17-9 win to the Bills. They were hungrier for it than the Patriots. No doubt they were fuming at having blown their own playoff chances to Oakland the week before, and were desperate for some redemption.

The Patriots now get a week off, before the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The opponent will be one of Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Baltimore. I will gladly take a game like the one against Buffalo, if it means the Patriots come out all cylinders firing in the playoffs.

Dec 28
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA (68,756)

Buffalo 7 10 0 0 – 17
New England 3 3 3 0 – 9

Passing: Kyle Orton (BUF), 178 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: LeGarrette Blount (NE), 10 car, 62 yds
Receiving: Brandon LaFell (NE), 4 rec, 70 yds
Pigskin Almanac “One last hurrah” award: Kyle Orton (BUF)

About

Sam Wilkinson lives in Melbourne, Australia. His appreciation for the New England Patriots sees him awake at some ridiculous hours just to catch their game. Like all Pats fans, he refuses to admit that one day Tom Brady will get old and have to retire.

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