Thank goodness the AFC East sucks. The Patriots, as bland as they are playing, will win the division.
So why does watching the Patriots play feel like winning a dollar on a dollar scratch ticket? Simple: Because it is better than losing.
There is little excitement about the Patriots right now, after Sunday's 17-10 win over the Bills. Only a pompom-waving New England fan can look at this team and be optimistic about the playoffs.
This is not to say that with two convincing wins over the Jaguars and the Texans the Patriots will not capture the attention of more of the faithful. But if the Patriots play like they have the last month or so, most of the local and national attention will be elsewhere.
The offense was inconsistent, unproductive and somewhat predictable. Add it up and it gets you a mediocre performance at best. Mediocre? Against the Bills? To quote Chad Ochocinco, “Child, please.”
There is plenty of blame to go around for the offensive doldrums. There has to be better execution by the players. There needs to be better game plans and play-calling by the coaches. But maybe just as important, the offense needs a greater sense of urgency.
I am hearing reports that Tom Brady's finger is worse than anyone is letting on. His last two games have been poor compared to what we know he is capable of doing. Tom rarely puts together bad back-to-back games.
The long ball against Buffalo was not good. Brady underthrew some open receivers way downfield. He was not as consistent on his shorter passes, either. Let's hope it is the finger. That actually is easier to fix.
Laurence Maroney IS running harder. That is an improvement over what we saw earlier in the year. But is it enough? I have been praising his efforts lately, but when you look deeper it turns out that he may be “just a guy.” As hard as he is working over the last three weeks, he still is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. I appreciate the better effort. I still want better production.
Sebastian Vollmer is an upgrade over Nick Kaczur. Vollmer played well even though the Buffalo defensive scheme did not allow the Patriots to give him much help. Matt Light did a good job on Aaron Schobel. It is rare that Buffalo and Schobel do not sack Brady, but the Buffalo pass rush was mostly kept at bay. The offense still misses Stephen Neal. Can Kaczur play right guard?
Randy Moss played better than he has lately. I am hearing reports that his back problems still are nagging him. I really want to believe that his problems stem more from the bad back than from lack of effort.
The problem with grading a guy such as Wes Welker is that you can get repetitive rather quickly. He plays hard all the time. He did not put up his usual numbers, but that was a result of Brady's inconsistency, Moss being open and the Pats attempting only 23 passes. The tight ends were relegated again to an afterthought.
The offense overall was stagnant and relatively ineffective. Against Buffalo, the Patriots should score more than 17 points. This team will succeed or fail on the strength of the offense. Lately, the offense barely has done enough to beat two poor teams.
Yes, I know the opponent was the Buffalo Bills. I understand they have one of the lesser offenses in the league.
Still, two of the top four players for the Pats defense were out of the game. When it was announced that Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren were out, we all assumed that Buffalo would run the ball, control the clock and have a better chance to win. The Patriots defense stepped up with an imaginative game plan and very solid play by some front-seven guys who picked up the slack.
Tully Banta-Cain is turning out to be a steal of a free agent signing. He played great football Sunday taking full advantage of a patchwork Buffalo offensive line. His playing time in San Francisco gave him the experience he needed to become a good defensive player.
Who was that new guy, Derrick something-or-other? I kid. Derrick Burgess had his best game as a Patriot. He actually has played better over the last few weeks. Belichick insists that he has been fairly consistent throughout the year, but he is finally making more of an impact.
Gary Guyton was playing soft early, prompting the coaches to put Junior Seau in the mix. Guyton returned later and was better but not great. He may have plateaued, for now, as a linebacker, but I still think he can get better.
Rookie Ron Brace was forced into action and was pushed around in the first half. He came back and played better in the second half. Jarvis Green was good enough at the point of attack and his pass rush was fine, too.
Mike Wright played very well in his expanded role. He supplied very good pressure and was very active in the run game. Wright is a valuable asset to the team with his ability to play all the positions on the defensive line.
The secondary played better. Much of that was due to the front seven applying more pressure.
A couple of times the defensive backs were caught trying shoulder tackles when they needed to wrap up and secure the tackle.
The best thing I saw Sunday was the “moving linebacker” defense employed by New England in nickel and dime situations. The idea was to confuse the inexperienced Bills offensive line, and it worked to perfection.
Sometimes a new look or scheme can invigorate a team. We have seen the Patriots use this defense before, but not so much with this group of players. The defense as a whole seemed more active and intense than before.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D+
Chris Hanson continues to struggle with his punting. Short kicks and bad placement added up to a bad day. Stephen Gostkowski was fine on the scoring plays, but his kickoffs are shorter than earlier in the year. The kickoff coverage was below average.
High marks for the defensive game plan. New England has lacked a pass rush all year, but when the coaches were faced with injuries to overcome on defense, the staff stepped up big.
The different ways the defense applied pressure were a direct result of the coaches using the depleted lineup to the best of its ability. One of the best things a coaching staff can do is to put the players in a position to succeed. The defensive coaches did that very well against Buffalo.
On the other side of the ball, the game plan was predictable at best. Even with a couple of end-arounds thrown in, there was nothing innovative or exciting about the offense. For the second straight week, the offense's biggest play was a pass interference. The talent level on offense deserves better play-calling.
Overall, this team needs to perform much better, especially on the offensive side of the ball, to have a chance in the playoffs. In a league in which there really are no dominating defenses, it falls upon the offense to carry this team. The bad news is that the offense is struggling. The hopeful news is that we know the Patriots have the talent to be much better.