A win is a win. Sunday’s season opener wasn’t pretty, but when it counted the most the Patriots got it done. New England certainly stumbled along the way, but they managed to make plays when they needed them the most. The Patriots ultimately fought from behind in the fourth quarter to earn the victory in Buffalo 23-20. Following the victory, here’s a breakdown of some of Sunday’s key performers.
Stevan Ridley has a fumbling problem. Ridley flashed shades of Thurman Thomas in Buffalo on Sunday. The third-year back out of LSU coughed up the ball up on the Patriots opening offensive drive. There couldn’t be a worse start to a game for a Bill Belichick coached running back. Belichick is notorious for putting players in the doghouse immediately following fumbles, including Ridley already in his young career. New England was fortunate to recover Ridley’s opening drive fumble, but the Patriots weren’t as fortunate in the second quarter.
Compounding his opening drive blunder, Ridley fell to the turf on his own accord in the second quarter, subsequently fumbling the ball yet again. Bills safety, Da’Norris Searcy, recovered the ball this time around and returned it 74-yards for a touchdown. Following his second fumble, Ridley was benched for pretty much the remainder of the game and Shane Vereen was the primary benefactor.
Shane Vereen stepped up big filling in for Ridley. Vereen put together a versatile performance on Sunday, amassing 101 yards rushing on 14 carries while hauling in seven catches for 58 yards on 10 targets. It appeared Vereen may usurp the starting role from Ridley following Sunday’s season opener, but recent developments may find Ridley out of the doghouse earlier than expected.
Apparently during the first drive of his standout performance on Sunday, Shane Vereen broke a small bone in his wrist. Vereen was able to play through the break, but the broken bone will require surgery and Vereen is expected to miss a “few weeks” according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports. It’s possible that Ridley remains in Belichick’s doghouse resulting in LaGarrette Blount getting some more carries Thursday night against the Jets, but Ridley should still be a factor with Vereen out.
Kyle Arrington played arguably the best game of his Patriots career on Sunday. Arrington displayed perfectly why he’s best suited playing nickel back for New England. He forced two Buffalo fumbles in the slot on Sunday each resulting in touchdown drives for the New England offense. Arrington’s strong performance on Sunday is encouraging for New England with the uncertainty of their cornerback position. Alfonzo Dennard’s court appearance was pushed back yet again and he started on Sunday flanking Aqib Talib. It’s possible, but uncertain at this time, that Dennard could miss time due to his ongoing legal issues. Arrington’s two forced fumbles and five-tackle performance on Sunday suggests he could step up in the event Dennard was forced to miss time.
Danny Amendola displayed palpable chemistry with Tom Brady on Sunday helping the Patriots to victory with several clutch grabs down the stretch. Amendola aggravated his previously pulled groin toward the end of the first half. He made it back out to begin the second half and his performance proved to be vital to the Patriots come from behind victory. Amendola finished the afternoon with 10 catches for 104 yards on 14 targets. None more important than his 10-yard catch in traffic on 3rd and 8 during the Patriots final drive. That catch aided in capping off a 12-play 49-yard drive resulting in the game winning 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Amendola showed critics with his performance, that provided he can stay on the field he shouldn’t be much of downgrade production wise from Wes Welker.
Julian Edelman is without a doubt the Patriots number two receiver. Edelman made his presence felt on Sunday beside Danny Amendola as he registered seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns on nine targets. His emergence should limit Kenbrell Thompkins’ role going forward. Despite receiving 14 targets on Sunday, Thompkins brought in only four catches for 42 yards. It appeared Thompkins was unsure of his routes and didn’t display much confidence in the Patriots system, whereas Edelman was visibly moving at full speed within his role. Edelman is going to be a favorite target for Brady with his familiarity within the Patriots offense, likely limiting targets for Thompkins and Josh Boyce. He should also be a popular Fantasy Football Week 2 waiver wire pickup.
Michael Hoomanwanui saw the majority of the snaps at tight end for the Patriots against the Bills while Zach Sudfeld watched from the sidelines. The tight end position as a whole was essentially phased out of the game plan in Week 1. Such a game plan suggests that Rob Gronkowski likely isn’t far from return. It suggests even further that Zach Sudfeld may have little to no role upon Gronk’s return. For all of the “move” tight end talk leading up to Sunday’s opener, the rookie only saw 19 offensive snaps on the afternoon. Sudfeld apparently suffered a pulled hamstring on Sunday and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, but even prior to injury he didn’t appear to be part of the game plan. His status for Thursday night’s matchup with the Jets is questionable.
Also worth mentioning is Bill Belichick’s clock management down the stretch. Belichick’s command of the clock to close out Buffalo was impressive. New England proved throughout the game to be the better coached and disciplined team. Buffalo shot themselves in the foot on more than one occasion with foolish penalties and turnovers. New England was able to capitalize, doing so proved to be the difference in the game, making the previous 59 minutes of subpar play irrelevant. When the game was on the line, Bill Belichick put his team in the best position to win, and they did. Mark another one in the win column. On to the Jets.