New England Patriots
Season 3 – Bye-week Review
The AFC East may have its detractors, but the Week 7 match-up at Foxboro between Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots gave both sets of fans, and the watching media, plenty to talk about. A high-scoring affair could have been expected. The Patriots had conceded at least three touchdowns in four consecutive games heading into the contest, whilst the Bills had been disappointing in their previous two outings against the Jets and Jaguars following a promising start. What happened during the 60 minutes on the field could well be the defining moment in both teams’ seasons.
Patriots owner/GM/coach Rhys Jenkins had been hoping to capitalize on a mini-slump for the Bills to restore some confidence amongst his players, who were starting to feel the effects of their unexpectedly poor 1-5 start. Jenkins made a number of changes within the secondary to address some defensive lapses recently, as Corey Moore replaced Duke Dawson at Free Safety, and Marshall Maybin came in for Aaron Horne as the slot corner. Scooby Wright III was also released in the build-up to the game, and BJ Goodson came into the 53 as a rotational MLB.
On offense, there were fewer adjustments. If there were murmurings amongst the fan base about Hayden Lutman’s position as starting QB, those sentiments were not shared by Rhys Jenkins. During practice drills, Jenkins had worked with Lutman on further expanding the offense as the QB moved into his second year, and maintained that the passer was making good progress. “We all know we threw too many interceptions last season. We left at least 60 points on the field by making bad redzone decisions, but that is only one side of the story with Hayden.” The owner said, “In his rookie year, Hayden threw for more yards than Tom [Brady] did in his last season, and the number of touchdowns scored was similar too. We know that Hayden is capable of throwing to all levels and with accuracy. The game was slowing down for him as the season wore on. We are comfortable with the progress he’s showing and comfortable building our offense around him”.
Lutman had been amongst the picks again this year, albeit mostly in two games where the Pats were attempting to recover large deficits. 8 of his 11 picks came against the Texans and Raiders. Jenkins expressed that the whole team was responsible for putting them in the position to win, and that they would have to get ahead in more games if they wanted to reach the playoffs again. “If you look at our early games where we were tied or ahead at half time, Hayden’s completion percentage and yards per attempt were much higher, and that’s no accident. It’s hard to trick NFL defenses, and harder still when you’re chasing the game. Hayden had the best game of his career against the Jets, against Aaron Rodgers, in part because we got some big stops early and we could run our offense as intended”.
“For example, look at our running back room. I’m of the opinion that we have one of the best running back rooms, as a whole in the league. Breida, Gilleslie, Michel and White – all elusive, all fast, all tough. We need them to be a big part of our offense for the whole game, not just until we go behind.”
Jenkins may believe in his team, but outside observers see a team with fewer big names and less experience of winning in the NFL. It’s a cliché that you are what your record says you are, but the Welshman needed to change the narrative in Foxboro, and quickly. The stakes couldn’t be much higher ahead of a key divisional match-up. Last season, the Patriots failed a 2-pt conversion to lose this fixture. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
In front of a packed Gillette Stadium, the Patriots won the toss, electing to kick first.
The Bills quickly went three and out on their openingthanks to two consecutive Patriot tackles for loss (against a run and poorly executed option play), and a last-ditch swat by Jason McCourty against Zay Jones to prevent a completion on 3rd and long. So far, so good.
Even better was the punt return by forgotten man Braxton Berrios, which set-up New England just shy of midfield. However, the first two run plays called by the Patriots offense culminated in a gain of a solitary yard, setting up 3rd and 9.
Knowing that pressure would be coming, the Patriots called a HB slash play with George Kittle breaking out from the TE position as the first read. When it was clear that Kittle was not open, Lutman moved to his second read and found James White behind the pass rush and gained 15 yards on the play. The Patriots had used this exact play earlier in the season for George Kittle’s first TD as a Patriot.
The play would lead to a new set of downs but there was a sting in the tail. As Hayden Lutman released the pass, Patriots LG Jason King got pinched against C David Andrews, losing his block on the Bills defensive tackle and allowing a hit on the second-year QB. Lutman appeared to be in significant discomfort, and backup Dexter Talley finished the drive by leading his team to a field goal.
The news from the medical tent confirmed the worst fears of Rhys Jenkins and all the Patriots staff. Hayden Lutman had suffered a broken foot and would not be returning for this game or possibly all season. There was still a game to be won, so the staff could not dwell on the ramifications. The unease in the stadium as it was confirmed Lutman would not return told its own story, however.
If it was a bad day for Patriots Quarterbacks, it was an excellent day for Warren Looney, who seems to come on leaps and bounds from his rookie season, picking on Jason McCourty and Devon Mullins for big gains and extending crucial plays with his legs. After this game, he would have a TD/INT ratio of 9 to 3 on the season so far. In the AFC East, where all QBs seemed pick happy last season, that could be huge for the Bills if he remains efficient with the football.
The Bills ran out 28-26 winners after a game of high drama. The Bills will be relieved that that they were not made to rue two missed field goals which could have put the game to bed much sooner, whilst 2-pt conversions will definitely be drilled at the New England Facility in training this week after Jacob Hollister failed to bring in Talley’s tipped pass to tie the game and force OT.
With Lutman out for the season, rumours are rife that the Patriots are looking to trade for a QB to see them through the season. Names in the frame include Teddy Bridgwater, Mason Rudolph, Tyrod Taylor and Mitch Trubisky. If the Patriots do decide to stick with the current options on their roster [At the time of writing; Dexter Talley, Nathan Peterman and Tanner Lee], what can we expect for the final nine games?
Talley is the overwhelming favourite from the three among Patriots staff. Drafted in the 4th Round from Vanderbilt in 2018, the 6’4” – 240lb passer was originally slated to compete with Hayden Lutman (drafted two rounds earlier) for the starting job in New England. However, Talley has never really seemed likely to unseat Lutman, and was viewed as lacking arm strength and escapability from the pocket.
Before Sunday, his career with the Patriots consisted of 2 completions from 5 attempts for 40 yards and a TD. Itwas fair to say that Patriots fans weren’t sure what to expect in this situation. In what was his first chance to play almost a full game, Dexter Talley probably hasn’t provided many answers. He threw one touchdown pass to George Kittle, identifying a weak spot in Bills defensive coverage and finding him wide open. However, there were also three ugly picks as Sean Lee baited him into ill-advised throws repeatedly. He also missed his targets on a number of throws further than 10 yards.
By the time Patriots play the Jets in Week 9, they will have had to decide to stick or twist. The Bills may also have a winning record, leaving the AFC East division all but out of reach.
The Rest of the Season
Well, it’s the AFC East, so who knows? The Patriots have 4 divisional games left in which they should still be competitive, and welcome the Bengals, Chargers, Ravens and Seahawks to Foxboro in a second half of the season. 6-10 was good enough for the Wildcard round last season, but with the Bills displays so far it probably won’t be this time around. The Patriots must start to accelerate their re-build to put them in position to regain the Division next time out.