What We Learned  

 

Patriots stay perfect by once again foiling Bills, Ryan

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FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts -- The Patriots are perfect, but far from perfection. In a 20-13 win over the Bills at Gillette Stadium, they showed their vulnerable side for the second straight week but managed to edge their opponent in the final minutes.

Here's what we learned...

1. Fair or unfair: This might be the closest Ryan gets to Belichick again for the next few years. Ryan has a good coaching staff and talent. He has a Super Bowl-caliber defense, but what else can he possibly do? This Patriots team was banged up and vulnerable. Brady was clearly flustered, and on a night when Ryan couldn't call a bad blitz, they still lost. The Bills might be a first-place team if they were playing in another division, and that could be the great irony of it all. Ryan might have had a chance to get away from Belichick this past offseason, but he instead dove in head first.

2. The Bills pulled out the dual running back formation for the first time all season, and used LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams in the backfield together almost 10 times in the first half. What they did not do was enhance their productivity by integrating Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay until early in the second half. There were some visible signs of frustration shown by Watkins throughout the night, and it might only be a matter of time before we hear from him again about realistic, catchable targets. This is not entirely the fault of the coaching staff, though. Tyrod Taylor has been a pleasant surprise this season but there have been moments where his deep ball skills were not entirely on point. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman needed to find a way to effectively and safely move the ball.

3. Ryan will get credit for a masterful game plan against Rob Gronkowski, who finished with two catches for 27 yards, but the Julian Edelman injury helped him out in a pretty profound way. Ryan, for almost three full quarters, jammed the massive tight end with two physical defenders at the line and asked Danny Amendola to beat them. Until Amendola made a nice route adjustment and slipped the Patriots into the red zone late in the third quarter, Ryan was fine with allowing Amendola some leeway. Gronkowski was also asked to pick up some extra responsibility as a blocker with Brady taking double-digit hits.

4. This was another bad night for NFL officiating. It's easy to say that back in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, the game wasn't covered the same way and there were far fewer checks and balances, but how does that help the game now? Ryan, after being assigned a phantom penalty that made up for an errant whistle, was so upset on the Patriots' quick-snap touchdown in the third quarter that he was nearly flagged again. He had every right to be upset -- as did Belichick -- and for a coach, it's a terrifying variable that is starting to significantly alter even the best laid plans.

5. Your team is down 20-10 against the best team in football. You are on your own 47-yard line and you have McCoy and Williams. On third down, you run an ill-advised stretch play. It's fine. Everyone makes mistakes. On fourth down, though, you punt. Some will read this as a concession of sorts by Ryan, and the Bills eventually held the Patriots on the ensuing drive, but what is the point of "building a bully" if you cannot use them in situations like this? Is this not the precise reason why Ryan signed Richie Incognito? Now, a team with only one timeout remaining gets the ball back 2 1/2 minutes later no closer to a tie.

6. If nothing else, Tyrod Taylor was incredibly gutsy on Monday night. His performance included several breathless escapes that, if nothing else, kept the Bills alive for longer than they should have been.

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