Patriots roar back from 14-point deficit, stun Bills, 52-28

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Patriots roar back from 14-point deficit, stun Bills, 52-28

If you turned off your television in disgust at about 3 o'clock Sunday, well . . . what you missed.

The Patriots' offense -- which rewrote the record books in 2007 and came close to doing it again in 2011 -- outdid itself in the final 26 minutes against the Buffalo Bills.

After a wasteful, sloppy performance on both sides of the ball that had them trailing the Bills, 21-7, with 11:08 to play in the third quarter, the Pats went into NBA mode. They scored 35 consecutive points -- five unanswered touchdowns -- in the next 15 minutes and 39 seconds, put up 45 points overall before the end of the day, and became only the second team in NFL history to have two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard pass receivers in the same game as they stunned the Bills, 52-28.

The 100-yard rushers? Brandon Bolden (137 yards) and Stevan Ridley (106 yards). The 100-yard pass receivers? Wes Welker (129) and Rob Gronkowski (104). The maestro of this 580-total-yard masterpiece? Tom Brady, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The shell-shocked victims? The Bills, who, early in the third quarter, could taste their second consecutive home victory over the Patriots, which a) would have put them in sole possession of first place in the AFC East and b) given them a two-game lead over New England. Instead, the teams are tied at the top of the division at 2-2.

The explosion started with a surgical 8-play, 80-yard drive that took 2 minutes and 58 seconds and was capped by a 17-yard Brady-to-Danny Woodhead pass -- made possible by some nifty scrambling from Brady which enabled Woodhead to break free in the secondary -- that cut Buffalo's lead to 21-14. The New England defense forced a three-and-out, its first of the game, on Buffalo's next possession, and that opened the floodgates:

A four-yard scramble by Brady with 3:53 left in the third quarter, capping an 8-play, 85-yard drive that tied the game at 21-21.

A 28-yard TD pass from Brady to Gronkowski on the first play of the fourth quarter, completing a 5-yard, 63-yard that put New England ahead to stay, 28-21.

A two-yard scoring run by Ridley that finished a 42-yard drive started when Brandon Spikes forced his second fumble of the game, a drop by Fred Jackson that was recovered by Tavon Wilson.

A seven-yard TD run by Bolden that made it 42-21 after the second interception of the game by Devin McCourty -- yes, the much-maligned Devin McCourty -- had given New England possession on the Buffalo 12.

Five possessions. Five touchdowns. Fifteen minutes of action.

The game was far from over at that point -- there was still 10:29 to play -- but it was garbage time. The teams traded TDs (a 35-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Brad Smith for Buffalo, a 25-yard pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd for New England) and Stephen Gostkowski added a 30-yard field goal for the 52-28 final.

And it all was 180 degrees from how the first two-plus quarters had played. The Patriots had gone ahead, 7-0, on a 90-yard scoring drive off their first possession -- Ridley scored from six yards to finish it -- but that was virtually the only thing they did right; Gostkowski missed two field goals and they were unable to convert two Buffalo turnovers into any points. The Bills, meanwhile, got a a pair of Fitzpatrick-to-Scott Chandler TD passes, of 24 and 20 yards, to move ahead 14-7. The lead could have been higher, but Spikes caused C.J. Spiller to fumble at the goal line in the final 30 seconds, and Vince Wilfork recovered the ball to keep New England's deficit at seven points.

But the Bills were able to make it 21-7 anyway, on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Donald Jones with 11:08 to play in the third quarter.

At that point, the Bills were soaring, Ralph Wilson Stadium was in an uproar, and the Pats were staring into the abyss of a 1-3 start. Televisions were no doubt being turned off throughout New England.

What they missed.

Report: Belichick may be called to testify in Hernandez trial

Report: Belichick may be called to testify in Hernandez trial

Bill Belichick, identified as "William Belichick," has been added to the list of potential defense witnesses who could testify during the upcoming double-homicide trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, according to the Boston Herald.

Per the Herald, the new list of potential witnesses for the defense also includes Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who was Hernandez's teammate at the University of Florida. 

Belichick, McDaniels and Pouncey aren't guaranteed to testify, but their presence on the civilian witness list makes their presence in court a possibility. 

Hernandez's trial is scheduled to start next Wednesday. He's accused of killing Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Furtado back in July of 2012. Hernandez is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of the murder Odin Lloyd in 2013.

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Personally, I would buy a crapload of stock in Cyrus Jones. In part because – after his nightmarish rookie season – stock can be bought on the cheap. But also because he’s too talented, too committed and too smart to suck like he did in 2016 when he handled punts like they were coated in uranium and never made a big contribution in the secondary.

(Listen above to hear Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss Cyrus Jones on the Quick Slants podcast.)

Because of his disappointing year, Jones is an overlooked player on the Patriots roster, but he’s in a pivotal spot. With Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon approaching free agency, Malcolm Butler’s contract expiring after 2017, Pat Chung on the edge of 30 and a free agent after 2018 and the other corners being Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones is going to get his shot.

The reason I included safeties Harmon and Chung in the discussion is that when the Patriots go to six DBs, roles are less stringently defined. And because of Jones’ size (5-10, 200), powerful build and short-area quickness, he can be the kind of versatile player who covers inside against quicker slot receivers as well as being on the outside if necessary. Kind of like Chung can cover on the back end or drop down to cover tight ends.

The Patriots are confident that Jones will get it right. His teammates in the secondary are unanimous in saying he’s got all the talent he needs.  

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

But as 2016 wore on, it was apparent that Jones was miserable and let his failures consume him. Jones muffed or fumbled five kicks in the 2016 season.
 
By the time the Patriots played the Ravens on a Monday night in December, he was so inside his own head that he stalked a bouncing punt he had no business being near (for the second time that game) and had it bounce off his foot setting up a Ravens touchdown. That night, Jones exited the Patriots locker room and made his way to the players parking lot before the field was even clear of equipment.

Jones either expected things to come as easily in the NFL as they did at Alabama and wasn’t prepared to deal with adversity. Or the mistakes he made caused him to wonder if he really was good enough to play in the league.

Either way, Cyrus Jones was all about Cyrus Jones in 2016. And his comments to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend were evidence that the world he’s concerned with ends at the end of his nose. 

"I honestly felt cursed," he said. "I reached a point where I didn't even want to play. I just didn't have it...What I did this year was not me," he said. "I don't care how anybody tries to sugarcoat it. Yes, I was a rookie. But I feel I should always be one of the best players on the field, no matter where I am.
 
"But honestly, it was hell for me," he said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I didn't feel I deserved to be part of anything that was happening with the team. I felt embarrassed that these people probably thought they wasted a pick on me."

The first thing Jones needs to do this offseason is get over himself. He can look one locker down and talk to Devin McCourty about getting crushed for shaky play in 2012, battling through it and then turning into a Pro Bowl-level safety. He can talk to fellow Alabama product Dont'a Hightower about Hightower’s being benched in the 2013 season against the Broncos and labeled a bust before flipping his season around and being the team’s best defender by the end of that year.

But he’s going to have to figure it out. Draft status means nothing to New England and, as it now stands, undrafted corner Jonathan Jones out of Auburn has more demonstrated value to the team that Cyrus Jones does. In two months, the Patriots are damn sure going to add more secondary players.

This offseason, Jones needs to check his ego, simplify his game and simply ban outside perceptions from fans, media or coaches from infect his on-field decision-making.

His conversation with the Sun didn’t really indicate he’s ready to do that. Asked about criticism, Jones said, “It pisses me off. You can say shut it out or don't listen, but I know people are talking, and it's negative. I'm not a dumb guy. It definitely affects me. What it should do is piss me off in a way that I want to shut them all up."

From the limited number of times I spoke with him and from his teammates regard for him, I can confirm Jones isn’t a dumb guy. That doesn’t necessarily make life easier though. In 2016, Cyrus Jones’ brain got in the way. The Patriots need him to shut that thing off in 2017.