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Belichick expects unbeaten Patriots to improve

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FOXBOUROUGH, Mass. – During each of his 15 previous falls in New England, Bill Belichick has built a football team that generally plays better football late in the year than it does early in the season.

A dozen of those 15 teams made it to the postseason. Nine to the AFC title game, six to the Super Bowl and four to a bling-bling ring ceremony.

So it’s safe to say Belichick knows what he’s looking for in his team and what it takes to get to where everyone in the NFL wants to go.

It’s also not surprising that following the Patriots’ 40-32 win over the Bills (1-1) Sunday in Buffalo that Belichick was left looking for more from his 2-0 team. More consistency. More efficiency. More execution in all three phases.

Sure New England had ridden 466 yards of passing from Tom Brady – most ever allowed by a Buffalo defense – to the road victory over Rex Ryan’s overconfident defense.

“Obviously we had a lot of yardage in the passing game yesterday. So there is an illusion that it was great,” Belichick said after breaking down the film of the division win. But considering the number of times we threw it and some of the inefficiencies we had I wouldn’t put it in that category.”

He also didn’t seem to care for the way his team defended young Bills athletic quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The New England defense tallied eight sacks and three interceptions, but also allowed the first-year starter to throw for three touchdowns and run for another.

Belichick was particularly perturbed that a game plan to keep Taylor hemmed in was not well-executed by a team whose ongoing motto is Do Your Job.

“When he got of the pocket it didn’t grade out very well at all. We didn’t do a good job,” Belichick said. “I’m not even talking about the designed plays where there are bootlegs and plays like that. The plays where he dropped back and we kept him in the pocket we did a lot better than when he got out, whether it was him running or him extending the play and then throwing the ball to somebody that we either didn’t cover or dropped our coverage on or didn’t match up properly or whatever.”

In fact, Belichick made it clear that everyone wearing a Patriots logo on the sideline in Buffalo could have done a better job and will need to do a better job moving forward, beginning with this week’s game against the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.

“I thought we did a lot of things well as a team. I think individually we had a lot of plays that were good plays and some individuals that had good plays. But I don’t think we were consistent enough, really in any area,” Belichick said. “We left a lot of plays out on the field.

“I think there are just a lot of things we can improve on individually and with each unit and that’s the coaching as well as the playing in all three phases of the game.

“Everybody who played had things that they definitely could have done better that would have helped us including me and the coaches. So we did some good things. Did enough to win. And it’s good to win. But there are a lot of things we can improve on and do better.”

Belichick knows what he’s talking about. He knows what he’s looking for.

And despite the fact that his New England squad is one of just eight teams to open the year with a 2-0 record, Belichick is looking for much more as the Patriots look to defend their Super Bowl title.

Belichick is aware that good enough to win in September isn’t the same as good enough to win in December, January or February.

REPORT CARD VS. BILLS

PASSING OFENSE: A-minus – Despite Bill Belichick’s emphasis that the passing game was not nearly perfect and left plenty of plays on the field, the unit still put up huge production. Tom Brady connected on 38 of his 59 throws for 466 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions while being sacked just twice for a 105.9 passer rating. Julian Edelman led the way with a game-high 11 catches for 97 yards with two scores, although he also had a number of drops. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had 113 yards on his seven catches with a score. Passing back Dion Lewis chipped in with 98 yards on six catches, including a 40-yard wheel route. Aaron Dobson added 87 yards on seven catches as the Patriots were within striking distance of four 100-yard pass catchers. The offensive line held the vaunted Bills front very much in check all day, led by undrafted rookie center David Andrews notching another impressive week. Belichick may want more consistency and precision from his passing attack, but it was the key to victory on this day against a supposedly elite defense.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus – With a game plan calling for spread sets and mostly quick or intermediate throws in the passing game, New England did attempt to run much into a big, skilled Bills front. Lewis led the way with seven carries for 40 yards (5.7 avg.) and a touchdown, with a long of 13 yards. LeGarrette Blount had just two attempts for 4 yards in his season debut. No other ball carrier had more than a single attempt, other than Brady’s three kneel-downs for a loss of 4 yards. All told the limited rushing attack ran only 12 times for 60 yards. Good enough to win and really all it could do based on how little the ground game was part of the game plan.

PASS DEFENSE: C – Early and late in the game, Bills first-year starter Tyrod Taylor was able to do pretty much anything he wanted to do. In between, though, the Patriots defense and pass rush put up its own impressive production. Taylor finished completing 23 of 30 passes for 242 yards with three touchdowns. But he was also sacked eight times and forced into three interceptions. It all came together for a 93.3 passer rating and a loss on the scoreboard. No target had more than 60 yards, a number reached by both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, each of whom had a touchdown. Taylor hit some big plays but also gave them up. The same is said for the Patriots pass defense that remains very much a work in progress early in the season. Malcolm Butler made a great catch on the Super Bowl hero’s first career regular-season interception. The group will have to be better though when it faces more efficient, experienced passing attacks moving forward at some point. The front seven definitely made a stride forward, considering the pressure that Chandler Jones (three sacks), Jamie Collins (2.5 sacks) and others were able to drum up on a day the Patriots focused on a controlled rush.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus – While the Patriots pass defense and rush took a step forward, the run defense didn’t. The Bills combined to run the ball 27 times for 160 yards for a 5.9-yard average with a pair of scores. LeSean McCoy led the way with 89 yards on his 15 attempts. Taylor helped the numbers with 43 yards on his five runs. The Patriots used more traditional base sets at times and still struggled at times, especially an opening drive capped by Karlos William’s too-easy, 2-yard touchdown run. Jerod Mayo continues to see limited action as New England’s best run linebacker, which may be an adjustment moving forward. But the defensive front needs to prove itself more stout against the run, almost regardless of the scheme or personnel group.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B – Stephen Gostkowski is off to the type of start that’s expected off the newly-minted, highest-paid kicker in the game. That was certainly true on Sunday in Buffalo where Gostkowski hit his first four field goals of the season from 46, 21, 50 and 25 yards. He also had touchbacks on seven of his nine kickoffs, eight of which went into the end zone. Even the two kickoffs that were returned saw the Patriots hold Percy Harvin to just a 22.5-yard average. Ryan Allen punted just once, for 54 yards, and actually made the tackle after a 14-yard return. Danny Amendola had a nice 28-yard punt return to cull together a solid day in the kicking game for New England, despite a couple of penalties.

COACHING: B-minus – The Bills scripted first drive saw Buffalo march right down the field and score for the 7-0 lead. The Patriots then made some adjustments and after an opening punt rattled off three straight scores themselves. That should have led to a blowout victory. But for some reason up as much as 37-13 late in the third quarter, Bill Belichick wanted more. He and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels kept Brady in the shotgun and kept throwing. That led to more time for a Bills comeback that was boosted by a fourth-quarter strip sack on Brady. The coaches deserve credit for adjustments in the middle of the game, but the way it started and certainly the way New England chose to try to close out the game left much to be desired.


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