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Mark Gaughan’s matchup winners: Patriots 40, Bills 32

Tom Brady vs. Bills’ D-line

Notice we didn’t say Pats’ O-line vs. Bills’ D-line. The Pats sent a collection of schmoes (besides left tackle Nate Solder) against the Bills’ D-line, the collective average annual salary of which is $48.6 million. Didn’t matter. Because the Pats spread the field with four and five receivers the entire game, Brady always had a short outlet or a matchup he liked.

“I feel the whole key to this for them was to get the defensive line off his back,” said Bills nickel back Nickell Robey. “If they had to run the ball, we would have been down their throat. If he would have sat back in the pocket, we would have definitely been down his throat. The only way he could get us is to spread us out five wide and get the ball out as quick as possible so the D-line won’t get that rush.”

Bill Belichick vs. Tyrod Taylor

Sometimes New England throws an invisibility cloak over the opposition’s No. 1 weapon. For years, he used to eliminate Lee Evans. The Bills had nowhere else to go with the ball. Last week Indianapolis committed a safety over the top of Sammy Watkins virtually every play. Would Belichick and defensive chief Matt Patricia do the same? No. On the Bills’ first drive, the Pats matched cornerback Tarell Brown on Watkins every play. The rest of the game, the corners simply played sides, and Watkins faced Brown if he went left and Malcolm Butler if he went right. Instead, the Pats played a single safety high all day and brought a safety up in underneath coverage to help against the run. OK, Tyrod Taylor, prove you can beat us throwing from the pocket, they said. Taylor made some plays, but he wasn’t nearly good enough to keep pace with Tom Brady.

Pats’ special teams vs. Bills’ special teams

Yet another reason Bill Belichick is a great coach: He values the kicking game more than most. Belichick was a special teams coach his first four years as an NFL assistant, from 1976 to 1979, with the Lions, Broncos and Giants. New England has ranked in the top half of the NFL in special teams every year Belichick has been coach, by the Football Outsiders ranking. They were No. 1 in the NFL in 2014 and in 2010, by the Dallas Morning News ranking. They outplayed the Bills on Sunday. The Bills made seven penalties on special teams (two were declined). Meanwhile, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski made field goals of 46 and 50 yards. Gostkowski now has made 31 of his last 35 attempts from 40 yards or more. He had the second best percentage in the NFL last year (94.6) and has led the NFL in scoring the past three seasons.

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