Rob Gronkowski put on a clinic Sunday at New Era Field, up until his illegal hit on Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White near the end of the game.
No matter how the Bills tried to defend him, the New England tight end proved he was too good to be stopped.
Here's breakdown of Gronkowski's nine-catch, 147-yard day:
X Gronk beat the blitz three times for 61 yards. One of those was a 19-yarder on which the Bills' defense was mixed up. That was the only blatant coverage bust. Overall, Tom Brady was 5 of 6 for 84 yards against the blitz.
X Gronk beat close man coverage by Micah Hyde twice for catches of 19 and 16 yards and he beat White's man coverage for 30 yards.
X Two of his catches, for 18 and 16 yards, were patented Pats play-actions, further sold by a pulling guard, which sucked the Bills' linebackers up and gave Brady a big window to find his tight end.
X Credit Brady with the heavy lift on two of Gronk's catches, a 15-yarder vs. bracket coverage and a 19-yarder in which the QB showed otherworldly pocket presence, stepping up to avoid pressure from Kyle Williams.
Eight of the Pats' 10 longest pass plays went to Gronkowski.
And Gronk even deserves some credit for two of the Pats' three longest runs (a 31-yarder by Rex Burkhead and a 15-yarder by Dion Lewis). On both of those plays, the Pats were in a tight, two-tight-end formation. But the Bills felt forced to respond with a "lighter" nickel defense out of respect for Gronkowski's receiving ability.
Good grades for the defense and bad grades for the passing game highlight our unit-by-unit assessment based on video review (on a scale of 1 to 5):
Quarterback (1.0): Tyrod Taylor inspires respect for his toughness, playing despite the fact his left knee took a hit on the opening play. But his passing was sub-standard. An elite QB may have slid in the pocket on the opening-drive interception. That ruined a brilliant opening script by Rick Dennison. Taylor threw too low early for Deonte Thompson. He missed an open Andre Holmes on a third-down slant, instead throwing not precise enough for LeSean McCoy. He should have thrown away on the 20-yard sack. He made three superb scrambles.
Receivers (1.0): The wideouts combined for five catches for 56 yards. There wasn't enough quick separation or downfield separation. Stephon Gilmore locked up Zay Jones for most of the game.
Offensive line (2.5): Odd as it sounds in a three-point showing, it was a decent day for the Bills' blockers. There were four sacks but 2.5 were on the quarterbacks and one was due to scheme. (Jordan Mills shares half a sack responsibility.) Eric Wood had good seal blocks on the 22-yard Wildcat run and on two 12-yard gainers. Wood's hold in the second quarter wiped out an 11-yard run. Richie Incognito was solid in run blocking and gave up one hurry. The Pats' best edge rusher, Trey Flowers, was injured. So it wasn't a rough assignment for the Bills' tackles. But Dion Dawkins had a good pass-protection day. He yielded three hurries. Vlad Ducasse did a decent job on four pulling plays. He was holding on one sack and allowed a QB hit on a D-line twist.
Running back (3.5): The Bills did what was necessary in the ground game to try to keep Brady & Co. off the field. LeSean McCoy hit holes hard and showed patience in waiting for blocks to develop. Both the man scheme and gap scheme worked. The Bills rushed 10 times for 82 yards in man blocking and 12 for 50 in zone runs. When the Pats showed a five-man condensed front (which the Jets used with success against the Bills, Buffalo ran 10 times for 66 yards.
Defensive line (3.5): Adolphus Washington had one of his better games with one tackle for loss, a sack and three other good run stops. He played 36 of 70 snaps. It's hard to sack Brady. Kyle Williams was productive enough, with a sack and two hurries in 44 snaps. Eddie Yarbrough and Jerry Hughes did OK setting the edge. Hughes had two hurries but might have done more vs. Nate Solder. Overall not bad, given the degree of difficulty.
Linebacker (2.5): Ramon Humber was late coming from the weak side on the 44-yard run and got cut-blocked by David Andrews on the 31-yarder. He got sealed off on the 14-yard TD run, too, although the quick pace at that moment had the Bills' front reeling. Preston Brown fared a bit better. He had good coverage on Burkhead to force a stop in the red zone. Matt Milano showed his coverage speed in almost getting an interception. Humber had 48 snaps, Milano 22. Perhaps that gap should close. Lorenzo Alexander saw 30 snaps. He rushed the passer on eight of them and dropped into coverage twice.
Defensive backs (3.5): The Bills did not allow any cheap deep throws, aside from the 19-yarder to Gronkowski on a six-man blitz. The Pats wideouts managed just five catches for 56 yards. Brady is so dangerous from empty sets. Yet he was just 4 of 8 for 36 yards with two sacks when the Pats went to five receivers with no one in the backfield.
Special teams (3.5): Stephen Hauschka made another tough kick, from 49-yards in windy conditions. The Bills played the Pats' excellent special teams to a coverage draw. Colton Schmidt's most critical punt of the day (backed up with Buffalo down, 16-3) went for a net of 50 yards.