Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: C
LeSean McCoy must feel like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He finished with 71 yards on 17 carries, but if he’s not in the game, the Bills’ rushing attack is nonexistent. How Mike Tolbert still has a job in the NFL is beyond me. He carried the ball three times for minus-3 yards. Travaris Cadet suffered a broken ankle, which is a tough blow because he had given the Bills some decent work the last few weeks. Buffalo needs to add another running back before next week, because counting on Tolbert to be the No. 2 behind McCoy is a mistake. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor accounted for 16 yards on three carries.
PASSING GAME: C
Taylor went 21 of 38 for 281 yards, but failed to get his team into the end zone in two games against the Patriots this year. The Bills have every right to feel cheated about the overturned Kelvin Benjamin should-have-been touchdown catch. Benjamin showed why the Bills traded for him with five catches for 70 yards. Rookie receiver Zay Jones has completely disappeared from the offense. He had no catches for the third straight game. The offensive line gave up six sacks, although Taylor shares in the blame for some of them.
RUN DEFENSE: F
Once again, the Bills got shredded on the ground. Rookie linebacker Matt Milano had five tackles, but was out of position on a few instances and didn’t have his best game. Middle linebacker Preston Brown didn’t get much help. He was strong with 14 tackles, including two for losses. Defensive ends Ryan Davis and Eddie Yarbrough combined for just two tackles.
PASS DEFENSE: C
Things got off to a great start with Jordan Poyer’s interception return for a touchdown, but that success wasn’t sustained. The coverage at times against Rob Gronkowski was excellent, but the Patriots’ tight end can still make plays even when that’s the case. The pass interference call against Micah Hyde was weak. Brown did a nice job on coverage against running back Dion Lewis on back-to-back plays. Leonard Johnson struggled early, but the Bills held up at cornerback reasonably well with E.J. Gaines being out of the lineup.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Stephen Hauschka missed badly on a 50-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. More on that later. Return man Brandon Tate was smart to take as many touchbacks as he did instead of bringing the ball out. Colton Schmidt was consistent, with a 41.7-net average. Cornerback Leonard Pitts laid a big hit on Lewis on a kick return.
Say it with me: Field goals don’t beat the Patriots. Why Sean McDermott settled for one in the fourth quarter instead of going for it on fourth and 1 is a real head scratcher. I liked going for it on fourth and 2 from the Patriots’ 6-yard line, but if you’re going to do that, why not run on the plays before that? The ongoing love affair for Tolbert is baffling. Taking a 12-men-on-the-field penalty was sloppy.
Grading the Patriots
RUNNING GAME: A+
Remember when Rex Ryan said he didn’t know Dion Lewis’ name? Most Bills fans will have a hard time forgetting it. Lewis torched the Bills for 129 yards, a single-game career high, and one touchdown. Former Bills running back Mike Gillislee got into the end zone – which you just knew Bill Belichick was going to do. The Patriots didn’t miss Rex Burkhead and James White. Imagine what their totals would have looked like with them.
PASSING GAME: B
Tom Brady didn’t have great numbers by his lofty standards – going 21 of 28 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. How great is Rob Gronkowski? His one-handed touchdown catch despite tight coverage by Micah Hyde was one of the best plays of this season. Receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks were quiet, combining for five catches for 47 yards. Lewis added a 12-yard touchdown reception as the Pats pulled away late. Gillislee’s first catch of the season went for 15 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: A
Malcom Brown is a stud along the Patriots’ defensive line. He finished with six tackles. Call it Flowers Power. Marquis and Trey combined for 18 tackles, including six for losses. Former Bills practice squad member Eric Lee dropped McCoy after a minimal gain on the Bills’ first offensive play. That set the tone. The Patriots didn't miss linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who was out with a calf injury.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
The pass rush was able to tee off on Taylor, with Marquis Flowers leading the way with 2.5 sacks. Safety Patrick Chung had two passes defensed, including one that bounced off his back side. That’s how you know it’s your day. Poor Elandon Roberts looked absolutely silly in coverage against McCoy. Safety Jordan Richards served as a spy against Taylor, keeping him in the pocket.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
It’s not surprising, but the Patriots were pretty much perfect here. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski became the 19th player in NFL history with at least 1,600 points. Punter Ryan Allen was needed just once, but produced a 44-yard punt. Lewis returned two kicks for 43 yards, while Amendola gained 19 yards on two punt returns. New England’s cover units were solid.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was really digging into his playbook, giving third-string tight end Jacob Hollister a carry. The Patriots also ran a direct snap to Lewis, with Brady auditioning for an Academy Award by attempting to fake a high snap. The decision to try a field goal on fourth and 1 from the Bills’ 22-yard line was easy to second guess. Belichick had a lot of time to think about it, too, with the two-minute warning and a timeout spent by each team. For the second straight game against the Bills, Belichick made the necessary halftime adjustments to turn a close game into a comfortable New England win. Neither team took any dumb penalties, which was something to watch for given the history between Gronkowski and Tre’Davious White from the first game.