1. Watkins sets tone. Credit the Bills with not shying away from Revis Island right from the start. In the first meeting against New England, Buffalo targeted Sammy Watkins only three times, and not once in the first half against the Patriots’ star cornerback, Darrelle Revis.
On Sunday, the Bills went to Watkins on the fourth play from scrimmage and got a 43-yard catch and run. Quarterback Kyle Orton beat a blitz and found Watkins in man coverage against Revis. Watkins ran a dig route to the left. Revis, the six-time Pro Bowler, had outside leverage on the pattern. A good route by Watkins gave him position inside, and Orton’s pass was on time 18 yards downfield. Watkins slipped Revis’ grasp and outran safety Devin McCourty to get to the New England 10.
2. Woods TD. The Bills confused the Patriots with a bunch formation on their first touchdown of the game. Lined up to the left were Scott Chandler, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan, in that order. It was a second-and-goal play from the 6. Hogan ran to the left flat, Chandler ran to the left corner, and three defensive backs followed them. Woods ran a hook route up the middle and caught the pass to cap an 80-yard drive. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler and safety Patrick Chung all followed Chandler and Hogan. McCourty stood, hands on hips, staring at the three of them.
3. Short-yardage fun. The Bills got creative with a short-yardage formation on their second touchdown. It was a third-and-goal play from the 1½-yard line, and the Bills had three offensive tackles, two tight ends and two running backs on the field. Chandler and Fred Jackson lined up wide left. Wide right were extra tackle Chris Hairston and Lee Smith. It might have been the first time ever Hairston lined up as a slot receiver. New England had only five men in the box. Anthony Dixon ran straight up the middle for an easy score. Guard Erik Pears slipped past defensive tackle Alan Branch and got a piece of middle linebacker Darius Fleming to give Dixon more room. It put the Bills ahead, 14-3, in the second quarter.
4. Stopped on downs. New England went for it on fourth and 1 from the Buffalo 13 with 5:57 left in the third quarter. The Pats were down, 17-6. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took a shotgun snap and tried to run around left tackle. But the Bills blew the play up. Jerry Hughes had penetration in the backfield. Nigel Bradham held the edge. Aaron Williams crashed into the backfield to force Garoppolo wider. Brandon Spikes filled a gap. Then Ron Brooks made the tackle near the sideline for a 1-yard loss.
5. Carpenter again. What would a top-10 plays list be without Dan Carpenter? The Bills’ place-kicker booted a 48-yard field goal to give Buffalo a 17-6 lead in the second quarter. He finished the season 7 of 8 on kicks of 40 to 49 yards. Over the past two seasons for the Bills he’s 17 of 19 from 40 to 49 yards. Those are the two best seasons from that distance for the Bills since Steve Christie was the kicker.
6. Collins strikes. Orton’s immobility hurt the Bills on a turnover midway through the second quarter. Pats linebacker Jamie Collins came free up the middle as part of a four-man rush. C.J. Spiller didn’t do a good enough job blocking Collins, only grazing him. Collins forced Orton to evade and re-set in the pocket. If Orton had some mobility, he would have escaped. But he waited too long. Collins came back from behind and slapped the ball out of Orton’s grasp. Collins recovered at the Buffalo 44, and it set up a Patriots field goal.
7. Charles in charge. New England was in good scoring position after the Collins turnover, facing a second-and-3 situation from the Buffalo 19. But Bills defensive tackle Stefan Charles stalled the drive. He bull-rushed guard Josh Kline, knocking the second-year guard onto his heels with an initial push. Kline stumbled back into Tom Brady, and Charles dragged the quarterback down for a 7-yard loss.
8. Cannon fodder. With starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer sitting out, the Pats started backup Marcus Cannon. He shifted over to left tackle in the second half and was hopeless in trying to block Jerry Hughes. In the fourth quarter, Garoppolo did a Jack Kemp impersonation, circa 1967, weaving his way backward before being taken down for a 15-yard loss. The sack officially went to Manny Lawson and Jarius Wynn, but Hughes’ whipping of Cannon made it happen.
9. Bryant push. Corbin Bryant got pressure up the middle to force Brady to throw incomplete on a third-down play from the Bills’ 5. The Pats settled for their first field goal.
10. Defenseless call. It was a hard hit by Aaron Williams but a bad call by the officials for hitting a defenseless receiver on an incompletion to Tim Wright in the fourth quarter. The pass was tipped before it got to Wright, and Williams hit him, shoulder-to-chest, as the ball arrived.