First quarter: Quick to kick
From the some-things-never-change department comes another decision to punt on fourth down by Bills coach Doug Marrone.
Facing a fourth-and-3 from the Patriots’ 49-yard line in the first quarter, Marrone elected to punt … despite the fact the game was meaningless to the Bills’ playoff chances. Despite the fact the ball was in New England territory. Despite the fact the Bills had moved the ball well to that point, with a touchdown on their opening drive.
Say this for Marrone: He stays true to form.
Frequent target: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wasted little time in going after Bills cornerback Ron Brooks, who made his first start of the season Sunday in place of the injured Stephon Gilmore. Brooks was targeted five times by Brady, and gave up a key first down when he fell, allowing New England receiver Brandon LaFell to gain 27 yards.
Nice start: For the second straight game, the Bills scored a touchdown on their first drive. Kyle Orton’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods capped an efficient six-play, 80-yard march.
Second quarter: Spiller sputters
There is a possibility C.J. Spiller played his final game in a Buffalo Bills uniform Sunday.
If so, a few plays in the second quarter were good examples of some of the issues Spiller has had during his time with the Bills.
One of those is pass blocking. Spiller failed to pick up blitzing Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, then stood still as Collins got back into the play to record a sack and forced a fumble, which he recovered. That set up a New England field goal.
Another is minimal gains. On a second-and-4 play from the New England 31-yard line, Spiller managed only 1 yard. The Bills failed to convert on third down and had to settle for a field goal.
Record setter: That field goal from Bills kicker Dan Carpenter, which squeaked in from 48 yards, was Carpenter’s 34th of the year. That set a new team single-season record for most field goals.
Charles in charge: Bills defensive tackle Stefan Charles made a nice play to sack Tom Brady when he overpowered Patriots guard Josh Kline. That’s a play Charles can tell his kids about one day.
Third quarter: Second stringers
The New England Patriots went into full “preseason” mode in the third quarter of Sunday’s game.
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo replaced Tom Brady in the New England lineup to start the second half. With the Patriots having already locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, they sat out or limited the playing time of several starters.
The Bills’ defense, just like it did in the first half against Brady, held steady against Garoppolo. New England went for it on fourth and 1 from the Bills’ 13-yard line, but Garoppolo was stopped by Bills cornerback Ron Brooks.
Return troubles: The Bills let up a pair of good punt returns by New England’s Danny Amendola in the third quarter, for 15 and 26 yards, respectively. The first was erased by a penalty, but the second set up a 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski that made the score 17-9.
Not quite: Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes came into the game with 9.5 sacks. He looked to get into double digits when he brought down Garoppolo, but the play was negated by a holding penalty against Bills cornerback Corey Graham.
Fourth quarter: Pressure points
The strength of the Buffalo Bills’ 2014 season was the team’s defensive line. That stayed true in the fourth quarter of the season finale.
The Bills consistently harassed Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, sacking him once when Manny Lawson and Jairus Wynn teamed up to bring him down and forcing him to scramble several other times.
The Bills finished with four sacks of Garoppolo and Tom Brady, finishing the season with 54 – second most in team history for a single season and just three off the record of 57 set in 2013.
Almost: Bills rookie receiver Sammy Watkins fell just short of a 1,000-yard season. He ended the year with 65 catches for 982 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Orton, however, did get to 3,000 passing yards for the season, the third time in his career he’s done that.
Worth watching: Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn left early in the quarter with a knee injury. The last thing the Bills needed coming out of a meaningless game was a significant injury to a starter, so Glenn’s condition will be important to monitor.