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Tim Graham’s Report Card: Pass defense, special teams make the grade

» Grading the Bills

RUNNING GAME: D

Buffalo’s running backs averaged 3.4 yards a carry and were tackled behind the line four times. Fred Jackson is pounding out yards harder than ever because they aren’t coming like they used to. He ran 18 times for 58 yards. Anthony Dixon had more touches than a healthy C.J. Spiller.

PASSING GAME: B-

The Pro Football Hall of Fame won’t ask for Kyle Orton’s uniform or anything, but he didn’t throw an interception. He was 16 of 23 for 176 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to Robert Woods. New England sacked him twice, the only two times he was hit. But on one of those, Orton fumbled.

RUN DEFENSE: C-

For the fourth straight game and eighth time over the last 10 games, the Bills allowed at least 116 rushing yards. They gave up a 34-yard LaGarrette Blount run. A highlight: Ron Brooks stopped Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo behind the line on a fourth-and-1 run inside the red zone.

PASS DEFENSE: B

Buffalo broke up only one pass but notched four sacks, one on Tom Brady and three on the scrambly Garoppolo. Jerry Hughes came close twice, but Garoppolo escaped. Mario Williams tallied a sack, giving him a career-best 14.5 this season. Stefan Charles bull-rushed left guard Josh Kline into Brady for a second-quarter sack.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

The Marcus Thigpen pickup continued to pay dividends with a 49-yard kickoff return, leading to a 48-yard Dan Carpenter field goal in the second quarter. Carpenter’s kick set a club record for field goals in a season at 34. Kickoff specialist Jordan Gay was perfect on four tries. Buffalo surrendered a 26-yard Danny Amendola punt return.

COACHING: B

Even in a meaningless game mostly against the Patriots’ junior varsity, Doug Marrone twice punted on fourth and short on the opponent’s side of the field. But the Bills beat the opponents on the field with them and won in Gillette Stadium for the first time.

» Grading the Patriots

RUNNING GAME: B

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left guard Dan Connolly didn’t dress. Left tackle Nate Solder was injured. Despite the backups, New England averaged 4.6 yards a carry and gained its most rushing yards in six games. Blount ran 10 times for 62 yards. Jonas Gray was scratched, and Shane Vereen was nearly invisible.

PASSING GAME: C

For the first time since 2003, the Patriots failed to score a touchdown at home. Much of that came from a flat passing game with top receiver Julian Edelman and Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski idled. Brady played the first half but completed only eight throws for 80 yards. Garoppolo, this year’s 62nd overall draft pick, was 10 of 17 for 90 yds.

RUN DEFENSE: B

New England had some trouble with Dixon, but not much with Jackson or Spiller. The 3.2 yards Buffalo averaged ranks as one of New England’s better games in that category, where it’s among the NFL’s best. Mammoth defensive tackle Sealver Siliga notched a pair of tackles for losses.

PASS DEFENSE: C

The only opponent to throw for fewer yards than Orton was Raiders rookie Derek Carr in Week Two. But most of Orton’s mistakes were self-inflicted. The Patriots had zero pass breakups. Woods was wide open in the end zone for his TD catch.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

Stephen Gostkowski made field goals of 24, 44 and 35 yards. But he recorded touchbacks on only two of his four kickoffs, and Thigpen has been one of Buffalo’s most dangerous players. Amendola was slick on punt returns and had a 15-yarder called back.

COACHING: B

Bill Belichick rested a bunch of starters. The game had zero implications in standings or seedings, but Belichick converted a fourth-and-short play in the second quarter and failed on fourth and 1 inside the red zone in the third quarter. He valued the latter situation as a moment to gain experience rather than score three easy points.

email: tgraham@buffnews.com

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