Tom Brady’s performance Sunday simply was the greatest by an opposing quarterback ever in front of a Buffalo Bills home crowd.
Dan Marino had some phenomenal games at The Ralph – a 404-yarder in 1986, a blowout of the Bills in 1993 and the famous Duel in the Snow with Jim Kelly in the 1991 playoffs. George Blanda threw for 464 way back in 1961 but also had four interceptions that day. Those don’t match the single-handed brilliance New England’s No. 12 exhibited in skewering the Buffalo Bills for 466 passing yards.
“The guy’s phenomenal,” said Pats tight end Scott Chandler. “He’s so consistent, accurate, everything you’d want in a quarterback.”
The 10 plays that shaped the game:
1. Gronk starts fast: The Patriots tested how exacting the Bills’ young defensive backs could be in zone coverage early and got a 36-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots’ tight end was lined up in the middle of a three-receiver set to the right, opposite Bills linebacker Manny Lawson. Lawson did not try to chuck Gronkowski, but dropped into an underneath zone. Both wideouts ran hook routes, while Gronk ran a skinny post up the seam. Lawson did his job, covering the short flat. But rookie corner Ronald Darby appeared to be late leaving the outside wideout to get over-the-top coverage and Brady made an easy strike. It set up the Pats’ first score.
2. Tyrod overthrow: Tyrod Taylor was inaccurate over the middle on his second-quarter interception, which gave traction to the New England steamroller. The pocket was clean. But Taylor’s first read wasn’t open, and his feet weren’t right when he delivered to tight end Charles Clay, who was marginally open on a 10-yard hook route. The throw over Clay’s head was intercepted by Malcolm Butler and returned to the Buffalo 30, setting up a TD that put the Pats ahead, 21-7.
3. Red zone mix-up: It’s tough enough to cover Gronkowski when everyone’s on the same page. The Bills were confused on the Pats’ 2-yard, second-quarter TD to Gronkowski. Gronk went in motion late to the outside spot on the left, across from Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore had outside leverage and was expecting help inside. But Duke Williams didn’t react quickly enough after the late motion and Gronkowski was wide open for the score. Late motion gave the Bills some problems.
“We turned some guys loose and … he doesn’t need any help, that’s for sure,” Rex Ryan said.
4. Edelman to the pylon: The Pats used a quick snap to put extra pressure on the defense on Julian Edelman’s 22-yard, fourth-quarter TD. There were two receivers on each side of the formation. Brady rolled on a bootleg to the right. Edelman, lined up wide right, slow-played his route off the line of scrimmage pretending to wait for a quick pass, then sprinted across the field to the left. Safety Aaron Williams slipped, which created even more separation, and Edelman beat Williams to the left corner pylon. It put the Pats ahead, 37-13.
How did Edelman rate his acting skills on the play?
“I can’t give away all my secrets,” he said, smiling.
5. A drop in the bucket: Brady’s finest throw of the day was a 40-yard strike over the shoulder of running back Dion Lewis on the very edge of the left sideline. It was a five-receiver, empty-backfield set. Lewis was matched against linebacker Nigel Bradham, who had good coverage. Not good enough. It set up a second-quarter field goal.
“It was a great throw, a great adjustment by him,” Lewis said. “I just ran a good route the way I was taught all week in practice.”
6. A drop in the bucket II: Clinging to a five-point lead with 3:24 left Brady again went to Lewis, matched up with Bradham, out of an empty, five-wide set. Bradham had tight coverage but never looked back for the ball and was called for a 22-yard penalty. It was the right call.
7. Brady picks up blitz: On the next play after the Bradham interference, Brady shifted Edelman in motion to the left at the last second before the snap. Edelman picked up the blitz. Brady threw a perfect 29-yard strike to Danny Amendola to the Bills’ 17 despite getting knocked flat by Mario Williams. That killed any miracle comeback hopes.
“He does that a lot,” Edelman said. “He puts us in the right situation. That’s why he’s good.”
8. Taylor escapes: Taylor sidestepped a near sack by Rob Ninkovich, rolled to the right and threw a 32-yard TD to Robert Woods early in the fourth quarter.
9. Watkins scores: Sammy Watkins blew by Bradley Fletcher on his 24-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.
10. Edelman breaks free: Who says Brady is less effective if you move him off his spot? He was flushed out of the pocket but hit Edelman for an 8-yard TD in the first quarter.