» Grading the Bills
B If there’s a silver lining Sunday, it was LeSean McCoy’s game. One week after an uninspiring 2.4 yards per carry, he was sudden and explosive with every cut. McCoy again said he’s not 100 percent but, this time, he played like it. In fact, the Bills should’ve kept pounding the run with McCoy (and Karlos Williams) early on. After a knife-through-butter first drive, the Bills dropped back to pass 10 of their next 13 plays as the Patriots raced ahead, 21-7. McCoy’s 89 yards on 15 attempts (5.9 avg.) is a good sign.
C- Tyrod Taylor connected with Robert Woods (32 yards) and Sammy Watkins (24 yards) for touchdowns to close late, but Buffalo’s passing game was mostly anemic. Taylor misfired high on two picks and, other times, didn’t see open receivers deep. He had Charles Clay open deep right for one potential score. Of course, it didn’t help that the protection in front of him crumbled to the tune of eight sacks. A team built to win with the run and a safe, efficient passing game suffered from an identity crisis on Sunday.
C Rex Ryan didn’t know Dion Lewis’ name early in the week and then didn’t back down from his disrespect after Lewis had 138 total yards, saying “I still don’t know his name. Next time run the ball.” One reason he was so surly is that Lewis made Ryan eat his words. New England only handed the ball off to running backs 10 times despite playing with a lead all game, but the Bills missed several tackles on the slippery Lewis. Said the fellow Pitt-product McCoy, “He’s going to be good.”
F Too bad King Kong wasn’t available. The Bills tried just about everything on Rob Gronkowski and nothing worked. Cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties all got their shot at Gronkowski – often alone in one-on-one coverage – and he made Buffalo pay with seven catches for 113 yards and one touchdown. Not a good look for Ryan, who poked fun at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coverage on the tight end. A defense so aggressive, so violent a week ago, seemed content letting Brady chip away at them underneath.
F The Bills had six special teams penalties in the first quarter alone. Dan Carpenter missed an extra point that could’ve proved costly as the Bills mounted a comeback late. Danny Amendola burnt Buffalo for one 28-yard punt return that teed up a touchdown. And the Bills committed three penalties – three! – on an onside kick attempt. No, it doesn’t get much worse than that.
D Give Ryan credit for being himself. He makes no apologies for being brash, for antagonizing his opponent. This style could “build a bully” that wins. But on Sunday, it only built a bully that commits penalties – the Bills had 14 flags in all for 140 yards and multiple players admitted afterward they played with too much of an edge. Over the season, Ryan must strike the right balance.
» Grading the Patriots
B+ In the Bills locker room, some reporters asked players if they were surprised the Patriots kept throwing the ball deep into the second half with such a double-digit lead that grew to 37-13. Many scowled and said “no” immediately. Probably because New England masterfully morphs its short passing game into, essentially, a running game. Julian Edelman was targeted 19 times, often underneath on high-percentage passes.
A Tom Brady dissected the Bills’ defense like a frog in eighth grade biology. Yet again, the Patriots quarterback dominated Buffalo in Buffalo. He’s extremely accurate. His ball still carries more zip than 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the game. And he beats defenses with his mind – Brady located and exploited mismatches all game. Somehow, he schemed Gronkowski on linebacker Preston Brown one play and then Edelman one on one on a crossing route the next. And only Tom Brady can turn Aaron Dobson and Dion Lewis into game-changers.
B While McCoy did find room to run, the Patriots successfully contained Tyrod Taylor as a runner. Outside of a 23-yarder and his 7-yard touchdown, there weren’t many rushing lanes for Taylor available. The Patriots maintained containment while also gang-tackling Taylor like a running back – he was swarmed. Defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Jamie Collins combined for 5.5 sacks, lassoing Taylor before he could take off and burn them with his 4.5 speed.
B Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher and Logan Ryan are no Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner but they might be good enough to get this Patriots team back to the Super Bowl. New England was an opportunistic bunch deep at The Ralph, swiping the tipped balls for picks. Ryan’s diving interception sealed the win. What Butler lacks in pure athleticism, he compensates with competitiveness when the ball arrives. Watkins (60 yards) was a non-factor much of the day.
B+ Talk about a tale of two kickers. Whereas Carpenter’s seat heats up again with his missed extra point, Stephen Gostkowski coolly drilled kicks from 46, 21, 50 and 25 yards. New England needed all of those points, too. The kicker who hit on 94.6 percent of his kicks in 2014 and 92.7 in 2013 appears automatic again. New England also only needed to punt once.
A The Patriots might catch flak for passing so much in the second half, but why wouldn’t you with Brady? He’s in complete, devastating command. For as cliched as the whole “Do your job” mantra is, Bill Belichick’s team was supremely prepared for this one. The noise didn’t bother them at all. And somehow, the Patriots can lose a slew of starters on defense and still patch together a contender. That’s coaching.