PATS-BILLS MATCHUP WINNERS
A committee vs. Rob Gronkowski.
The Bills held the Patriots’ All-Pro tight end to two catches for 37 yards, his lowest catch total in 24 games. Tom Brady targeted him seven times. The Bills mixed it up. Nigel Bradham had some nice chucks on Gronk at the line of scrimmage and had tight coverage on him on two incompletions sent Gronk’s way. Manny Lawson jammed him once and passed him off to Duke Williams, whose tight coverage forced the throw to go elsewhere. Ronald Darby covered him a few times when Gronk was lined up wide. Jerry Hughes showed awesome versatility by staying stride for stride with him on one deep ball down the sideline. The Pats isolated Gronk on Hughes by using a run formation and motioning him over to Hughes’ side. The Bills did not chuck Gronk all game. Doing it every time can put a linebacker out of position at times.
Matt Patricia vs. Tyrod Taylor
The Patriots don’t give you that many good opportunities to make big plays. You’ve got to hit a few of them when the shot is there. Taylor threw for a respectable 233 yards, but he misfired on some key throws downfield that could have made a big difference. No, he couldn’t get the ball to Sammy Watkins, who had only three catches. But that’s almost a given against the Pats. Patricia, the defensive coordinator, locked Malcolm Butler on Watkins, with plenty of safety help over the top. However, Taylor missed Watkins open on deep balls down the left sideline on back-to-back series in the third quarter. Both were underthrown. He also underthrew Chris Hogan deep down the left sideline in the second quarter. Taylor didn’t throw any interceptions. He scrambled and avoided sacks well. But he didn’t play good enough to beat Tom Brady.
Dennis Thurman vs. Tom Brady
The Bills held Brady to 51.2 percent completions – 20 of 39 passing. It was his worst completion percentage of the season and his worst in a game that mattered in 26 games (not counting the meaningless regular-season finale against the Bills last year). Thurman and the defensive coaches seemed to confuse Brady in the first half by rushing three men and dropping eight into coverage on six plays. Brady was just 2 of 6 for 14 yards on those rushes. Yes, Brady did beat the blitz for the key 41-yard gainer to Danny Amendola. But the Bills knocked Brady down 15 times, including one sack. As usual against the Bills, it was all on Brady’s shoulders. Only this time it was harder for him because he didn’t have injured receiver Julian Edelman. New England passed 40 times and rushed 22. In the first meeting they passed 59 times and ran 15.