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Matchup Winners: Patriots took advantage on third downs


Pats' two-TE set vs. Dennis Thurman

The Patriots’ two-tight end formation is the No. 1 matchup nightmare in the NFL. Play extra defensive backs, and the Pats run the ball down your throat. Play a regular front, and the tight ends will destroy linebackers in coverage. The Bills played mostly nickel defense, and did well stopping the run with their front six. The Bills held the Pats to 56 yards on 16 carries in two-TE sets, unofficially.

Gronkowski was a monster via the pass. The Bills double-covered him a bunch, but the Pats used personnel groups and formations to isolate him, like on the 53-yard TD pass, when he beat Nickell Robey-Coleman. Gronkowski was split wide at least six times, and he outmuscled Stephon Gilmore on one of those for a 31-yard catch-and-rumble gain. Gronkowski beat LB Brandon Spikes on an 18-yard out and up. Brady hit Bennett for 16 yards with Spikes in coverage.

Tom Brady vs. third-down defense

The Bills entered the game ranked ninth in the NFL on third-down defense, holding opponents to 34.8 percent conversions. But New England has ranked among the top 11 in the NFL in third-down conversions 13 of the past 15 years with Tom Brady as quarterback.

Not surprisingly, Brady was superb on the money downs. New England was 9 of 13 on third-down conversions (69 percent), and all of the conversions came on called pass plays. That included a 15-yard scramble by Brady to convert a third-and-5 play in the third quarter. In Brady’s four starts this season, the Pats are converting 55.8 percent. Just nine teams since 1990 have converted better than 50 percent for a full season. The Bills helped them with two coverage busts on the first two TDs, both of which were third-down plays. The Bills did get two second-quarter sacks on third downs.

Matt Patricia vs. Tyrod Taylor

The Patriots’ defensive coordinator contained the Bills’ quarterback well. Taylor’s numbers weren’t impressive –- 19 of 38 for 183 yards with no TDs. He scrambled five times for 48 yards and one TD.

Fans can decide for themselves how much slack should Taylor get for playing with a limited cast. He had no receivers who could win on the outside. New England’s best cornerback, Malcolm Butler, was matched up on Robert Woods a lot and didn’t allow much. (Woods deserves some credit for playing hurt.) Taylor had three conspicuous bad throws from the pocket in the first half, one too high for Brandon Tate, one too high and hard near the goal line for Reggie Bush and one too high for Walter Powell. He made some great escapes, including one that produced a 22-yard gain for Jerome Felton. The Bills need more from Taylor in the coming weeks.

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