Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: B+
This isn’t why the Buffalo Bills lost. LeSean McCoy has been good against New England during his time with the Bills, and continued that Sunday with 15 carries for 93 yards. Before leaving because of injury, Tyrod Taylor picked up 32 yards on three carries. Joe Webb ran out of the Wildcat for 27 yards on just three carries. Buffalo was able to make plays on the edge of the Patriots’ defense. The final numbers look great, with 26 carries for 183 yards, an average of 7.0 per rush.
PASSING GAME: F
Before leaving because of injury, Taylor had a brutal passing day – going 9 of 18 for 65 yards and a terrible interception in the red zone on the Bills’ first drive. Taylor got hurt on the first play of the game, so it’s fair to wonder how much the injury impacted his performance. Either way, it wasn’t close to good enough. The lack of separation by receivers continues to be a weekly issue. Nathan Peterman completed just 6 of 15 passes after replacing Taylor with the Bills down 20 points. Webb threw once out of the Wildcat, but missed an open Travaris Cadet. The team total looks like something out of the 1940s – 15 of 34, 115 yards, 40.7 quarterback rating. This franchise is going nowhere without better play at quarterback.
RUN DEFENSE: D-
The “bend, but don’t break approach” limited the Patriots to three field goals in the first half, but missed tackles were an issue. Micah Hyde, Ramon Humber and Jordan Poyer all missed one on a 44-yard run by Dion Lewis in the first half. Buffalo made just two tackles for loss, one by Adolphus Washington and one by Jerry Hughes. The “gap integrity” that existed in Week 12 once again went missing.
PASS DEFENSE: B
Holding Tom Brady to 258 passing yards, no touchdowns and one interception has to be viewed as a win. The secondary had trouble with Rob Gronkowski in the second half, but that’s not a big surprise. What team doesn’t? Cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines looked good. Receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks had just 51 yards on four catches. The pass rush had one of its better showings, with Shaq Lawson, Washington and Kyle Williams getting sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
It was a quiet game here. Colton Schmidt put one of his punts into the end zone for a touchback. Not a big deal on the surface, but when you have to play a perfect game to beat your opponent, it wasn’t a great punt. Stephen Hauschka got just enough of his 49-yard field goal for the team’s only points. Brandon Tate returned three kickoffs for 68 yards, an average of 22.7 per return. Big plays have been lacking all season in that regard. The coverage units played well.
What an absolute garbage play call the fourth-and-goal fade route from the 1-yard line was. Asking rookies Peterman and Zay Jones to complete that play against Stephon Gilmore is ridiculous on offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s part. Is he really who coach Sean McDermott wants grooming whoever the next quarterback of this team is going to be? McDermott’s challenge in the first half made no sense, nor did his explanation after the game that he wanted officials to take a longer look at the play. What does that even mean? If Taylor's performance was impacted by his injury, he should have come out of the game sooner.
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Grading the Patriots
RUNNING GAME: A
It was a classic case of “run to set up the pass.” “You really have to defend the running game. Our play actions come off of that and we have a bunch of big plays off of play action today,” Brady said. Lewis’ 44-yard run and a 31-yarder by Rex Burkhead were both career longs. Burkhead punched in two touchdowns in the third quarter, one from 1 yard and another from 14 yards away to ice the win. Give credit to fullback James Develin for opening up some holes.
PASSING GAME: B
Brady looked human in the first half, going 8 of 14 for 96 yards. He started clicking in the third quarter, though, taking advantage of the matchup nightmare that is Gronkowski. Those two connected nine times for 147 yards, on just 11 targets. White and Burkhead combined for seven catches that produced 57 yards. Brady’s protection was shaky at times, as he was hit five times. He didn't always look comfortable, but got the job done like normal.
RUN DEFENSE: D
The Patriots used their own “bend, but don’t break” approach, sacrificing some yards but strengthening in the red zone, where the Bills were unsuccessful in two trips. Malcom Brown was strong in the middle of the Patriots’ defense, with seven tackles. The absence of Kyle Van Noy for most of the game hurt.
PASS DEFENSE: A
Stephon Gilmore made his point. The former Bills cornerback had outstanding coverage on the goal line, keeping Buffalo out of the end zone in the fourth quarter. Those early-season struggles are a thing of the past for Gilmore. What a luxury it is for New England to have both Gilmore and Malcolm Butler. The pass rush got four sacks, and several other times forced Bills quarterbacks to take off running before they could throw. New England had eight passes defensed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three field goals in the first half, giving his team a 9-3 lead after two quarters. Punter Ryan Allen averaged just 35 net yards, but forced two fair catches. New England’s kick-coverage unit was excellent. In addition to scoring two touchdowns, Burkhead made a tackle on special teams. Punt returner Danny Amendola couldn’t find any room on his only attempt, and took a big hit.
Winning never gets old for the Patriots. During the first half, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got into a screaming match with Brady. After the game, Bill Belichick chalked that up to both of them “out there trying to win a football game.” Everything Belichick touches turns to gold, including his decision to steal Eric Lee off the Bills’ practice squad. Lee had an interception and a sack in the win.
Story topics: Colton Schmidt/ Joe Webb/ Jordan Poyer/ LeSean McCoy/ Micah Hyde/ Nathan Peterman/ Rick Dennison/ Rob Gronkowski/ Sean McDermott/ Stephen Hauschka/ Stephon Gilmore/ Tre'davious White/ Tyrod Taylor/ Zay Jones