The Buffalo Bills’ defense largely returned to form Monday night.
A week after laying an egg against lowly Indianapolis, the Bills’ defense gave the team a fighting chance against the mighty New England Patriots on the national stage at New Era Field.
Consider this: The last time the Patriots failed to score a touchdown through three quarters in a game in which Tom Brady played the entire time was Week 2 … of the 2012 season.
That’s exactly what the Bills did Monday, holding New England to four field goals through 45 minutes. Perhaps the most impressive sequence for the defense came in the third quarter. After Buffalo quarterback Derek Anderson lost a fumble, the Patriots started with a first down at the Bills’ 29-yard line. They got inside the 10-yard line on one play, but the Bills’ defense tightened from there, stopping a James White run for no gain on first and goal, and then forcing a pair of incompletions – the second of which was caused by pressure from Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams. Alexander had a pair of sacks and a forced fumble as he continues to have an excellent season at age 35.
The Bills’ defense finally broke in the fourth quarter, though, as Brady led a 10-play, 85-yard drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by White to make the score 18-6.
"It's tough. We come out and we hold those guys to one touchdown and we still can't get the win," cornerback Tre'Davious White said. "We can't do anything about it. We've got a short turnaround. We've got a game on Sunday. We just have to get back on the drawing board."
2. Another week, another struggle for LeSean McCoy. The Bills’ running back was in the lineup after suffering a concussion last week against the Indianapolis Colts. His results, however, were sputtering at best.
McCoy had a 12-yard run out of the Wildcat formation on the game’s first play, but things quickly went downhill from there. His next 11 carries went for just 1 yard.
With the NFL’s trade deadline arriving at 4 p.m. Tuesday, there’s at least a chance Monday’s game was McCoy’s last as a Bill. The team would likely seek a big return in a trade for him, but the possibility can’t be discounted entirely, particularly after Buffalo dropped to 2-6 on the season with a 25-6 loss.
The other player most often mentioned in regards to the deadline is wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. He finished with two catches for 45 yards, sandwiching two bad penalties around his best play in the third quarter.
A crackback block by Benjamin cost the Bills 15 yards on an 18-yard completion to McCoy. The receiver responded on the very next play when he made a 40-yard catch despite tight coverage from ex-Bill Stephon Gilmore.
Benjamin, though, was flagged again later in the drive, this time for offensive pass interference.
3. The Bills suffered potentially two big injuries during the game. Rookie middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds was ruled out because of a concussion, and is in the NFL's protocol. Until that point, Edmunds had taken every defensive snap this season. Edmunds was replaced in the lineup by Julian Stanford.
Late in the game, Bills quarterback Derek Anderson was sacked by Kyle Van Noy. He stayed down on the field, then was walked back to the locker room with assistance from trainers. Bills coach Sean McDermott said after the game Anderson was still being evaluated.
4. There were no noticeable altercations between Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Tre'Davious White. Those two have a history after Gronkowski delivered a cheap shot to White during a game last December at New Era Field. The hit left White with a concussion and earned Gronkowski a suspension.
The Amherst native had a relatively quiet homecoming considering his previous performances against Buffalo, finishing with three catches for 43 yards. His 22-yard reception late in the third quarter set the Patriots up at the Bills’ 7-yard line, although the New England offense couldn’t finish the drive with a touchdown. Gronkowski came into the game with 66 catches for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 career games against the Bills.
"They played hard and they came hard," Gronkowski said of the Bills. "They brought game. They weren't backing down at all. When you've got players on the other side of the ball coming hard in the NFL, it's always going to be a tough challenge."
5. Old friends Chris Hogan and Gilmore contributed to the Patriots’ victory. Hogan had two catches for 49 yards, getting New England on the doorstep for its only offensive touchdown with a 20-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Gilmore, meanwhile, was beat just once by Benjamin. He had a pass defensed in coverage in the first half.
6. A report from NFL Network before kickoff said that the Patriots were planning to bench wide receiver Josh Gordon for about a quarter because of tardiness. That did not turn out to be the case, however, as Gordon was in on the Patriots’ first possession. Gordon has become a bigger part of the New England offense in recent weeks. He had his first 100-yard game for them in Week 7, and has started three straight games. The Bills most often matched Tre'Davious White against Gordon, who finished with four catches for 42 yards.
"That's going to be a question that you ask coach about," Gordon said after the game when asked about his reported tardiness.
7. Kicker Stephen Hauschka achieved a career milestone in the second quarter with a 47-yard field goal. That pushed his career points total to an even 1,000. Hauschka became the 10th active NFL player to hit the milestone.
"He's big for us," coach Sean McDermott said. "Everything from the way he approaches his preparation during the week and that, I think, affects the young players and the way they see him from a veteran leader standpoint. The way he prepares, he gets the results on the field because of it."
8. Williams has been on the losing end of many battles against the Patriots, but he’s also had some success against Brady. The 35-year-old veteran entered Monday night with six career sacks against Brady, his most against any quarterback. Williams played in his 175th career game, which is seventh on the Bills’ all-time list. His 47 career sacks are a franchise record for defensive tackles.
9. There were no real surprises on the Bills' list of inactives. Quarterback Josh Allen (elbow), running back Taiwan Jones (neck) and defensive end Trent Murphy (knee) are out because of injuries. Cornerback Dontae Johnson and offensive linemen Ike Boettger, Wyatt Teller and Conor McDermott were the other inactives.
Johnson was in the lineup last week, but Ryan Lewis took his place against his former team. That would be the only thing that could qualify as a mild surprise.
10. Inactive for the Patriots were defensive back Eric Rowe (groin), running back Sony Michel (knee), tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee), defensive lineman Geneo Grissom (ankle) and offensive linemen Marcus Cannon (concussion) and Brian Schwenke (foot).
11. Perhaps sensing what was to come, the official Twitter account of New Era Field sent out the following message before the game: “Bills fans, we’re excited to see you at New Era Field tonight. Reminder that if you throw anything onto the field you will be arrested. Police and video presence will be heavy.”
That warning wasn’t enough, as the bizarre tradition of fans throwing, ahem, adult toys on the field continued in the second half.
Story topics: Chris Hogan/ Conor McDermott/ Dontae Johnson/ Ike Boettger/ Josh Allen/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Kyle Williams/ LeSean McCoy/ Rob Gronkowski/ Ryan Lewis/ Stephen Hauschka/ Stephon Gilmore/ Taiwan Jones/ Tre'davious White/ Trent Murphy/ Wyatt Teller