Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: F
A non-factor all game. LeSean McCoy had six carries for 9 yards. His future with the Bills is looking cloudier with each passing week. McCoy rarely had room to run, which starts with his offensive line. Still, he doesn’t look like the same dominant player he’s long been. It says something when McCoy has a game like he did and undrafted rookie Keith Ford gains 33 yards on seven carries. Josh Allen added 30 yards on five carries. Chris Ivory missed the game because of a shoulder injury. “I just expected us to be able to run the ball more – or better than we did today,” coach Sean McDermott said.
PASSING GAME: F
Some garbage-time drives made Josh Allen’s final numbers – 20 of 41, 217 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions – look better than they really were. The Bills clearly need better weapons for Allen. We’ve known that. But the rookie quarterback wasn’t good Sunday, either, misfiring badly on his two interceptions and flat-out missing too many other throws. Yes, drops hurt him again, but not every one, or even most, of Allen’s 21 incompletions were the result of drops. Even though Zay Jones finished with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, his production when the game was still reasonably close was a huge disappointment. Allen wasn’t sacked, although he was forced to scramble on a few occasions.
RUN DEFENSE: F-
Woof. A pathetic showing. Rookie middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds struggled, even if he finished with 11 tackles. He wasn’t alone, either. “It comes down to us doing a lot of different things poorly when you give up that kind of rushing yardage,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “We got outexecuted, and when we were in position, we tackled poorly. It just snowballs and becomes a bad day when you’re doing, two, three or four things poorly.” The Bills made just two tackles for loss, one of which was a sack by Jordan Poyer. Corey Thompson forced a fumble, but the Bills really miss Matt Milano.
PASS DEFENSE: A-
Poyer was a beast. He intercepted Brady for the second straight year in Gillette Stadium and also had the Bills’ only sack. Lorenzo Alexander had an interception and finished with a team-leading 14 tackles. That’s impressive stuff for a 35-year-old. Poyer and Rafael Bush couldn’t bring down Julian Edelman on a 32-yard touchdown reception, but that was about the only slip-up through the air. Outside corners Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace gave up very little. Rookie Taron Johnson is missed as the slot corner.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
These are a joke. If Stephen Hauschka isn’t healthy enough to make a 43-yard field goal, he shouldn’t be playing. If he is healthy, he should never hit the crossbar from that distance. The Bills had a punt partially blocked, which you might not have been able to tell because Matt Darr had some awful efforts that weren’t touched. He averaged a woeful 32.2 net yards on six punts, none of which were downed inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line. It also takes him a painfully long time to kick the ball. Victor Bolden Jr. was the latest to get a look as a kick returner as the Bills search for an answer there. It would be an absolute shock if coordinator Danny Crossman was retained after this terrible year.
McDermott was outclassed by Bill Belichick. Settling for a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter when trailing 14-0 is never, ever going to beat New England. Brian Daboll’s play calling didn’t make a lot of sense at times. This was a game the Patriots tried to let the Bills hang around, and Buffalo refused to do so. McDermott is now 0-4 in his career against New England, and none of the losses have been within two possessions. As a Christmas gift to fans, can McDermott please stop running the “try to draw them offside” play?
Grading the Patriots
RUNNING GAME: A+
Rookie Sony Michel was a beast, gaining 116 yards on 18 carries. James White took a touchdown run 27 yards to the house. Rex Burkhead plowed his way to 39 yards on 13 carries. New England could have easily topped 300 rushing yards if it didn’t take its foot off the gas late. As it was, the Patriots finished with 273 yards on a whopping 47 carries, and average of 5.8 per rush. Receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett combined for 79 rushing yards on just six carries. Belichick praised the blocking of his receivers in the running game.
PASSING GAME: D
Tom Brady didn’t do much, completing 13 of 24 passes for 126 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Rob Gronkowski was held without a catch on three targets. Without Josh Gordon, the Patriots lack a true vertical threat. Edelman showed great awareness to keep going on his touchdown run. “We didn’t have our best game in the pass game, but we won,” Brady said.
RUN DEFENSE: A
The Patriots came into the game 17th against the run this season, but you couldn’t tell that by Sunday’s effort. Even though New England had just one tackle for loss, there was nowhere for McCoy to go. Limiting Allen to 30 yards is also a job well done. Safety Patrick Chung was the team leader with seven tackles. New England had nine players who made at least three tackles.
PASS DEFENSE: A
The Patriots weren’t able to record any sacks, but did hit Allen four times. Cornerbacks Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson both had interceptions. “I ready his eyes the whole play,” Jackson said of his interception. “He actually threw the seven route and I jumped it.” Old friend Stephon Gilmore got lucky when Bills receiver Robert Foster lost the ball in the sun after getting behind the Patriots’ cornerback.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Patterson is regarded as one of the game’s best kick returners, but he made a couple questionable decisions in bringing the ball out of the end zone, gaining just 30 yards combined on the plays and pinning New England deep in its own end. Edelman had a 25-yard punt return. Punter Ryan Allen averaged 41.2 net yards. The punt-coverage team did good work.
This was an absolute master class by Belichick, who found the weaknesses in the Bills’ run defense and exploited them over and over again. Just when you want to throw dirt on the Patriots, they respond in typical fashion. The call to go for it on fourth and 5 on the play that resulted in Edelman’s 32-yard touchdown worked out perfectly. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks, but they responded with a great week of preparation,” Belichick said of his team. The coach deserves credit for that.
Story topics: Chris Ivory/ Danny Crossman/ Jordan Poyer/ Josh Allen/ Keith Ford/ LeSean McCoy/ Levi Wallace/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Darr/ Matt Milano/ Rob Gronkowski/ Robert Foster/ Sean McDermott/ Stephen Hauschka/ Taron Johnson/ Tre'davious White/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Victor Bolden Jr./ Zay Jones