FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Buffalo Bills’ defense made Tom Brady look mortal Sunday.
The problem is, that same defense made the New England Patriots’ three-headed rushing attack look superhuman.
The Bills allowed a whopping 273 rushing yards in a 24-12 loss at Gillette Stadium. That’s the most allowed since New Orleans gained 298 yards in Week 10 of the 2017 season and tied for the 17th most ever allowed by the Bills. For a time Sunday, it looked like the franchise record of 320 rushing yards against – set all the way back in 1962 against the Dallas Texans – was in jeopardy.
“We didn’t execute,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “I mean, we took poor angles. We didn’t tackle well. You know, basically that’s what it comes down to. When you don’t execute against a team that flourishes, and that’s what they do, that’s what happens.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has come in with a similar game plan against the Bills before. Last year, New England ran for 191 and 193 yards in two games against Buffalo.
“They came in with a few different run schemes that we’ve had some trouble with throughout the year,” Williams said. “And like I said, we didn’t execute well enough. Eye discipline was poor, so whenever you have a multitude of different things going on, it adds up to a bad day.”
“They copycatted a couple teams we played in the past, like the Saints from last year,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “We kind of had a good idea of what they were going to come and try to do – we just never were able to adjust to it. That’s really frustrating.”
The Saints averaged 6.2 yards per carry in their win last season.
The Patriots piled up 179 yards on the ground Sunday in the first half alone. That’s the most rushing yards allowed by the Bills in the first half since the Jets had 212 in a losing effort in 2009.
Rookie Sony Michel, who missed the first meeting between the teams in October because of a knee injury, rumbled for 116 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson had 66 yards on just four carries, and might have had more if not for a knee injury. Fellow receiver Phillip Dorsett had a 17-yard carry. James White, who usually does most of his damage as a receiver for New England, rushed for 41 yards on eight carries, including a 27-yard touchdown run in the first half. Running back Rex Burkhead got into the act with 31 yards on eight carries.
“They have a good defense over there, and it’s always tough every time we play them,” White said. “I think the offensive line, it starts with them. They did a great job today of being physical. … It’s not easy as much as we ran the ball today to keep doing the right thing, keep being physical for that many plays, but they did it. We had a lot of rushing yards.”
Brady finished the game going just 13 of 24 for 126 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was taken out of the game with just under seven minutes to go, with New England leading, 24-6.
2. Charles Clay’s time with the Bills looks to be coming to an end. The team’s starting tight end for the last four years, Clay was a healthy inactive Sunday. He has struggled to produce much offensively all season, with just 21 catches for 184 yards and no touchdowns. His production has really bottomed out in the last month, as he has two catches for 15 yards in four games since returning from a two-game absence caused by a hamstring injury.
“I was told, so I just kind of control what I can and try to be a good teammate and help these guys out there as much as I can,” Clay said after the game of not being in the lineup.
Coach Sean McDermott said it was a coach's decision and cited productivity and giving opportunities to younger players.
Clay, 29, carries a $9 million salary-cap hit in 2019, the final season of a five-year contract signed by former General Manager Doug Whaley. If released, the Bills would save $4.5 million of that against next year’s cap.
Without Clay, Jason Croom and Logan Thomas were the team’s two tight ends. Croom had four catches for 55 yards, but lost a critical fumble late in the third quarter inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line. That’s the second time this season Croom has lost a fumble in opposition territory. Thomas finished without a catch on one target. He missed making a touchdown catch early in the third quarter when a throw sailed through his hands at the goal line.
3. It was a quiet game for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Amherst native finished without a catch on three targets. It was only the fourth game in his career that he has gone without a catch.
“I’m on year nine now, and I’ve been in games where we just run the ball the whole game if it’s working,” Gronkowski said. “I’ll just tell you this: Whatever it takes to win a game, that’s what we’re doing.”
Gronkowski had a pass bounce off his hands on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, leading to an interception by Poyer. That was one of three takeaways forced by the Buffalo defense.
“Taking the ball away is a huge emphasis for us, and any time we have three takeaways in a game, you’d think you’d have a good opportunity to win,” Poyer said. “But that just wasn’t it today. We weren’t able to stop the run and that’s what it came down to.”
4. It’s fair to wonder if Stephen Hauschka is healthy enough to be playing. The Bills’ kicker came up short on a 43-yard field-goal attempt in the first half, hitting the crossbar. The snap and hold looked clean, and wind was minimal Sunday, so there’s no way that should happen.
Asked if the wind was a factor, Hauschka said, “Yeah, I’ve got to make that kick.”
Asked whether he’s healthy enough to be playing right now, he said, "I mean we’ve got one week left, so I’m just preparing for that next game, trying to do the best I can.”
In other words, he didn’t have many answers. For what it’s worth, Hauschka did make field goals of 35 and 41 yards in the third quarter, kicking in the opposite direction.
5. For the second straight week, Isaiah McKenzie was carted off the field, only to later return to action. He was carted to the locker room in the first half for evaluation of a head injury. It was announced early in the third quarter that he was cleared to return.
Linebacker Julian Stanford wasn’t able to do the same. He left the game in the first half and was later ruled out because of an ankle injury.
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson was carted to the locker room midway through the third quarter. He attempted to limp off the field after getting tripped up, but couldn’t make it. He was announced as questionable to return because of a toe injury, but never did make it back into the game.
6. The Bills replaced one rookie on the offensive line with another for a time in the second half. Ike Boettger, an undrafted free agent, came in for fifth-round draft pick Wyatt Teller at left guard. Teller later returned. Boettger came into the game having played 17 snaps on offense, all in the last two weeks.
7. Wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr., who joined the 53-man roster Tuesday, was active for the Bills and served as the primary kick returner. Bolden nearly broke a big return on the game’s opening kickoff, but got tripped up. He finished the game with three returns for 72 yards, an average of 24.0 yards per attempt.
8. The other Bills’ inactives: Cornerback Ryan Lewis (concussion), running back Chris Ivory (shoulder), guard Vlad Ducasse, quarterback Derek Anderson, wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud and safety Dean Marlowe.