FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.
Running game: C
Devin Singletary, who missed the first game against the Patriots, couldn’t find much daylight. He finished with 15 carries for 46 yards. His yards per carry of 3.1 was his lowest of the season. Singletary got two carries on the Bills’ final possession. The first of those was stopped for no gain and the second went for 2 yards. Quarterback Josh Allen came through with 43 yards on seven carries, helping the Bills’ team total to a respectable 23 carries for 92 yards – an average of 4.0 per rush. Allen’s run on first-and-goal from the Patriots’ 8-yard line was stopped for a loss of 1 yard by linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive end Lawrence Guy. That’s an area that Allen has run well this season, but that failure put the offense in a tough spot. A jet sweep by receiver John Brown went for just 3 yards. Veteran Frank Gore did not get a carry.
Passing game: C
Allen missed throws that he needs to make. He had rookie tight end Dawson Knox open for a touchdown on the opening drive, but overthrew him. He had Cole Beasley open on a third down on the Bills’ second possession. He had Knox open again on second-and-goal from the Patriots’ 9-yard line with less than 2 minutes to play, but missed him again. Those were all throws he needs to make. That’s not to say it was all bad. The 33-yard completion to Knox in the second quarter had a completion probability of 22.7%, according to ESPN Stats & Information, making it the most improbable completion of Allen’s career. He hung tough in the face of pressure to deliver a perfect 53-yard touchdown pass to John Brown. He hit Cole Beasley for gains of 13, 12, 7 and 25 yards on the final drive. Beasley finished with seven catches for 108 yards. Brown was targeted just four times and his only catch was the touchdown. Knox was also targeted four times, but finished with just the one catch. Allen was sacked four times. His protection wilted when it mattered most. He was sacked on third-and-goal from the Patriots’ 9-yard line with 1:55 to play, then forced to unload the ball on fourth down way before he wanted to because of the rush.
Run defense: C-
The Patriots grinded their way to 143 yards on the ground. That allowed them to dominate time of possession, particularly in the first half. “We didn’t do a good enough job, just fundamentally in some areas, like establishing the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. Poor tackling led to some of the Patriots’ longer runs, like when Sony Michel shook off linebacker Matt Milano to gain 25 yards near the end of the third quarter. The Patriots used linebacker Elandon Roberts as a fullback, which seemed to give the Bills some trouble. Rookie receiver N’Keal Harry gained 18 yards on a reverse for one of New England’s longest plays. Milano led the Bills with 12 tackles, while fellow linebacker Tremaine Edmunds had nine. The Bills made three tackles for loss, by Jordan Phillips, Shaq Lawson and Levi Wallace.
Pass defense: D
It was the short stuff that hurt Buffalo. Two of New England’s four longest plays were screens to running back Rex Burkhead. Another one, a 30-yard connection to Julian Edelman, came on a short completion with most of the damage being done after the catch. Of the Patriots’ 10 longest plays, eight of them were completions. Every one of them is listed in the game’s official stats pack as being short passes. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was in coverage on the Patriots’ first touchdown, which was scored by tight end Matt LaCosse. That’s a tough ask for Alexander. Jordan Poyer, who finished with 11 tackles, and Micah Hyde combined for a turnover when Poyer punched the ball away from Burkhead at the end of a long gain on the Patriots’ first possession and Hyde making the recovery. Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson had his hands full with Edelman in the slot. Brady finished the game 26 of 33 for 271 yards and one touchdown, a passer rating of 111.0. Perhaps he’s heard all the talk about hitting the wall and had a point to prove. He was not sacked by the Buffalo pass rush. Tre’Davious White took a pass interference penalty. White spent a lot of the game jawing with Harry.
Special teams: A
There was nothing negative to see here – which hasn’t been said too often this season. The Patriots have made big plays on special teams all season, including their blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown in the first meeting between the two teams. Bills punter Corey Bojorquez was phenomenal in the face of a heavy rush by the Patriots. His six punts averaged 44.3 gross yards and 41.5 net yards as the Bills covered well, too. Siran Neal did an excellent job to down a New England punt at the 1-yard line. Bojorquez now has at least one punt downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in all 23 games of his NFL career, the Bills’ longest such streak since Brian Moorman did so in 25 straight games from 2006-08. Bojorquez has 32 punts downed inside the 20 this season, which is third most in franchise single-season history. Stephen Hauschka hit his only field goal, from 35 yards. Return man Andre Roberts gained 17 yards on his lone punt return and 57 yards on a pair of punt returns. Hauschka wasn’t able to reach the end zone on any of his kickoffs, but the kick coverage held up just fine.
Clock management was again an issue in the second half. The Bills were late to make a defensive substitution, forcing Sean McDermott to call a timeout with the Patriots on the Bills’ 2-yard line. The Bills had to use their second timeout with 3:39 remaining in the game after an incomplete deep ball intended for Robert Foster had already stopped the clock. Once again, if the Bills had those timeouts available, perhaps they would have been able to squeeze another possession out of the game. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier did not have an answer for the Patriots’ screen game. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips hurt the team by taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll made a gutsy call to throw to left tackle Dion Dawkins at the end of the first quarter. It paid off. If Gore isn’t going to get a carry, it might be time for the Bills to make T.J. Yeldon active to see if he can help behind Singletary. It’s also perplexing that Daboll still hasn’t found out a way to get Foster more involved in the offense.