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Tuesday Morning Take: Patriots Win Ugly with Defense, STs

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
November 24, 2015 at 8:49 am ET

Tuesday Morning Take: Patriots Win Ugly with Defense, STs(PHOTO: Mark L. Baer - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

The Patriots have had to improvise, adapt and overcome a few obstacles this season and Monday night against a feisty Bills defense and some bizarre officiating, they did it again. This one won’t be fondly recalled as the offense’s best night…and wasn’t. But the defense and special teams stepped up and played at their best at crunch time and New England held on 20-13.

The Patriots improved to 10-0 and now have a five-game lead in the AFC East with just six games to play. They can clinch the division with a win in Denver on Sunday night.

The defense continued its strong play, holding the Bills potent running game to just 3.1 yards per carry and gave Tyrod Taylor enough looks to hold the Bills passing game in check. Taylor came in completing 70 percent of his throws but on Monday night was held to far beneath that.

The run defense kept rookie Karlos Williams out of the end zone for the first time this season and did an outstanding job of keeping Taylor contained in the pocket. There were no running lanes for the speedy QB to exploit nor plays made with his feet. The edge players, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard were outstanding at setting the edge and keeping Taylor in the pocket where he’s much less effective.

Rising special teams player Brandon King, who is second on the team with STs tackles made a huge play, stripping Leodis McKelvin of the ball on a punt return that the Patriots recovered and turned into three points.

We wrote in the lead-up to the game, that the offense would struggle a bit to adapt to the loss of their most dynamic player, Julian Edelman as they searched for the different combinations in the passing game. That was putting it mildly. But the problems weren’t just related to the receivers, the offensive line had easily its worst day of the year.

One receiver who was asked to step up in Edelman’s absence was Danny Amendola. And he came thru in spades. Amendola was Brady’s only reliable target all night long until he went down with a knee injury late in the third quarter. Amendola had 9 catches for 117 yards and lost a lot of YAC when the officials inexplicably blew a play dead. But we’ll add more to that play later. Aaron Dobson was also hurt and had to be helped off the field after making a catch. That left the Patriots with just two healthy WRs, LaFell and rookie Chris Harper.

Rex Ryan’s defense had a masterful game plan that had Brady and the OL in flux all night long. The Bills were mixing up their blitz packages and kept the Patriots guessing and off-balance. Brady was battered it seemed on every throw, the Bills were credited with 10 QB hits but in reality it seemed like much more.

Things were looking up with Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer returning from injuries and the thought was that the offensive line should get a boost. But the line was relegated to looking like a turnstile at the airport as Buffalo rushers blew past them at every turn. The line went thru wholesale changes during the game and in reality never found a comfort level in protecting Brady who easily had his worst game of the season.

Pats “D” Tops in Points Allowed: At the end of the day the Patriots held the Bills to just 13 points and now lead the NFL in points allowed for an average of just 18.2 points per game. While the prevailing thought this spring and summer that this defense would struggle after losing their top three corners in Revis, Browner and Arrington, it has worked out that way.

Malcolm Butler continues to impress as he is asked week in and week out to cover the opponent’s best wide receiver. This week it was the talented 2nd year speedster Sammy Watkins. Butler held him to just 3 catches for 39 yards with two of those catches coming on the Bills final drive. He did have a blown assignment on a zone coverage where he stayed with Watkins and allowed Chris Hogan to run free but overall, his compete level and play have been outstanding.

Chung/Wilson Pressed into CB Duty: With third corner Justin Coleman out with an injury, the Patriots next man up mantra was tested with the team by-passing corner Rashaan Melvin for a mixture of Pat Chung and the nearly forgotten Tavon Wilson. While far from perfect, the two combined for a solid effort. While Chung was burned on deep routes when singled up against wide receivers, he did an outstanding job covering the tight ends and running backs.

Bills tight end Charles Clay had one catch for 14 yards and the dangerous McCoy was held in check with 6 catches for 41 yards out of the backfield.

McCourty Saves the Day: Fellow safety Devin McCourty had an outstanding game, making one of the pivotal plays of the game. After McCoy had blown by Freeny coming out of the backfield at the end of the first half, Taylor had him lined up for an easy touchdown pass. But McCourty flew over from the free safety position and knocked the ball away forcing a long field goal attempt.

Dan Carpenter doinked it off the crossbar and the Patriots took over at the 38-yard line where Brady drove them down the field for their best drive of the day. It was capped off with a James White 20-yard touchdown reception. Brady read the blitz perfectly and hit White in the right flat where he broke a tackle and scampered into the end zone for a Patriots 10-3 lead at the half.

The fourteen point turnaround is an example of the fine line between winning and losing. Buffalo had a chance to take the lead and didn’t produce. The Patriots did and Brady made them pay. Ryan was so incensed, he slammed his headset to the ground.

This is a “Classic” Rex Ryan Game: This game is a microcosm of Rex Ryan as a head coach. With 11 days to prepare for Brady and the Patriots, Ryan concocted a brilliant defensive strategy that totally flummoxed the future Hall of Famer and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. They dictated from the outset and held the Patriots to their season low on points scored in 2015.

But Ryan’s preparation seemingly stopped on defense, the offensive game plan was simple and the Patriots were on to everything the Bills were attempting to do. Tendencies in short yardage resulted in a couple of big losses as the Pats defense did their homework and Ryan did nothing to mix things up.

His clock management may have cost them a chance to at least tie the game. Wasteful burning of timeouts and not having 11 players on the field to start a drive on defense is inexcusable. And leaving the more talented but clearly injured Taylor in for the final drive was a question that will be talked about in the future. Taylor’s shoulder was clearly hurt and he wasn’t able to put much on the ball for the Bills final drive where they clearly needed to drive the ball down the field.

Ryan is a talented, at times brilliant defensive strategist, but as a head coach is the equivalent of a .250 hitter in the three-hole. It should come as no shock that his teams are 4-11 and one for their last nine against Belichick and the Patriots.

“At the end of the day, they find ways to win,” Ryan said. “That’s what championship teams do. We’re not at that level, but I promise you we’ll get there.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard that one before.

What were these officials thinking: In one of the more bizarre plays ever, the Patriots had a potential big play blown dead by an official with a quick draw on the whistle. Brady dropped back to pass and after it seemed he was going to be sacked, he drifted to the right sideline where he stopped and lobbed a pass over the heads of the defenders to Danny Amendola.

Amendola snagged the ball and with nothing but green in front of him for the next 60 yards. But an official blew the play dead thinking Brady stepped out of bounds when in fact he was well within the playing field.

While Bills players did stop at the whistle and no one knows if they could’ve caught Amendola from behind, it was an unforgiveable gaffe by the officials where the Patriots could have put up six points on the play. It was further a big play when later in the drive Stephen Gostkowski missed a 54-yard field goal, his first miss of the season.

It wasn’t a good night for the officials who on national television provided more fodder for those who believe that they get worse and worse every week. They seemingly huddled more and had more conferences than the two teams did at times…

Stepping up: Points go to running back James White, who stepped up and produced in his first extended action of the season. Playing the most snaps in his brief two-year career, White scored on the aforementioned screen pass from Brady at the end of the first half but also on the ground with a rushing touchdown. It was a small but impressive step for the player that is most suited to take up the slack of the injured Dion Lewis.

So the Patriots remain undefeated and now prepare on a short week to take on the Denver Broncos in another nationally televised game on the road. Big questions this week will be if the injuries to Amendola and Dobson are of the serious variety.

With the way the defense and special teams are playing, they’ll have to carry the load for this team until they can sort out who is going to be available on Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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Five Things We Learned From Monday Night’s Win Over the Bills

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 2015 NFL Season Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Jabaal Sheard James White Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount LeSean McCoy Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Social Media Tom Brady Tyrod Taylor

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