ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – When you can hold Tom Brady to 258 passing yards, one interception and no touchdowns, you’ve really done something.
Unfortunately for the Buffalo Bills, “something” did not include “winning”. The game seemed competitive for a while, but in the end, as so often is the case between these two teams, the Patriots dominated the Bills and won easily. The Patriots used Rob Gronkowski to cover much of the yards between the 20s, then Rex Burkhead to gash the Bills for two rushing touchdowns, and the Patriots maintained pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the conference with a 23-3 win on Sunday at New Era Stadium in greater Buffalo.
The Bills are good in pass defense, but poor in run defense. Thus the Patriots had the gaudy rushing stats but pedestrian passing stats. Burkhead finished with 78 yards on 12 carries and a 6.5 yards per carry average. Dion Lewis had 92 yards on 15 carries, a 6.1 average. As a team, the Patriots averaged 5.5 yards per carry for the game. This is one of those rare times when Brady wasn’t the chef de cuisine in this victory dinner. Brady was important, yes, but the ground game carried the day for the Patriots.
You could say that the defense did too, but Buffalo suffered from average to substandard quarterback play, a lack of wide receivers who can make plays, and a lack of ability to finish drives. Tyrod Taylor threw a dog-ugly pick in the first quarter, then spent the rest of the game fighting through an injured knee to try and create offense literally all on his own. Things were so bad for Taylor that rookie Nathan Peterman, he of the five picks two weeks ago against the Chargers, played better than he did when he came in during the fourth quarter.
The first offensive possession of the game told you pretty much all you needed to know about how this game would turn out. Buffalo took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 13 plays to the Patriot 6. On first and goal, poised to send a message to the surprised Patriots, Taylor dropped back, saw some pressure coming at him, and hit new Patriot linebacker Eric Lee right between the 5-5 on his jersey. LeSean McCoy seemed to be the intended receiver on what looked like a slant pattern, but Taylor threw the ball as if Lee was the intended receiver. Buffalo would not see the Red Area again until the fourth quarter, and it was Peterman who got them there.
It was a field goal game in the first half. The Patriots took a 9-3 lead into the locker room, with Stephen Gostkowski hitting on all his field goal attempts, the longest being the first from 50 yards out. The last one came with 19 seconds left in the first half, so naturally the Patriots would be trying for the double score to open the second half. Not to disappoint, Brady took the Patriots on a 10-play, 70-yard drive which was made possible by three completions to Gronkowski for 50 yards. Burkhead finished it off with a one-yard plunge off left tackle. It was 16-3 Patriots, but it seemed like 36-3. The Bills were pretty much dead.
Despite Gronkowski’s great day, it may turn out to be a bittersweet day for the estimable former resident of greater Buffalo. On the most bizarre play of the game, Brady threw a fourth quarter interception that resulted in four penalties, with Gronkowski getting the most potentially damaging one. On third down and 7 at the Patriot 36, Gronkowski lined up left and ran a crossing route all the way across the formation. Along the way, Jerry Hughes held Gronk several times, but no call was made. Brady launched the ball down the right sideline, it ran short, and Tre’Davious White made the easy pick. White was tackled immediately, but Gronkowski took a running start and did an elbow drop on White much like if were pro wrestling. A scuffle broke out, and Gronk, Danny Amendola and Micah Hyde were given personal fouls, which all offset. Away from the play, Hughes said something to referee Gene Steratore and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Buffalo got the ball, but back at their 26 and facing first and 25. The drive predictable went three and out.
The league will look at this play, and a suspension could be forthcoming for Gronkowski. His elbow drop on White was needless and obviously born out of frustration. Hughes should have been flagged for holding. But Gronk lost his head and did something which Bill Belichick will chew him out for. The league will chew him out too. Patriot Nation will hold their collective breath and pray that Gronkowski doesn’t get taken out of the Pittsburgh game two weeks down the road.
Taylor finished 9 of 18 passing for 65 yards, the one pick and a rating of 35.6. Peterman came in in the fourth quarter and managed to hit on 6 of 15 passes for 50 yards, but a rating of 49.3. Peterman did drive the Bills to the Patriot 7 in the fourth quarter, but other than a six-yard left flat pass to McCoy, the Patriots forced Peterman into three incompletions and a turnover on downs. The Patriots preserved their field-goal-only defensive stand for the day.
Brady finished 21 of 30 passing, with a rating of 82.4. There was an interesting exchange between Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in the first quarter. On third down at the Bills’ 32, Brady missed Brandin Cooks over the middle for what would have been a first down. McDaniels said something to Brady which must have gone something like “You missed him, Tom! Wide open!” Brady took off his helmet and snapped at McDaniels, saying something like “Yeah, no kidding!”, only he didn’t say “kidding”. Brady screamed at McDaniels for a few seconds, then sat down and began studying an iPad. Family spat, nothing more.
The Patriots conclude their two games in three weeks stint with Miami, visiting south Florida next Monday night. With Pittsburgh looming on the horizon, this will be more of a trap game than today was. With all that has gone on in Miami over the last two years, Belichick should put the kibosh on the trap game possibility.
For now, in Foxborough, it’s still damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.
More Patriots News Headlines: