The Patriots got their 10th win of the season after gutting out a tough one in Buffalo, beating the Bills 23-3 in a game that didn’t exactly go as easily as the final score might reflect.
Here are some thoughts from this one, which saw some terrific play from several players.
1) Patriots Hitting Their Stride in the Ground Game – With all the problems New England has had in the passing game from a personnel standpoint, one of the things that has really stood out in recent weeks has been the resurgence in the ground game, which was evident yet again on Sunday out in Buffalo.
Sunday saw the Patriots get plenty of production from Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, with the two playing a huge part in the offense racking up 191 yards on the ground. Lewis is the one who stands out the most, as he’s really been explosive over the past few games and he’s really started to look like he just keeps getting stronger with each passing week.
With opposing teams now really having to key in on New England’s rushing attack, it’s really changed things in the passing game and Tom Brady has done a great job this season of not keying in on any one individual player and taking advantage of match-ups thanks to some creative personnel groupings to offset the injuries they’ve dealt with. While LeGarrette Blount was a nice weapon, Lewis and Burkhead are both players who have been dangerous both inside and on the perimeter, which is something Bill Belichick highlighted in his press conference after Sunday’s game.
Given that we’re now left with just four games to go before the playoff seeding is set and the second season begins, the Patriots are fortunate with how things are starting to shape up. When you take into account all the problems they’ve been dealing with personnel-wise in the passing game, the fact they’re able to compensate for it with a strong ground game is an asset that’s going to pay dividends in January, especially if they’re able to get everyone back healthy..
2) Unusually Rough Outing For Brady – It’s not often you see frustration boil over from Tom Brady, but the veteran quarterback clearly had some problems in the early going on Sunday, which included a rare flare up between he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
WATCH: Don’t ever piss off Tom Brady, even if you’re Josh McDaniels. pic.twitter.com/y4CR1WIyQy
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 3, 2017
The two were seen going at it following an offensive series in the first half where the drive stalled and they were forced to settle for a field goal. As Brady came off the field, McDaniels could be seen telling Brady he had a receiver “wide open”, which set the quarterback off and lead to a heated exchange.
As expected, it didn’t last long, as the two were sitting on the bench together shortly after going over whatever the miscue was and it essentially ended about as quickly as it started.
But it definitely wasn’t one of Brady’s better outings. He had a first half that saw him complete just 8-of-14 (57%) for 96-yards and no touchdowns, marking the end of a streak that had seen him throw at least one touchdown pass in every game in the first half going back to the Chiefs in Week one.
Give the Bills credit, they were able to get pressure on him and sacked him three times, with Joe Thuney and Nate Solder each having a tough time keeping the Buffalo defense at bay in the early going.
However, Brady came out and completed 9-of-10 in the third quarter, jump-starting the offense and putting together two straight scoring drives, both of which ended with Burkhead running it in for touchdowns.
It obviously wasn’t a perfect outing, but give Brady credit for battling back and leading his team to their 14th consecutive road win.
The Bills took Cooks out of the game on Sunday.
3) Quiet Game For Cooks – After three games that saw him total 74-yards, 149-yards and 83-yards respectively, the Buffalo Bills did a good job taking Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks out of the game on Sunday. Cooks finished with just 17-yards on two receptions, his lowest output of the year in New England.
Brady targeted him just three times on the afternoon, with Gronkowski (11 targets), James White (6 targets), Rex Burkhead (4 targets) and Danny Amendola (4 targets) as the primary targets for Brady against the Bills’ defense. The biggest thing that stands out in this game is the fact the Patriots clearly felt they had a mismatch with Tre’Davious White against Gronkowski, and they obvoiusly exploited it.
It’s just another example of how much the game plan can change from week-to-week and fortunately the Patriots got the result they were looking for in their 10th win of the season.
4) Gostkowski No Longer a Concern – It doesn’t seem that long ago where people were wondering if it was time to start exploring bringing someone in to push Stephen Gostkowski, yet here we are, 12 weeks in and Gostkowski looks about as comfortable as he did a couple of years ago.
Sunday saw him hit three field goals, including a 50-yarder, making him perfect 4/4 from that distance. Overall, he’s missed just three field goals all year and the biggest thing that’s stood out is the fact that not only has he been accurate, he’s hitting the ball solid and a lot of the close calls we saw early on haven’t been there as of late. He’s been hitting them straight and true, which when you take into account how windy it was and how well he kicked the ball on Sunday, it’s a great sign as we start heading into the tough part of the year where the weather is generally worse and tends to make things challenging for kickers.
Give Bill Belichick credit. Throughout all of Gostkowski’s issues, he’s remained steadfast in his support for the veteran kicker. That faith has certainly paid off and seeing him return to form has quietly been one of the important stories of the success of this team. Without Belichick standing behind him, this could have gone in another direction. Fortunately for Patriots fans, that’s yet another benefit of having someone like Belichick who even in the face of adversity never overreacts and it’s a reminder that fans and media definitely shouldn’t either.
Lee has settled in nicely in this defense.
5) Lee Fitting In Well In Patriots Defense – The Patriots were without Trey Flowers on Sunday and as usual they turned it into a positive with an increase in playing time for Eric Lee. He finished the afternoon with four tackles along with 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and two passes defended.
He’s been a pleasant surprise so far and looks like a player who certainly seems to fit this system. As mentioned here previously, this has been one of the staples of this football team, with players emerging down the stretch and it’s been a big key to allowing this team withstand their personnel losses.
Given that he came from the Bills’ practice squad, it’s only fitting that he had a big game. But the fact he’s been so effective after racking up 2.5 sacks over his first two games is a terrific sign for a team that’s going to need help from everyone over these next couple of months.
Overall, he’s enjoying himself, which is also a plus for a team that was fortunate to find another productive player of his caliber for their defense.
“It’s awesome,” Lee said via NESN.com. “It’s something I’ve been telling myself all year that I want to contribute. I feel like I’m feeling comfortable and learning and being able to prepare and execute and stuff like that. I feel like those are the things that I’m in the NFL to do, so when it comes to having a role, that’s all I ever wanted. So, to really embrace that role and that passion for the game and everything like that, all that plays a part into everything that’s happened so far.”
These two teams will meet again in just a few weeks, with the Bills set to visit Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve.