Nothing Came Easy in This One
The New England Patriots are 6-2 and have a two-game lead in the AFC East. They won a road divisional game on Monday Night Football and have been victorious five games in a row. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they struggled, especially offensively to finish drives all night long and scored only one offensive touchdown. But in the end, they’ll take the 25-6 win on the road over the Buffalo Bills and move on. It was a very physical, hard-hitting contest throughout.
The loss of Sony Michel was painfully felt by the Patriots offense as the Bills defense teed off defensively and their pass rush frequently had the New England offensive line on roller skates. The Bills entered the game with one of the better units in the league at creating pressure and they certainly did on Monday night.
Tom Brady was under duress for much of the night. The Bills deep zones frustrated the Patriots ability to get vertical for much of the night and the wind conditions, which Brady said after the game, made quite a few throws flutter, would affect both teams ability to throw the ball deep.
Prior to the game, there were reports from the NFL’s Ian Rapoport that WR Josh Gordon was late for the team walk-thru and would be punished by sitting out several series, possibly even the first quarter. However, once the game started, the Patriots got the ball first and Gordon was on the field.
Gordon was asked after the game about this, he hesitated for a second and then said, “That’s going to be a question you’re going to have to ask Coach about,” Gordon said. “In relation to the game, I was available, so that’s a plus.” Bill Belichick, in typical curt fashion, said only “You’d have to talk to whoever wrote that,” he said. “I have no idea.”
Which leads back to Rapoport, who is always very accurate with his reporting and not prone to sensationalism. Was this just a case where he got his information really wrong? Or was this a case of the Patriots using an Agent provocateur in trying to ferret out where the leaks are coming from at One Patriots Place? This will be interesting in how it plays out.
Especially considering that Jay Glazer from Fox Sports reported on Sunday that the Pats were in the market “trying to go after a bonafide premium wide receiver, offering up high-draft choices for that.” Once the news of Gordon’s supposed tardiness broke, it seemed to fall into place. Now, it is just another puzzle that we aren’t likely to get an answer to anytime soon.
The Patriots defense did their job, albeit against one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL but they held the Bills to just two field goals and outscoring them in the process. Devin McCourty intercepted a Derek Anderson pass and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.
But it was Buffalo’s running game, that is what the team wanted to stop and they did just that. The Bills rushed for just 46 yards on 19 carries, excluding an Anderson kneel down at the end of the half, they averaged just 2.6 yards per carry on the night. LeSean McCoy had just 13 yards on 12 carries. Trey Flowers had an outstanding game, defending the run he was shooting gaps and was generally disruptive all night. Kyle Van Noy, filling in for the injured Dont’a Hightower was fantastic. Van Noy was all over the field, making seven tackles, had two sacks, forced a fumble and had two tackles for a loss as well.
With Michel out, the Pats running back depth was woefully thin, they opted not to activate Kenneth Farrow off the practice squad and stuck with just two healthy running backs, James White and Kenjon Barner. But they moved Cordarrelle Patterson to tailback for this week’s game and he logged a game-high amount of carries (10) and yards (38) on either team. Patterson isn’t going to make anyone forget Barry Sanders but gets high marks for stepping up and being a team-first guy when and where they needed him to.
The Patriots had three good drives in the first half but couldn’t finish any of them. On their first possession, facing a 2nd and 14 from their 34, Brady went deep to Gordon but the ball fluttered and came down short. Gordon, who had his coverage beat, tried to come back for it but missed it and a golden opportunity. It was that kind of night.
On their second drive, they drove to Buffalo’s five-yard line but stalled and had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. They scored on three consecutive drives but stalled on each and Gostkowski gave them a 9-0 lead. They were moving the ball but Buffalo’s defense was doing a great job of bending but not breaking.
After the Bills responded with a field goal to narrow it to 9-3, the Patriots drive in the final two minutes would stall out again. But this time, Gostkowski’s 51-yard field goal would drift to the right and was no good.
After the team’s traded field goals in the second half to make it 12-6, the Patriots put together their best drive of the game and drove 85 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, converting a couple of key third downs. Facing a 3rd and 6 from the Patriots 19, Brady uncorked a laser down the left side to Julian Edelman for 26 yards. Then facing a 3rd and 8 at the Patriots 47, Brady found James White who promptly juked a defender and got nine. Patterson had a nice 22-yard run before Brady hit Chris Hogan down to the Bills one-yard line with another nice throw. From there White powered it into the end zone and it was 18-6.
The Bills drove to the Pats 25 and nearly scored but Jason Croom dropped the ball in the end zone. After a false start, Anderson got fooled and when he tried a deep pass down the middle, Devin McCourty, playing deep safety, read Anderson’s eyes and jumped the route perfectly picking it off and rolling 84 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. That made it 25-6 and that was all she wrote.
We’re on to Green Bay…
Three Up, Three Down:
Julian Edelman– The Patriots pound for pound toughest wide receiver had a very good game and his best since his return from his ACL injury and subsequent suspension. Edelman was the main recipient for Brady’s passes as the Bills were playing those deep zones and keeping everything in front of them.
Edelman was very productive, catching 9 passes for 109 yards but also paid the price Monday night as he took several big hits. That 26-yarder down the right sideline, got the Patriots going for their only touchdown drive of the night.
Edelman’s grit and toughness were missed during his absence, and on a night like Monday night, he was a big factor in the team being able to move the ball.
Kyle Van Noy- As we mentioned above, with Hightower out, Van Noy was going to have to step up. And he did. Van Noy was making plays all over the field, logging in a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and two tackles for a loss.
He was very active and the underrated Van Noy showed his versatility off on Monday night with a big, big performance.
James White- The Swiss Army Knife of the Patriots defense, along with Edelman accounted for the vast majority of the Patriots offense. It was no coincidence with the game still on the line in the fourth quarter that White and Edelman were the choices by Brady to keep the drive alive.
He and Edelman accounted for 211 yards of the Patriots 387 yards of offensive output. Another big game for White who caught 10 passes for 79 yards.
Running Game- The Pats running game which had been so impressive the past month with no Sony Michel was mired in neutral all game long. The Bills bottled them up all game long until the big Patterson run for 22 yards during the lone touchdown drive.
This isn’t a knock on Patterson, who was playing out of position and did as well as anyone can expect given the circumstances, but if Michel is going to miss more time, then the team really needs to explore the possibility of bringing in another back.
Play calling- We may be a little nitpicky here because we thought Josh McDaniels made some creative play calls during the game, but at other times, we thought they made some mistakes.
After the Bills had hemmed the Patriots deep with a punt and penalty on Edelman, the Pats faced a third down and three at their own 12-yard line. They lined up to run Patterson in a power formation, something the Bills were just sitting on. The attacked it and blasted him down for a one-yard loss. That directly led to the Bills second field goal of the game.
No Killer Instinct- The Patriots made this game much tougher on themselves than they had to for three and a half quarters. They had plenty of opportunities to put the Bills in the rearview mirror where Buffalo’s lack of offense would have put them in a bad place. But they couldn’t finish drives and they had to scrap and fight right up until the final 4-5 minutes.
Give the Bills a ton of credit, their defense played superbly and they were hitting hard all night long. But this team is better than that and left far too many points on the field. Learn from it, file it away for the next time the teams meet and move on.