It wasn’t easy, but the Patriots came away with their 10th win of the season after beating the Bills and finally clinching the AFC East.
Looking back at this one, here are some things that stood out after New England enjoyed a solid performance in front of the home crowd at Gillette Stadium.
1) Patriots’ Ground Game Ruled the Day – It was cold and windy at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon and the Patriots spent much of this one attacking the Bills defense on the ground, finishing with a siginificant amount of success and dominating the line of scrimmage.
It started on their second possession, with the offense running six straight runs as Sony Michel carried five times for 43-yards, the last of which was a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
They scored another rushing touchdown early in the second quarter, which saw James White break off a 27-yard run that ended with the veteran running back diving into the end zone, hitting the pylon as he was fully extended on what was an impressive play.
Overall, the offense finished the first half totaling 179 yards rushing on 20 carries, with Michel averaging 6.3 yards-per-carry against a Bills defense that had been pretty solid against the run coming into this one. Excluding Brian Hoyer’s two kneel downs to close out the game, the Patriots added another 96 yards on the ground in the second half, finishing with 275 rushing yards, including two touchdowns. It’s the most during the Bill Belichick era, just two yards shy of their 277-yard performance against the Raiders back on December 14th, 2008.
After the game, Bill Belichick credited the execution by the players for their success running the ball, which he said starts with the hard work they each put in on the practice field.
“It’s team execution and that comes from a lot of reps on the practice field, a lot of time spent in the meeting rooms to get those things right,” said Belichick. “We had a good day with that today and that was important for us. And I thought all of those guys you mentioned ran hard. The backs ran hard. C.P. [Cordarrelle Patterson], Phil [Dorsett] got on the edge there, Julian ran hard after a couple of catches. Those guys, if you give them a little bit of space, they can make some yards on their own.”
2) Not a stellar day for Brady – Tom Brady didn’t have his best day on Sunday and the passing game certainly struggled with Josh Gordon no longer a member of the offense.
Brady had a tough first half, completing just 7-of-13 (53.8%) for 40-yards along with an interception. His turnover came three series after Rex Burkhead had fumbled away the football, only this time, he tried to hit the running back on a short pass play where Burkhead failed to get his head around and a defender stepped in front and snatched the ball out of the air.
He was better in the second half, hitting 6-of-11 for 86 yards along with a touchdown and another interception. His second pick came on the first play of the second half, with Rob Gronkowski letting a ball go through his hands and Bills safety Jordan Poyer came up with the turnover.
He also struggled on third down, hitting just 1-of-5 attempts for four yards, which was a 4-yard completion to White early in the third quarter that came up 2-yards short on a 3rd-and-6 from their own 16-yard line.
There was one bright spot. One of the more exciting plays of the game came after the Patriots had driven down to the Bills’ 32-yard line as they tried to answer a 41-yard field goal by Buffalo. After missing Julian Edelman on a 3rd-and-4 attempt, Brady went back to Edelman again on a 4th down play, finding him on a quick throw as he came out of his break for the first down. Edelman was tackled by a couple of Bills defenders, but managed to roll out of the tackle with a defender beneath him without hitting the turf and had the awareness to stay on his feet and take off for the end zone.
Despite the struggles the veteran quarterback seemed to have, Belichick believes they’ll improve and has confidence in both phases.
“Well, I think overall, our passing game will be better, could be better, but we ran the ball well and that offset it,” said Belichick. “Some days it’s the running game, some days it’s the passing game. We’ll see what happens next week, but I have a lot of confidence in our quarterback, our receivers, our offensive line, our protection. When we need to throw, hopefully we’ll be able to throw if we have to. If we need to run it, hopefully we’ll be able to run.”
Michel finished with his fourth 100-yard performance of the season.
3) Solid outing for Michel – Sony Michel did another terrific job on Sunday and was a key reason behind the Patriots success running the football.
The rookie finished the afternoon with 116-yards on 18 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per carry along with a touchdown. Michel again showed good explosiveness, exploding through the hole while also fighting through contact and picking up extra yards.
He’s consistently been one of their most reliable players running the football, finishing with his fourth 100+ yard game of the season, the most recent of which before Sunday having come against next Sunday’s opponent, the New York Jets, at MetLife Stadium back November 25th.
After a reporter pointed out that the team is unbeaten this year in each of his 100+ yard performances, Michel wouldn’t take the credit, admitting the team simply does better when they’re all having success.
“It’s not really about me,” Michel told reporters. “I think it’s awesome when you rush for a lot of yards whether it’s me running the ball, James [White] running the ball, Rex [Burkhead] running the ball, even [Cordarrelle Patterson] running the ball. As long as we create positive plays it’s always great for this team and this offense.”
He’s been a player that quite a few in the media seem to be downplaying and he doesn’t seem like he’s getting quite the recognition he deserves for having good vision and being able to keep going when he gets into the second level. He finished Sunday’s game with 6 of his 18 carries going for 6-yards or more, including 4 of over 10-yards.
As for his rushing touchdown, Michel said he was just glad to be able to finish the drive, which is what made it satisfying.
“It’s always satisfying,” said Michel. “My focus is to finish each drive, finish each play. That was a great representation of finishing.”
Hogan went without a target on Sunday.
4) Hogan remains an outcast – One of the things that stood out on Sunday was the fact Brady connected with just four players on the afternoon, with Edelman, Burkhead, White and Patterson each finishing with at least one reception.
Rob Gronkowski was targeted three times with zero completions, with one of those targets resulting in an interception. Meanwhile, Hogan, wasn’t targeted at all by Brady, with the veteran receiver spotted sitting on the defensive benches and away from the rest of the offensive players.
Hogan dismissed the notion of frustration after the game, explaining that his decision stemmed more from superstition as the defense seemed to be playing well and he didn’t want to jinx it.
“Oh, no. That was just my spot, man,” Hogan said via NESN. “Yeah. Just we were doing — the defense was playing well. I had one series where I was sitting over there, so I figured I would continue it, and it worked out pretty well.”
Was he frustrated?
“Not at all,” Hogan said. “We won. Proud of this team. We had to battle a couple weeks, and a couple frustrating losses, and we came out here and got the job done.”
With better competition likely waiting for them in January, it will be interesting to see if Hogan’s role in the offense changes. For now, it appears that he’s downplaying any issues, which is good news since they’ll likely need him more than ever in the coming weeks.
Terrific showing by New England’s defense Sunday.
5) Solid defensive effort – As much as the Patriots offense struggled, New England’s defense did a terrific job in containing Bills quarterback Josh Allen while also getting off the field on third down.
The Bills converted just 2-of-12 (17%) on the afternoon, with Allen completing just 1-of-9 on third down as the Patriots defense made life difficult for him.
One of the biggest numbers that stood out was how successful they were against him on early downs. Allen completed just 9-of-17 on first down, including one of his two interceptions. They also shut Buffalo out in the first half, allowing two third quarter field goals and a garbage time touchdown.
They were also better against the run this week, allowing just 4 of Buffalo’s 18 carries to go for 6-yards or more. What was even more impressive was the fact seven of those carries went for 2 yards or less.
They also forced three turnovers, with Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson picking Allen off. McCourty even reached in and knocked the ball out of Croom’s hands as the Bills appeared to be on their way to scoring after Allen completed a throw to Croom and he made his way to the Patriots’ 6-yard line. But McCourty knocked the ball loose and
It was one of the better efforts we’ve seen in recent weeks and as usual, it came at home. Fortunately, for one more week the Patriots will play their final game at Gillette Stadium to close out the season when the Jets come to town next Sunday. Thanks to their win and Houston’s last-second loss to Philadelphia, New England catapulted up to the #2 seed and can maintain that spot if they win next week.
They now control whether or not they’ll maintain the bye, which Brady admitted will just come down for them to continue working hard and staying focused for one more week.
“It’s just hugely important to finish strong,” said Brady. “We’ve got a great opportunity. We’re playing against a team we know pretty well, but they played really well today and it’s going to be a tough game. So, get our minds right for a very important game that’s huge for us and I’m sure they’re going to play hard. We’ve got to grind it out and figure out how to win.”
The Patriots will play their final game of the 2018 regular season next Sunday against the Jets at