“Well, hello there…my, it’s been a long, long time.” Elvis Presley – “Time Slips Away”
Where has this Patriot team been hiding? This was the look we were expecting to watch this season. After being hammered by opponents by a combined 96-9 early in games, the Patriots jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and held on to a 13-3 halftime lead.
Some fundamental changes really helped the Patriots right off the bat. Moving Michael Owenu to right tackle from right guard was a game-changer. Getting Cole Strange back and Sidy Sow moving to right guard put the Patriots in a much better position. And once the OL was solidified, many of the issues plaguing the offense seemed to disappear…at least for one week. The Patriots actually outgained Buffalo in rushing and passing, albeit slightly.
The defense held Josh Allen and the Bills to just 10 points for 53 minutes. Then all hell broke loose. But with another close game getting away from them, the team didn’t fold but put together an impressive 75-yard drive to win the game.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Bills game.
Mac Jones said after the game that Sunday was “just a crumb,” and if the team could build off of this, “Just keep picking up those crumbs,” he added, “and eventually, you’ll have a whole loaf of bread.”
What he and the offense can do is terrific when the offensive line is healthy and plays up to their potential. It opens up the running game and allows Jones to go through his progressions, which meant he wasn’t skittish in the pocket.
Jones finished with outstanding numbers, 25-30 for 272 yards with two TDs and, most importantly, no turnovers. He had an excellent passer rating of 126.7. He was stepping up and driving his throws and not throwing off his back foot. Jones was cool and poised in the pocket, especially on the final drive, where the team was down three with 1:57 left in the game.
He led them down the field for a signature drive, capping it off with a TD pass to Mike Gesicki. Will this crumb turn into a loaf of bread? We’ll see, but Sunday’s performance was refreshing to see.
Running Backs: B
The Patriots’ running game was effective enough early in the game, which allowed them to use more play-action passes. Rhamondre Stevenson (9 carries, 34 yards) is beginning to look more like what we saw a year ago. Ezekiel Elliott (11 rushes, 31, and a TD) ran hard, and his score put the Patriots up 10-0.
The Bills made some adjustments in the second half, which limited the effectiveness they enjoyed earlier. But the team finished with 96 yards rushing on 24 carries, good for a 4.0-yard average. Stevenson, however, made a big splash as a receiver. He caught six passes on six targets for 51 yards, including a clutch 34-yard catch and run to start the final drive.
Wide Receivers: B+
We’ve been clamoring for more Demario Douglas and Kendrick Bourne, right? Well, this week, the Patriots cut DeVante Parker’s reps, and we saw much more of Douglas and Bourne…and it worked.
Douglas is electric when he gets the ball in his hands. He was getting separation, getting open, and chipped in with four catches for 54 yards. He wasn’t perfect; on one play, he ran the wrong route, one of only five incompletions by Jones. But he also had a 20-yard run and a 25-yard punt return. He also drew two penalty flags. One of the Bills’ beat writers lamented that Buffalo got torched “by someone named Demario Douglas.” Remember his name, Bills’ Mafia.
Bourne was Jones’ go-to guy again, and he caught six passes for 63 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. But his fumble late hurt and gave the Bills a short field, which they took advantage of, scoring a go-ahead TD with less than two minutes to go. That knocked down the grade a bit.
Parker had one catch for eight yards and was largely invisible again. Jaylen Reagor caught one pass for 11 yards and ate into Parker’s snaps. The only issue with Reagor is that he can’t be activated off the practice squad anymore. The team will have to sign him to the 53-man roster or release him and bring him back to the PS if he clears waivers. Tyquan Thornton played in three snaps and had one catch for two yards.
Tight Ends: A-
The tight ends were heavily involved in the game plan. At times, all three were on the field. Pharaoh Brown is becoming a weapon in the passing game. At times overlooked as a blocker, he was targeted twice and made two catches for 51 yards, including a 25-yard grab on the game’s first drive. He had another 22-yarder that was wiped out by a penalty. But he continues to play well.
Hunter Henry made a huge play to keep the final drive alive, running a route across the middle, where Jones threaded a nice pass for 14 yards, converting a 3rd and 8 with under a minute to go.
Mike Gesicki caught only two passes on two targets for five yards, but his one-yard catch was the biggest of the game, a TD pass from Jones to win the game.
Offensive Line: B
As mentioned above, the new configuration with Onwenu at RT, Sow at RG, and getting back Strange at LG worked much better than any other combination has all season. The Bills came in with 24 sacks, averaging four per game. The OL allowed only one and kept the QB pressure down to an acceptable level. Jones was comfortable in the pocket and was able to go through his progressions as the play calls were designed.
They were able to generate some push in the running game, which kept the Bills’ front seven close to the LOS. It allowed Jones to use more play-action, which was very effective. It was easily the much-maligned OL’s best game of the year.
Again, it is only one game, but what a big game it was to finally beat the Bills and Allen in a game that wasn’t played with gale-force winds.
Defensive Line: A-
The defensive line dominated this matchup. They had the Bills’ OL on roller skates for much of the day. The big guys up front, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, and Christian Barmore, were all outstanding. They closed the gaps in the running game and put constant pressure on Allen, with more than 40 percent of his dropbacks being under pressure.
Barmore had another outstanding game. He’s really turning it on lately and had the Patriots only sack of the game. Allen was forced out of the pocket for much of the game, forcing him to throw on the run. The Bills gained 81 yards on the ground and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
Ja’Whaun Bentley and Anfernee Jennings had outstanding afternoons for the linebacking crew. Bentley was immense, with nine tackles and a pass defensed. Jennings, playing a career-high 69 snaps (out of 70 total), had six tackles, doing a great job on the edge, including a four-yard TFL against James Cook.
Mac Wilson forced a fumble on the final play of the game. Matthew Judon gets a big assist for being the team’s biggest cheerleader on the sideline.
The secondary did an excellent job of limiting Stefon Diggs, who had six catches for 58 yards, with one touchdown of 25 yards, where they couldn’t bring him down. But that is a far cry from the typical nearly 100 yards he’d been generating.
However, the grade was knocked down a tad due to TE Dalton Kincaid’s production. He was targeted eight times and had eight catches for 75 yards and some tackling issues, with at least 6-7 missed tackles during the game. It was great to see Jack Jones back on the field for the first time this year after being on IR to start the season. But he took a bad penalty for roughing the QB. Josh Allen flops more than NBA/Soccer players, but he’ll always get the call.
Jabrill Peppers had another big game, with nine tackles and an interception of Allen on the Bills’ first offensive snap of the game. Kyle Dugger had seven solo tackles and a TFL.
Special Teams: A-
Rookie kicker Chad Ryland was money and hit all three field goal attempts from 30, 24, and 49 yards. Fellow rookie punter Bryce Barringer boomed a 64-yard punt that pinned Buffalo back at the thirteen-yard line. He later booted a 46-yard punt that went out of bounds at the three. Demario Douglas had a 25-yard punt return with an excellent block from Mack Wilson.
The only issue that knocked down the grade was that the team was forced to call a timeout before a field goal when they only had ten men on the field.
Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick, and Jerod Mayo put together a terrific game plan that kept Allen uncomfortable and off-kilter all day. They mixed up their coverages and were able to dial up pressure on Allen, something they hadn’t been able to do in a while.
With the OL mix working, the Bill O’Brien offense was on display for the first time. And it looked very capable. O’Brien called his best game of the year. Other than the one play, the STs were excellent. High marks across the board. Hopefully, they can keep this going into next week and beyond.
Well, folks, that’s a wrap for the Bills. We’re on to the Dolphins.
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Demario Douglas Hunter Henry Jabrill Peppers Josh Allen Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Mike Gesicki Stefon Diggs