It wasn’t pretty but the Patriots earned their sixth victory of the season on Monday night with a 25-6 win over the Bills. Despite a rough few weeks, Buffalo came ready to play and gave the Patriots a tougher matchup than many expected. It took until midway through the fourth quarter for New England to truly put the game away. Here are the highlights from the Patriots primetime victory:
Patriots Offense Efficient Moving Everywhere But The Endzone
– The Patriots offense had little trouble moving the ball up and down the field. They totaled over 400 yards on the game, including 324 passing yards from Tom Brady. However, they struggled mightily at actually getting the ball into the end zone. They had the ball within the Bills 25 yard line five different times, yet were only able to score one touchdown. A mix of poor execution and questionable play calling forced them to settle for four field goals.
– This type of inefficiency is not wholly unexpected. The Patriots offense had been on an absolute tear over the previous three games. A road divisional game is a situation that can prove to be a speed bump for any offense. However, if the Patriots had been facing a team with an even mildly capable offense, the game could have quickly gotten out of hand.
– The Patriots receivers put up some impressive numbers Monday night despite the solid play of the Buffalo secondary. Julian Edelman caught nine balls for 104 yards (his first 100 yard game of the season). Chris Hogan had two receptions for 49 yards, including a back-shoulder fade that set up the offense’s only touchdown. Josh Gordon had four catches for 42 yards.
– While Gordon’s numbers weren’t staggering, this game revealed a lot about him going forward. He played a significant portion of the Patriots offensive snaps. Most importantly, he played in high-stress moments, such as the Patriots no-huddle offense and two-minute offense. This indicates that the team trusts his knowledge of the offense, and that he has been able to pick up all of the right signals and plays after just a month and a half.
– Despite the numbers, the Patriots receivers did not have the most flattering of performances. Edelman and Gordon each dropped some relatively easy passes. Chris Hogan received an offensive pass interference penalty that cost the team a first down. Without these mistakes, the Patriots offense would have been more successful.
– The Patriots offensive line provided a decent performance against an underrated Bills front seven. They only gave up two sacks on the night. One of those sacks came on an impressive bull rush by Lorenzo Alexander, and another by a good A-gap blitz by Kyle Williams. Overall, however, New England’s front five provided Brady with plenty of time to throw the ball down the field. LaAdrian Waddle was the victim on Alexander’s rush, and was called for a holding penalty later in the game. However, his performance wasn’t particularly disappointing for a backup right tackle. The Patriots linemen also played well in the screen game, with Trent Brown and Joe Thuney making big contributions in the open field.
– Rob Gronkowski’s statistics have been on the lower side this season, and Monday was no exception. He finished with just three catches for 43 yards, although one was on a brilliant play where he reached over his defender and toe-tapped his way in bounds. Despite the low numbers, Gronk’s contribution to the offense shouldn’t be understated. He deserves a lot of praise for his run blocking, which played a key role on some important first down runs. He also stayed in as a pass blocker on a number of occasions, providing Brady the time he needed to throw the football. Gronk’s success as a pass-catcher sometimes overshadows this aspect to his game, but it is the unheralded things like this that make him the best tight end in the NFL.
– The Patriots running game was stagnant, highlighting the absence of Sony Michel. The team finished with just 78 yards on 23 carries. Their leading rusher was Cordarrelle Patterson, who only managed 38 yards on 10 carries. Heading into this week, many expected Kenjon Barner to have an expanded role in the offense. The team clearly isn’t confident with his ability to be a first and second down runner. Instead they relied on Patterson as the main running back. While this worked as a temporary fix against a weak opponent, the Patriots may need to make a move before the trade deadline if Michel will have an extended absence.
– Tom Brady had a solid day, completing 29/45 passes for 324 yards. He also laid a pivotal block (if you can call getting run over a block) on Lorenzo Alexander to spring Edelman on a reverse sweep run. Brady’s most impressive play of the night was on Hogan’s 20 yard reception. The Pats’ QB recognized single high safety coverage at the line of scrimmage and changed the play, knowing full well that he could make an easy throw to Hogan. While simple and not easily noticeable, it highlights Brady’s brilliance as the on-field general.
– James White continues to be the MVP of the Patriots offense. He finished the game with eight carries for 15 yards and a touchdown, and 10 catches for 79 yards. He currently has 55 receptions, which is second in the league for all running backs (Saquon Barkley – 58). This puts him on pace for 110 receptions on the year, which would break Matt Forte’s single-season record for a running back. White has been Brady’s go-to all season and has bailed the team out on a number of key plays. On the team’s only touchdown drive, he made a key third-down conversion by making a defender badly miss a tackle. He has been next to unstoppable, and deserves credit for how crucial he has been.
Pats Defense Does What It Needed To
– The Bills offense is arguably the worst in the NFL, and the Patriots defense had no excuse to not have a dominating performance. They looked up to the task Monday night, dominating the Buffalo offense for the entire game. They essentially held the Bills to three points; Buffalo’s second field goal came after a punt return that set them up at the 30-yard line, already in field goal range. While the team doesn’t deserve a crazy amount of praise considering how horrific the Bills offense is, it is still a positive sign that they were able to put together a complete game.
– Kyle Van Noy once again proved himself to be one of the best players on the New England defense. He led the team with eight total tackles, as well as two sacks and a tackle for loss. He also had a brilliant speed rush against the Bills left tackle to hit Derek Anderson and force a fumble that led to a New England field goal. Van Noy also looked mildly impressive in coverage compared to what he has shown in the past. He has clearly been the highlight of what has been a disappointing defensive showing so far this season for New England.
– The Patriots defensive line had one of their best games of the season, holding the Bills to just 45 yards on 18 carries. LeSean McCoy finished the game with only 13 yards on 12 carries. Buffalo confused the Patriots briefly with some Wildcat formations to start the game. That confusion quickly disappeared though, and the New England front seven bottled the Bills running backs up. Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown did not produce many flashy plays but were better up front than they have been in weeks past.
– Like James White on offense, Trey Flowers has been the clear MVP of the Patriots defense (with no disrespect to Kyle Van Noy). He finished with six solo tackles, including two tackles for loss. He also had a very impressive batted down pass. His presence on the field cannot be understated for New England. He broke into the backfield consistently and had the athleticism to take down McCoy. He may not always show up on the stat sheet, but his impact is felt at every level of the Patriots defense.
– New England’s secondary had it’s second strong performance in a row. While 313 passing yards isn’t exactly what you want to be giving up, much of those yards came in garbage time or in third and long situations where they were allowing underneath routes. Overall they limited Anderson and the Bills receivers to very little production.
– Stephon Gilmore had a solid performance locked up on Kelvin Benjamin all night. The big Bills receiver only had two catches for 45 yards. One of those receptions was for 40 yards, on a play that Benjamin deserves a lot of credit for. Other than that though, Gilmore locked onto him and prevented him from having any real impact.
– Jason McCourty and Patrick Chung also had solid performances. McCourty had a key pass break up late in the game. Chung was locked up on the Bills tight ends all night and held Charles Clay to just three receptions for 36 yards. He also made a nice defensive play on Jason Croom in the end zone that prevented a Bills touchdown.
– Devin McCourty had the play of the night however. With six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Patriots veteran leader picked off a pass over the middle of the field by Anderson and took it 80 yards the other way for the back-breaking touchdown. It was the first Patriots defensive score in 40 games. The play represented a smart scheme and savvy decision-making by a veteran player. It gave the Patriots defense reason to celebrate and be happy about their ability to make big plays when necessary.
This was not a pretty win for the Patriots. The Bills defense came to play and made New England work for a victory. However, it was a solid win against a divisional opponent in a hostile environment. Grinding out a win with some big plays can give the team confidence moving into the second half of the 2018 season.
Until next time – B$