Foxborough, Mass. - In a rather non-descript fashion, the New England Patriots quickly and effeciently took care of the Buffalo Bills Sunday night in a 29-6 win at Gillette Stadium, winning their 15th consecutive home game in the process.
As has been their mantra all season, the Patriots avoided mistakes, did nearly everything well, and took advantage of early Buffalo turnovers in a game where the winner was never in doubt. Certainly the offense was impressive against a formidable Buffalo defense, but the collective stars of the game Sunday night would go to the New England defense.
"It was a good defensive effort on our part," safety Rodney Harrison said." We played hard. We were able to get some turnovers and sacks. Guys had fun out there, guys played the way they were capable of playing. They didn't score on us. That's always important."
After scoring 60 combined points the last two weeks in wins over Arizona and the New York Jets to climb to 3-5 this season, the Patriots made the Buffalo offense a non-factor Sunday. The Bills were completely inept with the ball, failing to move the ball more than 18 yards or longer than five plays after the first drive of the game. The Bills had just 125 total yards of offense, gaining eight first downs and converting none of their seven third down attempts.
The Patriots caused five turnovers - including four interceptions - and allowed just 50 yards rushing to a team that had averaged 127 yards on the ground over the last four games. The Bills only scoring was courtesy of a 70 yard punt return by Jonathan Smith.
It was the Patriots first shutout of the season.
"It's a bottom-line type of statistic with us, in terms of how well we did," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said of the shutout. "We look at the scoreboard. How many points did we allow? It was zero. We had the punt team allow a touchdown, you have to deal with that, but in terms of defensively we were happy to keep them off the board."
The Patriots game plan started with stopping the run. Buffalo had gained momentum in recent weeks - winning three of its last four games - thanks in large part to the running of Willis McGahee. The second-year back had rushed for 100-yards or more in three of his last four games in place of Travis Henry as the Buffalo offense began to show signs of life.
McGahee never got on track against the Patriots. He rushed for 37 yards on 14 carries, with a long run of just 11 yards. The New England front seven contained McGahee and displayed solid tackling, chasing down several plays from behind. Trailing 20-0 at the half, McGahee had just three attempts in the second half for one yard. It was by design.
"It always starts with stopping the run," Harrison said. "We were determined not to let [McGahee] get 100 and really get going. Once he gets going, they can control all facets of the offense. So that was huge that we stopped him and really gave ourselves a chance to dictate the game."
Buffalo was intent on relying on its running game as well. In the first meeting of the season, a 31-17 Patriots win, the Bills were able to rush for 138 yards on 26 carries behind a 98-yard effort from Henry. Considering McGahee's recent success, it figured to be Buffalo's meal ticket.
"Coming into the game we felt like we could run the ball on them," Bledsoe said. "We felt like that was something we needed to do against them to get them out of their cover-2 scheme. We didn't do that well enough to chase them out of cover-2. They did play some single high coverage against us, but for the most part they just played their base defense and we didn't execute well enough against it."
Certainly, Buffalo's offense did plenty wrong on it's own without the help of the Patriots. Bledsoe was dismal - completing 8-of-19 passes for 76 yards and three interceptions. He was sacked three times, but when he did have time to throw made bad decisions or was plagued by several drops. Bledsoe's quarterback rating of 14.3 was the lowest of his 12-year career.
In a game where the Patriots were able to wear down the Buffalo defense behind a season-high 208 yards rushing and committed only turnover - a fourth quarter interception by Tom Brady with the outcome of the game already decided - the effort by the defense was more than enough.
"We'll watch the film tomorrow, but they didn't do anything tricky," Bledsoe said of the Patriots defense. "They lined up and played their defense and just flat outplayed us."