When the Patriots ran:
For the first time this season the Patriots were unable to score first and therefore were unable to dictate the way the game was played. This time New England fell behind 10-0 early and LeGarrette Blount and the running game were unable to get untracked. Blount has been largely held in check in every game this season until breaking free for a big run late with the Patriots protecting leads. This time Blount was stymied (13 carries, 54 yards) but never got a chance to wear down the Buffalo defense because his team trailed throughout. Josh McDaniels tried to add some wrinkles with Julian Edelman operating out of the Wildcat but those two plays went nowhere and overall the Patriots had just 67 yards on 18 carries (3.7-yard average) when eliminating Jacoby Brissett's four scrambles. The Bills knew they needed to control Blount and force Brissett to throw, and they accomplished that throughout.
When the Patriots passed:
Brissett actually did a pretty nice job of hanging in the pocket and delivered some nice throws in the face of some heavy pressure. But he was unable to sustain any offense throughout and too often was forced to convert in long-yardage situations. Blount's ineffectiveness forced New England into a lot of tough third downs and Brissett converted just once in 12 attempts. He completed 17 of 27 for 205 yards, a big chunk coming on an incredible individual effort by Martellus Bennett on a 58-yard reception. Bennett accounted for more than half of Brissett's total with five catches for 109 yards, but he was the lone effective target. Edelman had a 90-yard catch-and-run nullified on the game's first snap and was barely heard from again (one catch, 16 yards) while Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan were both blanked. James White caught all five passes thrown his way for 50 yards, but Brissett was sacked three times and forced out of the pocket on several occasions, one of which led to a fumble when he tried to run for a first down in the red zone. The Patriots tried some different things with the young quarterback but none was able to put points on the board.
When the Bills ran:
Buffalo likes to control the ball with its ground attack and keep Tyrod Taylor in favorable situations. That plan featured a bit of an alteration Sunday. The Bills certainly ran it plenty – 32 carries for 134 yards – but they also allowed Taylor to throw early and often and that actually helped the running game. LeSean McCoy racked up 70 yards on 19 carries but pretty much every other Bill who ran the ball was effective. Mike Gillislee picked up 30 yards on six attempts while Taylor added 28 yards on five carries, most of which came on designed runs. The Patriots were forced to use some heavier fronts with three defensive tackles – Alan Brach, Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine – playing together briefly early in the game. That group settled down after a rocky start and did a reasonable job of containing McCoy and not allowing any big plays in the running game. But Buffalo was able to run it well enough to average 4.2 yards on 32 attempts and that kept Taylor in mostly manageable situations.
When the Bills passed:
As mentioned above, Taylor was more active in this game than normal and he rewarded his coaches by turning in one of his most effective games as a starter. Taylor completed 27 of 39 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, marking the first time in his year-plus as starter that Buffalo won a game in which he attempted 30 passes. His efficiency was largely due to some smart play-calling that kept the Patriots defense off balance. Taylor was sharp on early downs, which allowed Buffalo to avoid third-and-long and in turn allowed the Bills to convert 7 of 15 third downs to maintain possession. Robert Woods was Buffalo's most productive receiver with star Sammy Watkins out with a foot injury. Woods dominated Logan Ryan, catching seven passes for 89 yards, many coming on third downs to extend drives. McCoy (six catches, 38 yards) and tight end Charles Clay (five catches, 47 yards) also chipped in with some key grabs but it was Taylor's presence in the pocket that allowed him to protect the football and avoid the costly mistakes the Patriots have thrived on the last two weeks.
Last week against Houston the Patriots special teams forced two fumbles that gave Brissett excellent field position. This week it was the Patriots mistakes on special teams that led to poor field position for the home team. Cyrus Jones almost took a knee at 1 on the opening kickoff before being drilled at the 9. On the next attempt he hesitated in the end zone before being dropped at the 14. Both series ended in three-and-outs for New England and Buffalo marched to points on its ensuing drives each time. Amendola and Jones also muffed punts during the game, although neither was lost. Stephen Gostkowski missed another field goal, this one pushed just wide right from 48 yards out. Buffalo's Dan Carpenter clanked the left upright from 47 yards but also made kicks from 34, 43 and 44 yards to help extend the lead. Ryan Allen had a solid day, averaging 52.2 yards on his six punts, although Brandon Tate brought one back 18 yards for the lone productive return for either team. There weren't many game-changing plays in the kicking game but Jones' inexperience helped Buffalo get off to a strong start.