When the Patriots ran:
After a strong effort on the ground in Pittsburgh, the Patriots didn't really look to build on that momentum in Buffalo. That was probably a good decision based Tom Brady's performance and LeGarrette Blount's lack of productivity when he did get the chance to tote the rock. Blount finished with 43 yards on 18 carries for a subpar 2.4-yard average. Just nine of the team's 21 rushing attempts were efficient (4 yards or more, first down, touchdown) and overall New England wound up with 72 yards on 23 carries (3.1 average), and 15 of those yards came on a brilliant scramble by Brady. Blount wasn't able to find any space operating against the Bills lighter fronts the way he was against Pittsburgh as the offensive line wasn't nearly as effective blocking the likes of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams inside. The Bills did a nice job of keeping the Patriots in long-yardage situations but it didn't matter because Brady converted most of them.
When the Patriots passed:
I'll say Brady converted most of them – 9 of 13 (69 percent) to be exact. Considering the heavy pressure he operated under much of the afternoon, this was Brady's best performance of the season. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns while once again avoiding any turnovers. His touchdown passes went to four different receivers – two of them going for 53 yards to Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan. Gronkowski was once again a beast in his hometown, catching five passes for 109 yards while Hogan added four for 91. Julian Edelman was quiet again with four catches for just 37 yards but he did show a bit more burst, especially on his 12-yard touchdown in which he broke a couple of tackles. Danny Amendola (three, catches, 29 yards) had the other touchdown, but it was Brady making all the plays. He consistently avoided pressure throughout – he was sacked four times – sidestepping rushers and finding open receivers deep downfield, especially in the first half. He was in control from the start, directing touchdown drives on the first two possessions, and he never wavered throughout.
When the Bills ran:
If the game remained close this might have been a problem for the Patriots defense. Playing without star running back LeSean McCoy, the Bills still managed to get their ground game going. Mike Gillislee was terrific in McCoy's place, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries for an impressive 7.1-yard average. He had a 28-yard run early and never really slowed down until the Bills fell too far behind to continue running the ball. Tyrod Taylor also caused some problems running the ball, particularly on a 26-yard touchdown off a quarterback draw on fourth-and-three. Taylor added 48 yards on five carries and the Bills finished with 167 yards on just 26 attempts for a healthy 6.4-yard average. Punter Colton Schmidt added 16 of those yards on a broken play but the production was still troubling. Vincent Valentine returned to the lineup after a three-week absence but his presence with Malcom Brown and Alan Branch wasn't enough to contain the Bills. Dont'a Hightower delivered some big hits but overall the run defense wasn't anywhere near the level it's displayed in recent weeks.
When the Bills passed:
This matchup was more about what the Bills couldn't do rather than what the Patriots secondary did. Taylor struggled with his accuracy most of the day, missing an open Reggie Bush in the end zone on the first drive and coming up with a field goal instead of a touchdown. He also was victimized by at least a half dozen drops by his stable of backup receivers. He finished 19 of 38 for just 183 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. With Sammy Watkins (foot) and Marquise Goodwin (concussion) out and Robert Woods (foot) playing at well below 100 percent, Taylor didn't have many options to turn to. Woods led the way with four catches for 50 yards, mush of that coming late with the game in hand. Tight end Charles Clay injured his knee early on a finished with two catches for just 6 yards. But aside from Malcolm Butler, who once again had a strong game, the secondary struggled. Eric Rowe got the start in place of Logan Ryan and picked up three penalties – two pass interference and an illegal contact. He once again was caught chasing most of the time and eventually was benched for Justin Coleman. Coleman also picked up a pass interference penalty. It's clear that Butler and Ryan are the top two corners and the Patriots are still searching for a reliable third option.
Things started off a bit shaky as M atthew Slater fielded Dan Carpenter's kickoff following the game-opening field goal and fumbled on the return. Fortunately Shea McClellin recovered and the Patriots turned in a solid effort on special teams. Amendola took the second half kickoff back 73 yards to set up a touchdown and Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 51-yard field goal to close the first half. He made all five PATs as well as both field goals, shaking off his recent struggles. The kickoff coverage did allow Bush to take one back 36 yards to the Bills 41 but otherwise the tackling was solid. Ryan Allen averaged nearly 45 yards on his three punts, shaking off his subpar game from a week ago. Meanwhile the Bills weren't sharp. Carpenter missed a 49-yard field goal while Schmidt turned in a 33-yard shank on his first punt of the day. He also dropped the ball before kicking on another attempt but bailed himself out by sprinting 16 yards for a first down. And as is typically the case, the Bills picked up a pair of penalties on special teams that hurt field position.