The Patriots inched closer to home field throughout the AFC playoffs with a 37-16 win over Buffalo.
When the Patriots ran:
For the second time in a month the Patriots rushed for over 190 yards against the Buffalo Bills. Dion Lewis did the bulk of the damage, racking up a career-high 129 yards on a career-high 24 carries (5.4-yard average), with the majority of that production coming in the fourth quarter. Lewis was solid in the first three quarters, carrying 16 times for 61 yards for an average of just 3.8. But he closed the door on the Bills late, piling up 68 yards on eight fourth quarter carries to run the clock out. He also had a pair of touchdowns in the final quarter, one off a screen and the other on a 4-yard run. Mike Gillislee returned from a six-game absence and added 28 yards and a touchdown on six carries while Brandon Bolden tacked on 20 yards on his two attempts. Over New England rushed 38 times for 193 yards and a pair of TDs to average 5.1-yards per carry. Credit the right side of the line, particularly Shaq Mason, for controlling the line of scrimmage and opening some huge holes for the backs.
When the Patriots passed:
Tom Brady was once again not at his best, continuing a trend that has lasted more than a month. He threw his sixth interception in his last five games, this one returned 19 yards for a touchdown by Jordan Poyer, and was a bit off on some of his early throws. Things eventually settled down and his numbers were more than respectable – 21 of 28 for 224 yards with a pair of touchdowns to go with the pick. Rob Gronkowski certainly did his best to make those numbers look as good as they did. His incredible one-handed touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone defied description. The tight end once again was the only consistent receiving threat as he finished with five catches for 67 yards and also drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up another touchdown. Lewis caught five passes but for just 24 yards and Danny Amendola (three catches, 28 yards) was the only other player with more than two catches. Brandon Cooks was quiet again with just two grabs for 19 yards, although he also drew a pass interference call in the first half.
When the Bills rans:
Another week where the opponent was able to run the ball effectively before being forced to stop doing so by the conditions of the game. LeSean McCoy had 73 yards on 16 carries (4.6-yard average) and the Bills trailed by only a touchdown at 23-16 with about 13 minutes left in the game. At that point Buffalo faced a fourth-and-one from the Patriots 32 and Sean McDermott chose to ignore McCoy and opted for a 50-yard field goal, which was missed. The game ended at that point and McCoy managed just one more carry the rest of the way, and lost 2 yards on the final attempt. For most of the game McCoy was able to get to the edges and pressure the Patriots front. It wasn't as bad as it had been in recent weeks, mostly due to the strong play of Malcom Brown in the middle. He stuffed Mike Tolbert (three carries, minus-3 yards) a couple times and the front as a whole did a good job of containing Tyrod Taylor. Overall the Bills only finished with 84 yards on 24 attempts, which is quite an improvement for the Patriots run defense.
When the Bills passed:
While the Bills could have gotten the edge in the running game if not for the score getting out of hand, no such exceptions could be made for the secondary. Taylor consistently carved up the Patriots coverage, connecting on several big plays, and he nearly had more. Taylor completed 21 of 38 passes for 281 yards, including completions of 46, 39, 35 and 33 yards. Malcolm Butler struggled with backup wideout Deonte Thompson, who accounted for the 46 and 33-yard gains and finished with 91 yards on four grabs. Kelvin Benjamin was hobbled throughout but still caught five passes for 70 yards including a 35-yarder over Stephon Gilmore. He also beat Gilmore for an apparent touchdown at the end of the first half that was overturned after a lengthy and controversial review. McCoy tacked on 76 yards on his five catches, and based on all the big plays the Bills had plenty of opportunities to put more points on the board. But dropped passes (Charles Clay), replay (Benjamin) and poor decisions (Taylor) prevented them from doing so. Those decisions were evident in the Patriots pass rush, which dropped Taylor six times despite not really trying to get after him much while being content to keep him from running. It resulted in strong work in the red zone, where the Patriots forced Buffalo into an 0-for-4 effort.
Both teams were excellent on special teams, particularly while covering kicks. The Bills corralled Lewis at the 22 and 18 on the two Stephen Hauschka kickoffs that were returned. The Patriots got to Brandon Tate at the 24 and 19 on his two attempts. Neither punter got much action but both were effective in their limited opportunities. The Patriots get the edge based on one big misstep on special teams by the Bills, and even that was more of a coaching error. Trailing by just a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Buffalo was driving toward a tying score. The Bills faced a fourth-and-one from the New England 32, and instead of running McCoy to keep the drive alive, McDermott sent Hauschka out for a 50-yard attempt. The kick never had a chance, floating wide right and perhaps short, ending the Bills chance for an upset.