When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots entered the game with a third-stringer playing right tackle as Cameron Fleming was forced replace Marcus Cannon and LaAadrian Waddle, who missed the game with ankle injuries. It made sense that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wanted to run the ball, both as a way to attack the porous Bills run defense and also to protect Tom Brady from any unnecessary punishment. The strategy worked perfectly as Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead repeatedly gashed Buffalo's interior for big plays all afternoon. Lewis finished with 92 yards on 15 carries (6.1-yard average) while Burkhead added 78 on 12 (6.5) and a pair of third-quarter touchdowns. Both turned in the longest runs of their respective careers as well as Lewis went 44 yards down the right sideline, stiff-arming Bills safety Jordan Poyer along the way, and Burkhead ripped off a 31-yarder in the second half. The Patriots ability to grind out yards between the tackles kept the Bills at bay and limited the early damage done by the pass rush. In all New England racked up 191 yards on the ground on 35 carries for a healthy 5.5-yard average. Hats off to the offensive line for a job well done.
When the Patriots passed:
Buffalo's game plan was to try to keep everything in front of them and funnel everything to the middle. That mindset, along with some timely pressure in the first half, allowed the Bills to stay competitive into the second half. Buffalo was content to let Brady throw underneath but did a nice job of eliminating any big plays. Brady completed 20 of 31 passes for 258 yards but was unable to find the end zone. Only two of his completions resulted in plays of 20 yards or more – a 30-yarder to Rob Gronkowski and a 27-yard hookup to Danny Amendola. Otherwise Brady was forced to dink and dunk his way downfield, and once he got to the red zone the Bills came up with three sacks that led to field goals. Despite the Bills game plan, Gronkowski was still unstoppable. He finished with nine grabs for 147 yards despite facing a variety of Bills defenders. None managed to cover him but rookie corner Tre'Davious White did get under his skin. White grabbed Gronk's jersey as the tight end was coming out of his break and the rookie wound up intercepting Brady's pass in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski was irate that no flag was thrown and then lost his cool, delivering a late hit to the corner well after the play and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the process. Not a great moment and not the best day overall for the passing attack.
When the Bills ran:
The fear coming into the game was Buffalo would want to control the clock by offering a steady diet of LeSean McCoy mixed with some runs from quarterback Tyrod Taylor. With defensive end Trey Flowers inactive due to a rib injury, those fears intensified. Then the game began and Buffalo mixed McCoy with some short passes from Taylor and marched effortlessly to the Patriots 6. At that point McCoy was averaging almost six yards per carry on his five attempts. That drive ended on a first-down interception, and for whatever reason the Bills refused to put the game in McCoy's hands thereafter. McCoy consistently gashed the Patriots edges, particularly in Eric Lee's direction where the newcomer had trouble setting the edge. McCoy finished 93 yards on just 15 carries (6.2-yard average), and wildcat quarterback Joe Webb added 27 yards on three carries – all resulting in first downs. Yet Buffalo was still unwilling to forego the passing game and keep it one the ground. Buffalo finished with 183 yards on just 26 carries for a 7-yard average. The game remained competitive until deep in the third quarter when Burkhead's second touchdown put the game away, but the Bills did the Patriots a favor and kept throwing.
When the Bills passed:
Taylor's inability to complete even the most routine passes made the decision to not run the ball even more confusing. Taylor's interception on the first drive was embarrassing, a panicked floater directly into the arm of Lee near the goal line. He completed just 9 of 18 passes for a Pop Warner-like 65 yards. He also showed poor pocket awareness and ran into several Patriots pass rushers while being sacked three times. Most of the day the Patriots weren't even trying to pressure him but instead wanted to keep him in the pocket. But Taylor's lack of presence got him in trouble anyway. He eventually left with a knee injury and rookie Nathan Peterman came in and hit on just 6 of 15 passes for 50 yards. The Bills don't have the most gifted group of receivers, especially with top wideout Kelvin Benjamin out with a knee injury, but the Patriots secondary dominated. Stephon Gilmore kept tabs on rookie Zay Jones, twice blanketing him in the end zone to force a turnover on downs. The Bills passing game never came close to executing all afternoon and that eliminated any chance Buffalo had of pulling off the upset.
There weren't a lot of impact plays made in the kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski was back to keeping his kickoffs in play to force returns and the Patriots did reasonably well against returner Brandon Tate. Tate took his first attempt across the 25 to the 28 but was stopped shy of the touchback mark on his other two attempts. Gostkowski also banged three touchbacks in the game, and continued his solid run of late by making all three of his field goals including a 50-yarder. Steven Hauschka connected on his only attempt, a 49-yarder in the second quarter. Newcomer Bernard Reedy recorded his punt return as a Patriot and took it back 11 yards in the first half. Ryan Allen had one punt get caught in the wind and went for just 26 yards, and Johnson Bademosi was called for a hold during a Bills punt. Overall Gostkowski's continued excellence earned the Patriots the edge.