When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots ran early and often and other than very late when the idea was simply to run out the clock, they ran extremely well. Sony Michel led the way with 116 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, but he strangely did not play in the fourth quarter so that may be something to keep an eye on this week. He didn’t appear to suffer any injury, but he took his last carry with a couple of minutes left in the third quarter and never played another snap. James White chipped in and was productive, ripping off a 27-yard touchdown run while piling up 41 yards on his eight carries. Rex Burkhead was largely held in check, although he got the brunt of the work late when the outcome had been decided. He managed just 39 yards on his 13 carries. But the Patriots also got contributions from the wideouts as Cordarrelle Patterson (four carries, 66 yards) and Phillip Dorsett (two carries, 13 yards) were effective on jet sweeps. Overall New England dominated on the ground, piling up 47 carries for 273 yards for a healthy 5.8-yard average. The Bills were overpowered at times, especially early when the Patriots kept in on the ground for all six plays of a touchdown drive that ended with Michel’s 2-yard plunge.
When the Patriots passed:
It was a good thing the Patriots were so productive on the ground because things didn’t go quite as smoothly through the air. Tom Brady suffered through one of his least effective performance in victory of his career, completing just 13 of 24 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown to go with a pair of interceptions. Neither pick was necessarily his fault – Burkhead appeared to run the wrong route on the first one and the ball sailed off Rob Gronkowski’s hands on the second – but Brady was not sharp. He misfired on a number of throws and was unable to get the ball downfield with any regularity. The best play of the day wasn’t really conventional either as he hit Julian Edelman (six catches, 70 yards) to convert on a fourth-and-four, and the wideout bounced up off a pair of Bills tacklers and raced to the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown. Otherwise, it was all checkdowns to the backs as Brady struggled to find any rhythm.
When the Bills ran:
Buffalo’s ground game is virtually nonexistent other than the scrambling of rookie quarterback Josh Allen but the Patriots made sure it stayed that way. LeSean McCoy was held to 9 yards on six carries, giving him 18 carries for 22 yards in two games against New England this season. Allen was unable to get out of the pocket consistently and was limited to 30 yards on five attempts, some of which were designed runs. On the scrambles, the Patriots secondary did a great job of closing in space and spying the quarterback to make sure he wasn’t able to break containment. Buffalo finished with 18 carries for 72 yards, which translates to 4 yards per carry. But the Bills never mounted a semblance of a threat on the ground, which was a welcome sight after the last several weeks of shaky run defense from New England.
When the Bills passed:
Allen is an extremely talented but raw prospect. He has immense physical tools, both as a runner and a thrower, but he has yet to refine those skills and it showed. Allen fired a number of impressive passes but also tossed his share that appeared destined for the seats. He complete just 20 of his 41 attempts for 217 yards and a touchdown, but he also was intercepted twice. J.C. Jackson did the honors on the first one when he alertly recognized the play and dropped off his man to high point a pass intended for Deonte Thompson behind him. Jason McCourty picked him off in the second half when he did a great job of keeping his feet in bounds in front of the Patriots bench. Allen was on target at times as well but was victimized by some drops. He saw possible touchdowns to Robert Foster and Logan Thomas got off his receivers’ hands each time, but more often than not the Patriots secondary limited the damage and forced Allen to be accurate and that was not the case.
Again the Patriots had some trouble in kickoff coverage as Victor Bolden managed to get out to the 26 and 37 on two of his three attempts before Stephen Gostkowski went back to the touchback. Patterson was completely neutralized on his two attempts, taking a pair out of the end zone and only getting back to the 15 and 12 on each attempt. He also appeared to suffer a knee injury on the second and did not return. Otherwise this was another strong day for the Patriots special teams. Edelman had returns of 12 and 25 yards, the second setting up the offense at the Bills 24. The punt coverage was also outstanding as Matthew Slater downed a pair inside the 10 and also made a terrific stop against Isaiah McKenzie on another attempt. Stephen Hauschka hit the crossbar with a 43-yard attempt in the first quarter as Buffalo failed to take advantage of an early turnover. And the Bills closed things by botching a late PAT as holder Matt Darr lost a handle on the snap. Tough day for Buffalo’s special teams all around.