…New England's game-opening possession should have been more than a three-and-out, but QB/co-captain Tom Brady misfired long to a wide open rookie TE Jacob Hollister on 3rd-and-6, forcing the Patriots to punt.
…The Patriots were inept on 3rd downs on Buffalo's first drive of the afternoon, giving up four straight until the fifth time, a 3rd-and-11 from the Patriots' red zone. The Bills put QB Tyrod Taylor in the shotgun with a trips right, RB LeSean McCoy in the backfield to his left, and a receiver tight to the left of formation.
New England countered by rushing just four players, while the other seven covered the Bills' receivers well. Rookie DE Deatrich Wise found himself in a 1-on-1 matchup with Bills rookie LT Dion Dawkins, who initially had Wise closed off from Taylor. But the QB stepped up in the pocket, and that's when Wise was able to close in on him. Wise managed to avoid a Taylor stiff-arm and wrapped the QB up by the legs to bring him down and force Buffalo to kick a field goal.
Wise has enjoyed a solid rookie season, showing the ability, at times, to make plays in big situations. This was the latest example thereof.
…RB Dion Lewis had his best day in the NFL this past Sunday. Both on the ground and through the air, he touched the ball 29 times, gained a combined 153 yards, and scored twice, the first time he's ever had more than one TD in a game. His career performance was aided in part by some good blocking up front. Case in point, his 13-yard run on 2nd-and-5 from the NE 40. Lewis took a shotgun handoff from Brady and headed to his right, behind pulling RG Shaq Mason. TEs Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were already up ahead sealing off two Bills defenders, while Mason came in to help discharge a fourth. Lewis proceeded through the huge hole created by his three teammates. Lewis then outran three other Bills players before stepping out of bounds for the 1st down.
…Mason made a nice run-block by pulling again a few plays later to help RB Mike Gillislee pick up 6 yards on 1st-and-10. In just his third season, the underrated Mason has developed into a reliable guard and one of New England's more consistently effective offensive linemen.
…Hollister has yet to find the end zone as a pro, but he probably should have on the first play of the 2nd quarter, when he took a jet sweep handoff from Brady inside the Bills' red zone. Hollister got a pair of great blocks from Gronkowski and Allen as he raced to the left side. Instead of continuing to the outside, Hollister elected to cut up inside, where a third Bills defender was waiting for him and slowed him up to allow other Bills to gang tackle him inside the 5. Had Hollister kept following his blocks to the outside, he might've found enough room along the sideline to squeeze inside the pylon.
…On Buffalo's next drive, CB Malcolm Butler got beaten by a textbook route run by WR Deonte Thompson. Motioning from right to left, Thompson began his route in the left slot, running a slant that Butler had covered well. Thompson sold the route by looking back over this right shoulder at Taylor before planting hard with his right foot and pivoting back to the left across the field. That gave him about a 3-yard cushion from Butler, and Taylor floated a precise ball to him for the big gain.
…LB Marquis Flowers started this season predominantly as a special teams contributor, but due to attrition at his position on defense, he's become more of a regular on that side of the ball. Against Buffalo, like Lewis on offense, he had a career day, registering his first two NFL sacks.
The first came at a propitious time for New England, with Buffalo going for it on 4th-and-2 from the NE 6. Again, Taylor was in the gun, and Flowers started from a standing position above the right guard. New England again chose not to blitz, but Wise brought pressure from Taylor's left side again, forcing Taylor to drift to his right, where Flowers was tangling with the right tackle (he and DE Trey Flowers switched off, with Trey stunting to the inside). Flowers saw Taylor scrambling to the right and spun away from the right tackle to pursue him. Taylor backed away before darting toward the sideline past Flowers, but Flowers stayed disciplined and made a nice diving tackle.
Afterward, Flowers credited his teammates with helping him make the plays, and he was right, to a point. Wise's pressure gave him the opportunity, but Flowers' athleticism completed the play.
…Brady was trying to find WR Kenny Britt slanting from right to left, but Bills safety Jordan Poyer read the play, as Brady locked in on Britt from the snap. Poyer stepped in front of Britt and fell to the ground as he picked off the pass, but was able to get up and follow a convoy of teammates into the end zone with the ball. Bad decision by Brady, who might have been fooled by Buffalo's coverage. Brady had a half-dozen poor throws in this game, but this was the most consequential of them.
…TB12 responded on the ensuing possession by throwing his first of two TDs on the afternoon. This throw, on 1st-and-10 from the Buffalo 17, was a back-shoulder variety to Gronk, who then made a tremendous 180-degree spin against safety Micah Hyde to complete the scoring play with a one-handed grab and a tiptoe into the end zone. It wasn't the best Brady throw of the day, but Gronk rescued him with the phenomenal adjustment.
…Again, Brady waited too long when he uncorked a deep ball to WR Brandin Cooks. The throw was short of its mark, but Cooks did a good job of recognizing this and putting himself in a position to initiate contact with a defender whose back was to the ball. Cooks drew the PI to rescue Brady once again, but had the QB thrown much earlier and more on target, Cooks might've had a huge touchdown catch because he was wide open behind the Buffalo secondary.
…Flowers got his second sack near the end of the half. Again from a standing position, this time above the left guard, Flowers hid himself in front of the jumble of bodies along the line of scrimmage to spy on Taylor. Wise and Trey Flowers brought pressure like pincers from either side of Taylor, which flushed him out of the pocket. As he raced toward the line, Flowers emerged to drag him down a yard short.
…Yes, it was a huge day for Dion Lewis, in terms of numbers and statistics, but not to be overlooked are some of the extra little details that made his day so special. When New England went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Buffalo 26 and Lewis appeared to be stopped, he had the presence of mind to reach the nose of the football over the line to gain. Initially ruled short, after further review, the officiating crew reversed its decision, and the Patriots went on to tie the game with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. As small as his is, Lewis adds a dynamism that offers great balance to this offense.
…Brady was sacked a couple of times in this game, the first of which came in the 3rd quarter when LT Nate Solder was beaten by DT Kyle Williams. Actually, the play started with Solder engaged with DE Jerry Hughes, but as Hughes rushed toward the interior of the o-line, Williams stunted away from LG Joe Thuney, behind his teammate, Hughes, to put himself on Solder's outside shoulder. Thuney picked up Hughes, but Solder was a split-second late in reacting to Williams' adjustment.
…You don't often see DT Malcom Brown get an opportunity to showcase his big-man speed, but he found one on the Bills' first play of their next possession. Buffalo ran a play-action bootleg to the left, with Taylor wheeling back around to his right deep in the backfield. As Buffalo's o-line sold the fake to the left, someone left Brown unaccounted for. He had a free path at Taylor from about 8 yards away and sprinted toward the QB. Taylor noticed him too late, and as he tried to scramble away, Brown caught him by the ankles and took him down for a 15-yard loss. It was clearly a blocking breakdown by Buffalo, but also a great effort by Brown, who hasn't had many chances to shine this year. He then helped stuff a running play on the next snap. Brown had a decent day, finishing with six total tackles.
…Mason did a nice job driving a Bills defender forward at the goal line on Gillislee's 1-yard touchdown run in the late 3rd quarter. Gillislee followed him and FB James Develin into the end zone. Gillislee ran well (4.7 yards per carry average) in his first assignment since Week 8.
…Cooks caught a simple 5-yard pass on a curl pattern in the early 4th, but it was significant for him because it put him over the 1,000-yard mark receiving for the season, his third straight in the NFL and first for New England in his first season here. Of the Patriots' many offseason acquisitions this year, Cooks has been the most consistent since Week 1. He's still young, having just turned 24 in September, and should have a bright future for years to come as a Patriot.
…Brady's second sack appeared to result from good coverage by the Bills' secondary, which forced Brady to hold onto the ball longer than he wanted and eventually tuck it and try to escape the pocket. He couldn't do so, though, as Hughes caught him from behind to tackle him at the line of scrimmage.
…On the very next play, Brady dumped the ball off to Lewis on a screen pass for a touchdown that was brilliantly blocked by the o-line. Mason, in fact, did a good job of not incurring a block-in-the-back penalty against Hughes, who was in a position to make a play on Lewis. Mason held back until the right moment when he could get to the side of Hughes, rather than rush the block and hit him from behind. Once in the legal position, Mason and Solder sent Hughes sprawling to the turf, and Lewis sprinted through the lane opened up by Mason and Solder's block on another Bill.
…A corner blitz by Butler gave New England its next sack of Taylor. What struck me about this play was the clear communication before the snap between Butler and safety/co-captain Duron Harmon. Butler turned to his teammate, who was 10 yards behind him, to signal what he was going to do and to ensure that Harmon would cover Butler's receiver. Although the Bills recover the eventual fumble that Butler caused, it was a good display of teamwork and individual effort by Butler to make the play and force a Buffalo punt.
…Flowers finished his memorable day by splitting a sack with Wise near the end of the 4th quarter. Once again, Flowers was "spying" Taylor at the line of scrimmage and waited until his teammates flushed Taylor out of the pocket. Flowers was waiting for him. Wise caught up to him at the same time that Flowers collected him in his grasp. It was a great effort overall on the day by Flowers, who needed to step up with LBs Kyle Van Noy and Trevor Reilly inactive. He delivered when called upon.