The Patriots 10th victory of the season did not come easy against Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. With the score tied 10 in the third quarter the Patriots came up with some big plays to come away with a 20-13 victory.
Here are some random thoughts on New England's victory:
MAYO STEPS UP – With Jamie Collins sitting out for the third straight game due to an undisclosed illness, Jerod Mayo stepped into the starting lineup. It was actually Mayo's fifth start of the season but the first in which he posted significant playing time. With Buffalo employing a lot of run-heavy looks, Mayo was able to remain on the field as the third linebacker with Dont'a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny, and he did a nice job of containing LeSean McCoy early on. On second-and-one on the opening series, Mayo came in unblocked and dropped the running back for a 4-yard loss. Mayo was in on a couple of the stops, and also showed tight coverage on McCoy on a pair of short passes.
NICKEL SWAP – Justin Coleman missed the game with a hand injury so Bill Belichick was forced to juggle some personnel. Rather than go with Rashaan Melvin as the nickel back, the Patriots used Tavon Wilson in that capacity. Wilson delivered some big hits, particularly one late in the first half that knocked the ball loose from Robert Woods when the Bills were driving. Wilson appeared to get shaken up at one point but was able to return shortly thereafter. He was active working as the third safety, and perhaps his size and physicality against the Bills ground game was preferable to the coaches. Wilson was also effective on an early blitz and was as active on defense as he's been in his career.
OFF LINE –The offensive line received some reinforcements against the Bills but unfortunately the overall performance wasn't much better. Marcus Cannon started at left tackle while Cameron Fleming opened at right tackle. Inside from left to right it was Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Josh Kline to start. On the second series Sebastian Vollmer replaced Fleming at right tackle and on the following series Bryan Stork took Andrews' spot at center. Stork later saw action at left guard while Kline moved to the right side and Mason saw occasional snaps at fullback. But the reality was none of the combinations was particularly effective. The running game never got untracked as LeGarrette Blount averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. More importantly, Tom Brady was under siege virtually throughout the game. Brady was sacked just once but was hit 10 times and hurried many others. He was forced to throw the ball away at least a half dozen times and almost never was able to set himself before letting it go. Cannon really struggled with Jerry Hughes, who raced around him a number of times while Vollmer had his hands full on the other side, even when Mario Williamsleft the game with an injury. The result, not surprisingly, was the lowest offensive output of the season.
WHITE STUFF –James White enjoyed the best night of his brief NFL career, scoring his first two touchdowns. White consistently catches the ball and makes the first tackler miss, something he did on each of his two receptions Monday night. On the first he dodged Preston Brown's tackle and eventually picked up a first down. On the second he did one better by avoiding a Corey Graham tackle and racing 20 yards for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the first half to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead. Despite the production White still didn't get many chances to contribute. It seems he's still fighting to earn Brady's trust, but at this point he certainly deserves more opportunities to do just that. He may not have the electric cutting ability that Dion Lewis possesses but he has some serious elusiveness in his own right. I'd like to see more.
AMEN-DOLA –Danny Amendola continues to make the most of his opportunities whenever Julian Edelman is out of the lineup. Amendola finished with nine catches for 117 yards including a pair of huge plays at key times. Late in the first half it appeared as if the Patriots were going to the locker room tied at 3 when he made a catch over the middle, broke a tackle and picked up 18 yards to the Bills 44 with 35 seconds left. In the second half he picked up 41 yards and got down to the 6, and White ran it in on the next play. Amendola consistently found gaps in the middle of the field and made several tacklers miss, picking up important extra yards. The lone negative for him came in the fourth quarter when he appeared to tweak his knee or hamstring while trying to field a punt. He did not return after that but remained on the bench with his teammates.
NO RUNNING –The Patriots run defense remains a real strength as the group limited the Bills to 93 yards on 30 carries. McCoy is as talented as any back in the league and he certainly made some plays but he finished with 82 yards on 20 carries but 27 of those came on his touchdown run. Otherwise McCoy was bottled up by the combination of Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Akiem Hicks. In a bit of a twist, Sealver Siliga was inactive and therefore Jabaal Sheard got more time inside as a run stopper. Sheard was up to the task and came up with several impressive plays to plug gaps. Considering the way the Patriots run defense struggled to open the season, the performance over the past two months has been remarkable.
BIG SWING –The key juncture of the game happened late in the first half and a 14-point swing resulted. With the score tied at 3 Buffalo was driving in the final minutes of the half and appeared poised to take the lead. Taylor looked deep toward a wide-open McCoy and hit him in the end zone for what looked like a 30-yard touchdown but the back was unable to make the catch. Dan Carpenter then missed a 48-yard field goal when his kick clanged off the right upright, giving the Patriots a chance to move into scoring position. Six plays and 62 yards later the Patriots found the end zone on White's 20-yard touchdown catch, turning a potential 10-3 halftime deficit into a 10-3 lead. The swing wound up being the key to the game.
SECONDARY CONCERNS –The stats tell the story of a dominant defensive performance but a closer look shows some occasional leaks in the secondary. The Bills had several open receivers on deep patterns as Chris Hogan and Sammy Watkins both got behind the coverage on multiple occasions but Taylor was unable to deliver an accurate pass. Hogan was well behind Patrick Chung in the first half but the underthrown pass allowed Chung to recover and narrowly avoid a pass interference call. Watkins got past Malcolm Butler three times but couldn't grab any of them and finished with just three catches for 39 yards. So yes the performance ultimately was outstanding on paper the reality is the secondary dodged more than a few bullets.
EXTRA POINTS –One of the strangest plays in the NFL this year occurred in the third quarter when Brady scrambled and hit Amendola down the sideline. There was an inadvertent whistle on the play, however, and instead of a potentially big play the Patriots had to settle for a 14-yard gain. But Rex Ryan was called for interfering with the official on the sideline during the play so New England had an extra 15 yards tacked on. Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, later explained that the official lost sight of the ball and blew the whistle. … Brady defeated the Bills for the 25th time of his career. That trails only Green Bay's Brett Favre (26 against the Lions) for the most against any opponent since the 1970 merger. … The win was the Patriots 10th, marking the 13th straight season they have cracked double digits in victories. That trails only San Francisco's 16 such seasons from 1983-98. … The Patriots had their record-setting streak of scoring in consecutive quarters snapped at 38 when they failed to register a point in the fourth quarter. … The Patriots lead the league in scoring defense, having allowed 182 points on the season, one fewer than Denver and two less than Minnesota. … Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season, snapping a streak of 31 consecutive makes. His 54-yarder barely missed wide right. … Brady is now 41-12 in the month of November. … Brandon King forced a Leodis McKelvin fumble on a punt return and Jonathan Freeny recovered at the 30, setting up a field goal.