The Patriots hit the road and came away with a huge AFC East victory over the Buffalo Bills. Here are some random thoughts from New England's 37-22 win in Orchard Park, N.Y.:
Brady more comfortable – The pass protection was nowhere near as strong against Buffalo as it was a week eaelier against the Bengals but Tom Brady appeared to be much more comfortable in the pocket dealing with it. Occasionally over the first month of the season he was jittery in the pocket at the first sign of pressure and often delivered the ball early in an effort to avoid trouble. Against the Bills his trademark patience was much more evident, never moreso than on the fourth quarter touchdown drive that ended with Brandon LaFell's touchdown. Brady did a nice job of sliding while keeping his eyes downfield and gave his receivers chances to make plays, and the Patriots passing game was much more efficient even without the benefit of anything in the running game.
Gronk is officially back –** Rob Gronkowski has been more and more involved in recent weeks and has been building momentum as a result. In Buffalo he appeared to be all the way back as he showed the ability to get downfield really for the first time all year. Gronk finished with seven for 94 including a terrific 33-yarder down the seam on a play that has been his trademark in the past. He actually got deep again later in that same drive and drew a pass interference penalty against Duke Williams. He almost topped off the strong afternoon with a great touchdown catch in which he shielded off the defender beautifully but the play was nullified by a Jordan Devey holding call.
Still in flux – Injuries obviously had a part in it but the Patriots still seem to be unsettled along the offensive line. Aside from the changes necessitated by the injuries, Bill Belichick inserted Marcus Cannon at each tackle spot periodically during the game. Cannon was even at right tackle in place of Sebastian Vollmer during the Patriots clinching touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Dan Connolly's head injury forced Jordan Devey into action at left guard while rookie center Bryan Stork (concussion) didn't make the trip. The Patriots offense performed exceptionally well on the road but the offensive line remains a huge question mark.
LaFell emerging –** Brandon LaFell appeared to make significant strides in his production a couple weeks ago in Kansas City but it largely came in garbage time with the Chiefs well ahead. But the free agent wideout is definitely more comfortable with Brady and the offense and continues to make plays. He finished with four catches for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter, and emerged as a key performer in a suddenly potent offense. With the Patriots lead cut to one score on two occasions late, it was LaFell who restored the margin to a more comfortable level each time. The most impressive came at the end when he eluded Leodis McKelvin down the right sideline and rumbled into the end zone for the final points of the day. LaFell even prevented a potential disaster when Nickell Robey broke on a screen perfectly and appeared poised for a pick-six but the wideout was able to break up the play.
Coverage concerns –While Darrelle Revis once again eliminated the opposing team's top receiver, the rest of the coverage was not nearly as effective. Alfonzo Dennard had some trouble withRobert Woods, who finished with seven catches for 78 yards and had another big play overturned by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty. Patrick Chung and the linebackers simply had no answers for tight endScott Chandler, who established a career high with 105 yards on six catches. Even unheraldedChris Hogan** was a going concern with five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Revis can continue to blanket one guy but if the rest don't start doing their jobs more effectively the secondary could struggle.
Emotional rescue – There was much concern in New England about the prospect of the Patriots maintaining their high level of intensity after the big win over Cincinnati. The Patriots were able to accomplish it by matching Buffalo early on in a hostile environment. New England showed not only it was capable of performing with its back to the wall at home but also could be effective on the road while maintaining a similar level of intensity. May sound like an insignificant and trivial fact in the tough-guy world of professional football but good teams are able to create urgency each and every week and the Patriots were able to do that well the last two games.
Running on empty – With so many pass protection issues this season the Patriots have often chosen not to throw the ball in third-and-long situations this season and that was the case early on Sunday as well. The Patriots had a third-and-15 in the first quarter and handed the ball to Shane Vereen, who was stuffed for 2-yard gain. In the second quarter the offense faced a third-and-17 and once again played it safe with a handoff to Vereen, who was similarly stuffed for a 1-yard pickup. But in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were clinging to an 8-point lead and facing a third-and-16, the philosophy changed. Brady hit Gronkowski for a huge 17-yard pickup to move the chains. Two plays later Brady and LaFell hooked up for a 56-yard touchdown that sealed the game.
Extra points – The Patriots improved to 39-9 in the month of October since 2003 and 64-18 against the AFC East since 2001. … Brady is now 23-2 against Buffalo and has won six straight against the Bills. He also threw four touchdown passes and is now 19-1 when throwing at least four in a game. Brady passed for 361 yards, marking the 60th time he has topped the 300-yard mark. … Jamie Collins recorded the first regular-season interception of his career. He also picked off a pass in the playoffs last year against Indianapolis. … Several Patriots recorded "firsts" in the win over Buffalo. Zach Moore recovered a fumble late in the first half to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Brian Tyms' 43-yard touchdown catch was his first in the NFL. Rookie Deontae Skinner recorded his first-career sack when he took down Kyle Orton for a 10-yard loss in the third quarter. Also, Rob Ninkovich had a career-high three sacks. … Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal to close the first half was his sixth of that length in his nine-year career. … The Patriots had three players finish with 90 or more receiving yards: Edelman (91), Gronkowski (94) and LaFell (97). … Josh Kline started at right guard and became the ninth different player to start along the offensive line for the Patriots this season, meaning every lineman currently on the Patriots roster has started at least one game for New England this season.