There weren't a whole lot of reasons to get excited during the Patriots first loss of the season as New England was shut out for the first time ever at Gillette Stadium. The Bills came to Foxborough and left with a 16-0 victory, knocking the Patriots to 3-1 but still atop the AFC East.
Here are some random thoughts from Buffalo's win.
Flag day – With Jacoby Brissett set to make his second career start, Bill Belichick didn't figure to rely on the same pedestrian game plan he used against Houston to keep Brissett out of trouble. There was some thought heading into the game that the Patriots would implement some wrinkles off the formations and play designs that worked against the Texans, like the zone-read options. Sure enough, on the first play from scrimmage Brissett faked a jet sweep to Julian Edelman before hitting him with a quick pass near the sideline. Edelman turned it upfield and raced 90 yards down to the 1, but Chris Hogan was called for both pass interference and holding, negating the play. It was one of 15 penalties (including declined) on the day for New England.
Point of no return – The game had an ominous tone from the opening kickoff as Cyrus Jones chose to take the ball out of the end zone, stopped at the 1 and nearly took a knee before being smoked at the 9. Jones chose to take his second kick out of the end zone as well and suffered a similar fate before being stopped at the 14. He opted for touchbacks after that. Jones also wasn't used as a punt returner as Danny Amendola was back to receive Colton Schmidt's kicks. Jones has shown the ability to be dynamic at times in his short stint with the Patriots but has yet to display sound decision-making and consistent ball security. The latter was again on display on the final punt when he mishandled his only attempt of the day before recovering.
Uncomplementary football – Last week against Houston the Patriots played about as perfectly as a team can play on both defense and special teams. That work allowed a less-than-potent offense to remain in control as New England coasted to the 27-0 victory. Against Buffalo it was a different story. The offense was again limited with Brissett at the helm but this time he didn't get much support. The defense was on its heels from the start, allowing Buffalo to march the length of the field for a touchdown. The Bills also fashioned two long field goal drives on the next two series and instead of dictating the way the game was played it was the visitors in control from the outset. Add in a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal and Jones' bad decisions on kickoff returns and the result was the complete opposite from a week ago.
Curious calls – Rex Ryan made a couple of questionable decisions at the end of the first half. With the Bills leading 10-0 and on the move, Tyrod Taylor faced a third-and-21 from the 29 and hit Mike Gillislee for 13 yards. The Patriots were offside on the play, which would have given the Bills third-and-16 from the 24 and another chance to convert. Instead, Ryan declined the penalty and Dan Carpenter came on the boot the 43-yard field goal. It would hard to imagine Belichick not giving his offense another chance to convert in a similar situation. Later in the half the Patriots took over at their own 20 and Brissett was dropped for a 15-yard sack on first down. With just under a minute and the ball at the Patriots 5, Ryan chose not use a timeout. Belichick predictably ran twice and only then did Ryan use his timeouts but by that time there were just 13 ticks left. Therefore Ryan Allen's punt closed out the half rather than the Bills getting about 30 seconds to add to their lead.
The New England Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 2, 2016.
Personnel decisions – Logan Ryan had a difficult time covering Robert Woods, allowing seven catches for 89 yards. Woods is a possession-type receiver but his route-running gave Ryan fits, so much so that Belichick sat him late in the first half and replaced him with Jones for a couple of series. Ryan returned in the second half but Woods again came up with a couple of big plays, especially on a key third down in the third quarter when he caught a 23-yard pass on the sideline to move the chains. The Bills did not need to throw the ball as much while protecting a 16-point lead late, so Woods' production tailed off but it seemed every time Taylor needed a completion he found Woods and generally that came with Ryan in coverage.
Early domination – The Patriots were thoroughly outplayed for much of the afternoon, especially early. Through the first quarter and a half, Buffalo held a 13-0 lead and a 208-34 edge in total yards. At that point Brissett hit Martellus Bennett for 58 yards to move the ball to the 17 but came away with without points when Brissett fumbled on a third-down scramble. Even with the big play total yards at the break were 251-98. The problems were even more evident on third down where the Patriots converted just once in 12 attempts while Buffalo moved the chains on 7 of 15 (47 percent) attempts. Things never really got untracked and the Bills were in total control.
Juggling corners – After not appearing on defense in the shutout win over Houston, Justin Coleman saw extensive action as third corner against Buffalo. Jones got those reps against the Texans but aside from the snaps he took in place of Ryan did not appear much on defense otherwise. Coleman appeared to hold up well in coverage and is perhaps Belichick considers him a better tackler and therefore chose that option against the run-heavy Bills.
Hightower returns – Dont'a Hightower returned to the lineup after missing two games with a knee injury. The linebacker had his moments but appeared to be limited by what was reported as a meniscus injury. Hightower was a step slow in the run game and had a tough time keeping up with McCoy's sharp cuts in the open field but he did show some explosion on a key third-down stop in the red zone when his heavy pressure forced a quick throw and led to a field goal. He was replaced at times by Shea McClellin on third downs as well. Even though he's at less than 100 percent having Hightower back in the lineup was one of the few bright spots on the day.
Heavy D – The Patriots defense showed a wrinkle early in an effort contain the Bills running game. After allowing a long touchdown drive to open the game the defense had a look that included three big defensive tackles with starters Malcom Brown and Alan Branch joining rookie Vincent Valentine and Jabaal Sheard for one of the heavier fronts the team has featured. Valentine left the game with a back injury and late in the game it appeared that Ted Karras, an offensive lineman by trade, was set to play some defense but personnel groupings changed things up and Karras ran back to the sideline.
Extra points –The Patriots were shut out for the first time ever at Gillette Stadium and the first time anywhere since 2006 in a 21-0 defeat in Miami. It was the first time New England was blanked at home since 1993 in a 6-0 loss to the Jets. … Bennett's 58-yard catch was the longest of his career. … Rob Gronkowski made his first catch of the season and now has 5,566 receiving yards, moving past Ben Coates for 20th in team history.