As impressive a three-phase win as the Patriots (3-1) had a week earlier in shutting out the Texans on Thursday Night Football, New England had an equally-balanced but this time depressing loss against the Bills (2-2) Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Playing yet again with rookie third-round pick Jacoby Brissett starting at quarterback, New England not only didn't get many plays in any of the three phases of the game but saw mistakes from all three lead to the 16-0 loss to Rex Ryan's troops.
With Jimmy Garoppolo for the second straight week with an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder, the Patriots again tried to scheme together offensive success from the first snap against Buffalo. But a pair of penalties on Chris Hogan wiped a huge play to open the game and set an unfortunate tone as the fake jet sweep and then throw to Julian Edelman that resulted in a 90-yard catch-and-run was brought all the way back.
After the subsequent Patriots punt, Tyrod Taylor led a 65-yard scoring drive that he capped with a well-designed 7-yard touchdown throw to LeSean McCoy for the early lead. Buffalo would increase the lead the 13-0 by halftime and extend it to 16-0 after three quarters.
The deficit for the home squad came thanks to suspect play on offense, defense and special teams. The return game gave Brissett the ball at his 9 and 14 for his first two possessions of the day. The defense allowed Taylor to complete nine of his first 11 throws in the first quarter while also allowing the Bills to average 5.8 yards per carry on the ground in the opening period. And the offense failed to record a first down while compiling just 20 yards in the first 15 minutes of action.
Stephen Gostkowski's miss of a 48-yard field goal was one of a limited number of scoring chances for New England. In the end they never lit the scoreboard, shut out for the first time in the history of Gillette Stadium and first time in any home since 1993. It's been a decade since a team followed up a shutout win with a shutout loss.
Things started poorly and never really got any better.
"We didn't do much of anything well enough to win today," Belichick said. "We have to turn the page here. I think we're a better team than we showed today."
The Patriots have now finished Tom Brady's four-game suspension with a 3-1 mark and sit atop the AFC East. They clearly remain a Super Bowl favorite and have the ability to win games in all three phases, as they did against the Texans.
What kind of impact can Brady have when he returns?
"I don't even have to answer that," tight end Rob Gronkowski said.
But, the reality of this day, against this Bills opponent, is that none of it was very impressive.
"It wasn't good enough in any area," Belichick said.
Before moving on to preparations for next week's trip with Brady to Cleveland to take on the Browns, here are some of the few personnel highs and many lows from what was very much a team loss in New England to the Bills.
The New England Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 2, 2016.
Martellus Bennett – While the Patriots offense struggled to make things happen with any consistency, Bennett was pretty much the only guy to hit even a couple big plays. He notched a pretty 58-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline in the second quarter to at least get the Patriots in position for potential points. He added a 19-yard catch and run in the third quarter. Bennett finished the day with five catches for 109 yards as he continues to be arguably the Patriot best all-around offensive player through the first month of action in his new home.
Jamie Collins – The linebacker wasn't nearly as impressive as he was a week earlier against the Texans, but he was solid in the middle once again. He got things going with a big hit early on and continued to run sideline to sideline to make stops. He forced Taylor to pitch the ball early on a couple option plays and chased the pitch man down as well. Collins finished with six tackles but his day was a bit better than that, and came with fewer mistakes than most of his teammates.
*Ryan Allen – *New England's punter was solid for the second straight week, even if the kicking game wasn't the total strength it was a week earlier. Allen had plenty of reps, punting six times for a net average of 49.2 with a pair of kicks downed inside the 20. It wasn't a great game of field position or hidden yards for the Patriots, but that wasn't because of Allen, who did his job well.
*Chris Hogan – *Not one but two calls against the receiver erased a potential huge play to open the game – although the holding/pass interference may have aided Julian Edelman's run down the right sideline. Hogan also failed to record a catch on a pair of targets. But wiping out a play that was likely practiced all week and designed to open the game with a bang was Hogan's failing on the day.
Penalties – Hogan was far from the only New England player with penalties, though. Nate Solder also had a pair on a day when the Patriots piled up 15 penalties, including those that were declined. Rookie Joe Thuney continued a troubling trend with flags with a false start. On an overall sloppy day, penalties were a part of the problem, including at least one for four of the five starting offensive linemen.
Cyrus Jones – The rookie kickoff returner started to take the opening kickoff out of the end zone when he saw up-returner Matthew Slater signaling to stay in the end zone for the touchback. But it was too late and though he avoided the embarrassment of taking a knee at the 1, Jones only got to the 9. The next return he seemed uncertain yet again and only got to the 14. On his final punt return of the day, Jones muffed the ball. The team's top pick last April seems to be struggling with his confidence and decision making on returns right now and remains behind Justin Coleman for the No. 3 cornerback role.
Logan Ryan – New England's No. 2 cornerback struggled mightily, mostly with Bills veteran receiver Robert Woods. Ryan actually was replaced in the game by the rookie Jones in the second quarter, though returned to see his usual reps in the second half. Woods finished as Buffalo's leading receiver with seven catches for 89 yards and most of the damage came against Ryan, who to this point had been off to a decent start to the year.
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