Sunday afternoon's trip to Buffalo (6-6) didn't exactly include the fast start that's been characteristic of Patriots wins of late, but in the end Tom Brady's Patriots (10-2) continued the domination of the Bills to pull away for the 23-3 win.
It was a bit of a throwback-style game, with the teams combining for nearly 400 total rushing yards. But the teams struggled in the red zone in the first half – Buffalo with an ugly Tyrod Taylor interception right to Eric Lee and New England giving up sacks to stall three drives – leading to a mere 9-3 New England lead at the half.
But the visitors picked up the pace in the second half with a pair of Rex Burkhead touchdowns and some more timely defensive play before Taylor was carted off, giving way to rookie backup Nathan Peterman. New England's own backup, Brian Hoyer, came on to take the kneel-downs to close the door on what finished as another relatively comfortable win.
The streaking continued for the Patriots, who've now won eight in a row to keep pace with the Steelers for the best record in the AFC. The defense, which had its issues at times against the Bills run game, held an opponent to 17 points or fewer for the eighth straight week with a season-low three points allowed.
Brady, who's dominated the Bills over the years, earned his 27th win (most in NFL history by any quarterback against a single opponent) over Buffalo without playing his best of games. Brady completed 21 of 30 passes for 258 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It was his first game without a touchdown pass since the season opener and his second straight week with an interception.
Overall, though, it was another step toward the postseason, another victory in the bank.
"It was a good day to come up here and get a win in a tough place," Brady said. "Any time you win on the road against a division opponent it's a good win.
"It was good enough today. It was a good win."
Before moving on to next Monday night's trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from yet another win in Buffalo.
Rob Gronkowski – New England's tight end continues to dominate his hometown team. Gronkowksi had a game-high nine receptions on a mere 11 targets for a season-high 147 yards. He simply could not be covered by Buffalo safety Micah Hyde and later made the catch of the day when he out-jumped rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White for a completion down the sideline. It wasn't all positive for Gronkowski, though. He had a number of penalties on the day, including an ugly late hit on White after the rookie was already down and out of bounds following his late interception. Gronkowski's pass catching was elite, the rest left room for improvement.
Stephen Gostkowski – New England did reach the end zone in the first half, but still had the lead at the half thanks to a kicker who is back in Pro Bowl form hitting just about every chance he gets. Gostkowski hit a 50-yard field goal to open the scoring in what CBS' Tony Romo described as "windy" conditions. He then hit kicks of 31 and 39 yards later in the first half. Gostkowski has now nailed 10 in a row after a midseason hiccup and is 4-for-4 on 50-plus-yard attempts this fall.
Eric Lee – Less than two weeks after arriving in New England from the Buffalo practice squad, Lee was beating up on his former team on Sunday. The linebacker was in the right place at the right time early in the first quarter for an interception at the goal line on a terrible throw/read by Taylor. But that was far from Lee's only contribution in the win. He finished with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for a loss, three QB hits, the interception and two passes defensed. Lee spent a good amount of time in the backfield and around the Bills QBs.
Dion Lewis/Rex Burkhead –The Bills have struggled against the run at times in recent weeks, with teams like the Saints (298 yards), Chargers (146) and Jets (194) pilling up the yards on the ground. New England clearly came in looking to add to that list and got the job done churning 191 yards on 35 attempts. Lewis led the way with 15 carries for 92yards, including a career-long run of 44 yards on which he stiff-armed safety Jordan Poyer on his way down the right sideline. Burkhead added 12 rushes for 78 yards including a 31-yard career-long. Both averaged better than 6 yards a carry in the game and Burkhead found the end zone on touchdowns of 1 and 14 yards.
Penalties – Flags were major issue for the Patriots over the first half of the season. Things got cleaned up coming out of the bye, but penalties were a problem again in Buffalo. Officially New England had nine penalties for 66 yards lost. There were too many false starts, including both Nate Solder and Gronkowski. Gronkowski got the ugly unnecessary roughness call for the late hit on White, with Danny Amendola actually getting his own unnecessary roughness call, although both were offset by a Bills penalty. The nine flags tied for the second-most this season behind the 12 flags in Tampa in Week 5.
Pass protection –* *Sacks were the key to the Bills red zone defense in the first half, Brady getting sacked on all three drives that ended in Gostkowski field goal attempts. Brady didn't deal with the pressure in overly impressive fashion, but the line didn't exactly build a wall in front of the G.O.A.T. Brady was sacked three times and hit five times. He was under pressure more in the first half than the second, though third-string right tackle Cameron Fleming appeared to be pretty competitive on first glance.
Run defense – New England's run defense has been a running problem most of the season. The Bills wanted to run at the Patriots banged up front that was without Trey Flowers. Buffalo did just that, picking up 183 yards on 26 rushes for a 7-yard average. LeSean McCoy led the way with 15 attempts for 93 yards (6.2 avg.) with an 18-yard long. Buffalo ran especially well on the edges. The Bills had seven runs of 12 yards or longer, with four different ball carriers notching a run of at least 12 yards. The front needs to be more stout in the middle, set the edge better and sure up its tackling.
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