Rex Ryan wanted to build a bully in Buffalo. Maybe he should focus on building a winner.
While his team did enough to get the Patriots into an early dogfight that was just 3-3 late the second quarter, it once again wasn't enough to pull off the unlikely upset on Monday Night Football at Gillette Stadium.
Tom Brady and Co. overcame the shaky start and a sluggish overall game to eventually hold on for the 20-13 victory. Ryan lost for the ninth time in his last 10 meetings with Bill Belichick's Patriots, Brady beating the Bills for the 25th time in his career, one less than Brett Favre's NFL record for any quarterback against one team.
Give Ryan credit, though, his defense certainly made things tough on Brady and his offense. Rob Gronkowksi was held to just 2 catches for 37 yards, only a single 10-yard grab in the first three quarters. Brady was battered and harried most of the night, sacked just once but hit 10 times and forced to throw the ball into the turf with alarming regularity, finishing with a season-low 72.3 passer rating, 20 points lower than his previous low that came last week against the Giants.
To add injury to insult, Danny Amendola limped off with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. That exit coming after he had nine catches on 12 targets for 117 yards as New England's only really consistent target on the night.
Ryan's troops fought the fight, but not necessarily the good fight.
While Buffalo's defense was clearly frustrating Brady and giving his offensive line fits, New England's defenders were getting the job done just as well. The Patriots surging run defense held Buffalo to just 94 yards on 30 carries, a 3.1-yard average. LeSean McCoy had 4.1 yards per carry, but 27 of his yards came on one touchdown run, otherwise he was mostly held in check.
Though Tyrod Taylor had some receivers running free, he was never able to take advantage. The Bills passer was a sacked twice and finished with just a 75.3 pass rating. Sammy Watkins was held to just 39 yards on three catches and while Chris Hogan did hit for 95 yards, his 42-yard grab was the only pass the Patriots allowed longer than 18 yards.
Buffalo was just three of 15 (20 percent) on third down conversions, went 0-for-1 in the red zone, had five relatively costly penalties for 44 yards, lost a fumble on a muffed punt and just never put together consistent, productive play for any long stretches. The Patriots deserve much of the credit for that.
Maybe the most credit, certainly on a per-play-basis, has to go to second-year running back James White. The passing back had a touchdown reception and a short touchdown run to provide the bulk of the Patriots points. While it may not have been a Dion Lewis-like performance, he certainly maximized his two rushes for 14 yards and two catches for 32 yards.
Injuries are certainly forcing Brady and the Patriots to transition a bit midway through the season. A New England squad that once seemed to roll out of bed and score 30 points has now been held below that number for the third straight week, this a season-low 20 points.
But Ryan's Bills went home losers yet again, while Belichick's Patriots (10-0) moved on as hard-fought, undefeated victors.
"Like always…I've come up short many times here," Ryan assessed afterwards.
Hard to argue with that.
"I didn't think that was our best," Belichick said. "But we made enough plays. We scored enough points. Take it. And move on to Denver."
Before the Patriots move on to next Sunday night's big trip to the Rocky Mountains to take on Brock Osweiler's Broncos, here are the personnel highs and lows from New England's latest win:
Jerod Mayo – New England's defensive captain had been a bit player, at best, through the first nine games. Monday night he earned his fifth start of the season and played his most significant role of the year. He got things rolling with a tackle of LeSean McCoy for a 4-yard loss on Buffalo's second snap on the way to an opening three-and-out. He also was solid in coverage much of the night. The veteran burst through on a key third-and-one midway through the fourth quarter with the Bills near midfield, forcing McCoy outside for Patrick Chung's eventual tackle. Mayo finished with five solo tackles and his best performance of the year as he continues to recover from the torn patella that cut his 2014 season short.
James White – A year and a half into his pro career, the former fourth-round pick White finally made a big impact. Late in the second quarter with the Patriots in a 3-3 dogfight, White took a Brady swing pass, made a Bills defender Corey Graham miss and trotted into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown, the first of his career. After a long Amendola reception, the Patriots caught Buffalo napping and White scored on a 6-yard touchdown run. Even with just two rushes for 14 yards and two catches for 32 yards, White may have been New England's MVP on this cold, struggle of a night. He also proved he is capable of filling the passing back role in the wake of Dion Lewis' season-ending injury. White's role may have to grow in the coming weeks and he has done nothing to make that seem like an unrealistic expectation.
Tavon Wilson – The fourth-year safety is generally a special teams contributor, if he's even active. Monday night he was essentially the Patriots extra defensive back and played a big role from the early going. He had an early blitz pressure to force a punt. He only finished with three solo tackles, but Wilson put forth the biggest defensive impact of his career and was also his usual productive self on special teams.
Danny Amendola – With Julian Edelman down and out, Amendola stepped up with a big performance before leaving in the third quarter with his own knee injury. Even in the partial game, Amendola had a game-high 12 targets with nine receptions for 117 yards, the seventh 100-yard game of his career. Amendola's health will be a major issue to monitor moving forward given the run of injuries at the receiver position that also saw Aaron Dobson get carted off against Buffalo.
Sebastian Vollmer –The tackle returned from a week missed due to a concussion. He didn't start but entered in the second quarter and played the rest of the way on the right side. Vollmer struggled mightily at times, primarily dealing with Bills defensive end Mario Williams. He's easily the team's best all-around offensive lineman, but it wasn't Vollmer's best night. He needs to get better and may need to move to the left side moving forward.
Marcus Cannon – Vollmer was off, but Cannon was worse. Cannon was beaten pretty regularly by Jerry Hughes, helping lead to double-digit hits on Brady on the night (10 officially). He also had three penalties – a false start, illegal formation and holding. Hughes beat Cannon on one play to put his helmet right on Brady's chin midway through the fourth quarter. Not good to see. Cannon was overmatched athletically. Maybe it was rust returning after missing a month-plus. Maybe he needs to move back to the right side.
LeGarrette Blount – The Patriots used a lot of personnel groups and tried to balance out the offense. Blount got 16 carries but just couldn't do much with those chances, finishing with a mere 56 yards (3.5 avg.), 17 of which came on one fourth-quarter carry just after a Bills punt. It's the second straight week Blount had upwards of 15 carries and could average just 3.5 yards per attempt. With all the injuries on offense, New England needs more from the ground game and Blount hasn't been able to provide it.
What do you think of our lists after this tough win? Let us know with a comment below!