The New England Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills in a regular season game at New Era Field on Sunday, October 30, 2016.
Here are some of the personnel highs and lows from New England's 41-25 win in Buffalo to improve to 7-1 on the year heading into the bye week.
Tom Brady –TB12's run toward a possible third NFL MVP after opening the year with a four-game Deflategate suspension continues. Despite once again being under pressure, Brady completed 22 of 33 passes for 315 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 137 rating. He moved well in the pocket, even while being sacked a season-high four times, and scrambled for a nice 15-yard gain. Brady is more mobile than ever and deals with the pressure – both mentally and physically – better than he ever has. Through four games Brady is completing 73 percent of his passes and has a 133.9 passer rating while throwing 12 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dont'a Hightower –* *The linebacker was one of the better of the Patriots tacklers on the day, including an opening drive that saw him absolutely blow up Mike Gillislee with a textbook clean hit. The Bills running back immediately tapped out for the rest of the drive. Hightower led the Patriots with six tackles on a day when the tackling wasn't great as a team, including too many misses/overruns by Jamie Collins, Devin McCourty and others.
Chris Hogan – A week after opening the game with a lost fumble, Hogan made key plays on the way to the victory over his former team. He hauled in a 53-yard bomb the left sideline, running under the high rainbow throw. Later, he hauled in a back shoulder throw that shows his budding rapport with Brady. Hogan finished with four catches on four targets for 91 yards.
Rob Gronkowski – New England's playmaking tight end is on a roll, adding another 100-yard effort against his hometown team. Gronkowski notched a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter, running away from cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman to the end zone. It was his franchise-record 69th score on a day when he also went over 400 career receptions. He finished with five catches for 109 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season. His big plays have him averaging a team-best 22 yards per catch for the year.
Cyrus Jones –The rookie top pick was a healthy scratch for a third straight week. As guys like Eric Rowe ascend, Jones hasn't been able to crack of the day-of-game roster as either a cornerback or a returner. Not a great sign for his standing with the team in his initial season.
Offensive line –* *For the third straight game Brady was under far too much pressure all day. Brady was sacked four times, doubling his four-game total to eight, while he was hit eight times. Nate Solder struggled off the left side, including against Bills rookie Shaq Lawson. But he was far from the only problem. David Andrews was pushed around at times by Marcell Dareus. The line needs to be better, even if Brady has done better dealing with pressure. It's part of the reason why some have posed it as a potential area of trade need heading toward the Nov. 1 NFL trade deadline.
Eric Rowe –The early-season trade pickup has started opposite Malcolm Butler for two straight weeks. It hasn't gone overly well. He had three penalties in the game – including key pass interference and illegal contact calls. The team may be trying to figure out what it has in Rowe – with Logan Ryan a clear known commodity at this point in his career – and so far it hasn't gone well. He's a handsy cover man who struggles chasing at times, too. Rowe is playing catchup on and off the field.
Defensive personnel groups/coaching – New England earned a penalty for 12 men on the field on the goal line. Immediately thereafter the Patriots had to run a player on to avoid having just 10 men. Later in the game the unit played a snap with just 10 men. It wasn't a great day for the communication and personnel groups on defense.
Devin McCourty –New England's free safety had a few missed tackles on Gillislee, allowing one run down the sideline failing to keep the back out of the end zone as he ran through a Collins tackle attempt. McCourty did have a big hit later, though, and an interception wiped out via penalty. Still, as the last line of defense, McCourty's tackling could be better of late.
Stephen Gostkowski – After weeks of struggling and slumping, the veteran kicker took care of business in Buffalo despite some windy, rainy conditions. Gostkowski hit a 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half, glancing off the upright. He also hit one from 32 yards. He nailed all five of his PAT attempts. Sunday was a positive step in the right direction for the All-Pro, even more important for his confidence heading into a bye week with time to rest and reassess what has happened through the first eight games.
Danny Amendola –* *The veteran receiver had a huge 73-yard kickoff returning, initially bobbling the catch before setting up a score at the Bills 24-yard line. Amendola also had a 9-yard touchdown to open the scoring for New England, one of his three catches for 29 yards. Unfortunately Amendola also had an offensive pass interference call that wiped out a James White screen play for a first down.
Malcolm Butler – New England's No. 1 cornerback didn't exactly have a challenge in terms of coverage from the overmatched Bills. But he did the job better than any on the Patriots pass defense and also tackled quite well. With so much movement elsewhere on the cornerback depth chart, Butler continues to be a solid force from his spot.
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