It wasn’t nearly the walkover that many media and fans expected, but in the end the Patriots left Buffalo with a 25-6 win Monday night.
The Patriots drove inside the Bills 32-yard line on four of five first-half possessions, but that turned into just a 9-3 halftime lead thanks to Stephen Gostkowski going three of four on field goal attempts, the miss from 50 yards at the end of the second quarter.
New England was then up just 12-6 after three quarters before finally finding the end zone on a 1-yard James White touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The visitors then tacked on an 84-yard Devin McCourty interception return for a touchdown to close the door.
The Patriots defense did what it was supposed to against a Bills offense that’s struggled mightily all season. Buffalo had a 12-yard LeSean McCoy run out of the Wildcat on its first snap and then finished with just 46 yards on the ground. Kyle Van Noy had a key strip sack and overall the unit made an inept Bills offense look just that, keeping it from the end zone.
“We’ll take the win however we can get it,” Tom Brady said, after being held without a touchdown pass in a game for the first time this season. “We’re grinding through it like everyone else.”
The win propelled the Patriots to 6-2 at the midpoint of the season, sitting atop the AFC East.
Before turning the page to next Sunday night’s showdown with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Gillette Stadium, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the victory in Buffalo.
James White – White led New England in receptions entering the game and distanced himself from the Patriots pack of pass catchers with another impressive, high-volume performance. The running back caught a game-high 10-passes on 13 targets for 79 yards. He picked up just 15 yards on his eight carries, but did find the end zone on the short score. The Bills were giving Brady and Co. the short passing game and the Patriots took it to move the ball. White leads New England with 55 receptions in eight games, putting him on pace for a 110-catch season.
Trey Flowers – New England’s fourth-year defensive end was all over the front for most of the night against the Bills. Flowers finished with six solo tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pass defense. He was a big part of holding McCoy to 1.1 yards per carry thanks to tackles for a loss. He nearly had an interception when he stopped his rush and had a Derek Anderson throw hit him right in the chest. Flowers led a defense for the Patriots that held the Bills to just four of 14 third down conversions.
Julian Edelman – Much like White, Edelman took advantage of what the Bills defense was giving underneath. He was actually even more efficient, catching nine of 10 passes thrown his way for 104 yards. It was easily Edelman’s best game since returning from both his four-game suspension and missing last season to a torn ACL. Edelman was averaging just more than 9 yards per catch coming in, but bumped it up to 11.6 per reception in Buffalo thanks in part to a 26-yard long.
Stephen Gostkowski – The Patriots scored a single touchdown on offense. So, this was another week where you might not win without Gostkowski’s work on field goals, which included makes from 25, 40, 38 and 25 yards on a night where there was a pretty decent wind at New Era Field. Gostkowski did miss from 50 at the end of the second quarter, but otherwise was the main scorer in the game. Gostkowski is now 17 of 19 on field goals for the year and remains a perfect 26 of 26 on PATs, which is far from a sure-thing these days.
Rob Gronkowski – Even though he had a pretty 22-yard gain down the sideline in the second half that was upheld on video review, New England’s big tight end just didn’t look like himself. He was bumped off his route in a red zone chance early in the first half that led to a near interception on an out route at the goal line. Overall he caught just three of eight passes thrown his way for 43 yards in his return after missing the Bears game a week earlier due to a back injury. Gronkowski just isn’t clicking with Brady right now and it’s part of the reason the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Special teams – There was no area of the kicking game that was without its flaws in Buffalo. Gostkowski missed his long field goal. Edelman had a really dumb penalty on a punt return for head-butting a coverage defender after he called for a fair catch. The punt coverage unit gave up a 31-yard return by Micah Hyde. Ryan Allen had just a 28.8-yard net on his four punts. And the kickoff team was called for an illegal formation when McCourty held the ball in the windy conditions, leaving New England with not enough bodies outside the numbers, violating the new kickoff rules. Overall it was a bit of a sloppy day for Joe Judge’s troops.
Run game/offensive line – New England very much missed rookie running back Sony Michel. The Patriots had to put Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield and aside from one late 22-yard run off the right side it didn’t work. He ran 10 times for just 38 yards. The line didn’t open a lot of room for Patterson or anyone else to run, including White averaging just 1.5 yards per carry on his eight chances. The pass protection had its hiccups as well, including a strip sack. Brady felt pressure at times and seemed to be adversely affected, fortunate not to be called for intentional grounding. To add injury to insult, right guard Shaq Mason left with a calf injury and did not return.
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