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Patriots Handle Bills With Ease, 41-25

Monday, November 14, 2016 2:48
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The Patriots took care of business yesterday, topping the Bills 41-25. With the win, they are three games up in the AFC East with eight games to go, and even blustery Bills head coach Rex Ryan conceded the division crown to the Pats. Next week is a bye, so relax and enjoy an extra long victory lap.

The Pats basically won this game by not making mistakes while the Bills made enough for two games. Overthrown passes, dropped passes, ill-timed penalties, a multiple blown assignments in the defensive secondary. All this would be enough to lose to an average team — but the Patriots are the class of the league, so the errors were lethal.

Quarterback Tom Brady dominated this game. He completed 22 passes on 33 attempts (66.7%) for 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 137.0 QB rating. Even with pressure in his face or coming around the outside, Brady stayed cool in the pocket and delivered multiple long-strike passes, two of them 53-yard touchdowns. He completed multiple passes to six different receivers, and the Patriots were an efficient 9-of-13 (69%) on third down.

Brady even shut the door when fate seemed to swing things toward Buffalo. On the Bills first possession of the second half, they turned a botched punt play into an accidental first down and scored a touchdown to draw within two scores. On the next drive, Brady went only 3-of-5 for 26 yards, but he ran 15 yards for a first down, and caught the Bills with 12 men on the field for a free five yards — effectively ending the division race on that touchdown drive.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (5 receptions for 109 yards) and receiver Chris Hogan (4 for 91) both caught 53-yard touchdowns, both on blown coverages by the Buffalo safeties that Brady recognized immediately.  Julian Edelman had four catches and his first touchdown of the season, and Danny Amendola also added a touchdown, along with excellent blocking downfield and an important special teams play (more on that later).

Running back LeGarrette Blount gained 43 yards on 18 carries, but he wasn’t as good as usual in pass protection. James White was actually the superior blocker in pass protection, making a key block on the Gronkowski touchdown.

Along the offensive line, Nate Solder and David Andrews struggled. In fairness, the strength of Buffalo’s defense is their front four, but Solder whiffed multiple times, and hobbled Bills DT Marcell Dareus pushed around Andrews like he was a rag doll. The line had fewer penalties this week, and appears to be gelling more in the running game; so here’s hoping that translates to better pass protection by the end of November.

The defense really misses the old Jamie Collins. The linebacker is fighting a hip injury, so he plays limited snaps and isn’t as effective in those plays. LB Dont’a Hightower led the team with six tackles and added a QB hit. And Elandon Roberts (5 tackles) got a quick introduction to bigger players who will run him over; which happened once or twice.

Collins’ injury also forced the team to move defensive end Rob Ninkovich to linebacker, and that hurts the pass rush and outside contain against the run. On the first series, Buffalo ran outside at will, pinching in defensive linemen Jabaal Sheard and Chris Jones to make it around end and down the sideline. Later in the game, Ninkovich returned to DE and held the edge brilliantly as the inside players stuffed one running play after another.

But Trey Flowers emerged as the biggest star along the defensive line. He made five tackles, several of them running down backs from behind. He also had the only two sacks for the team (for nine yards in losses), and hit the QB two additional times. In all, the defensive line got enough pressure on the Bills QB to make him throw flat-footed (no room to step into the throws), which forced many of his passes to go high.

In the secondary, cornerback Malcolm Butler continues to be the class of the group. He had four tackles (including two bone-shakers), and his competitive play on every ball made it nearly impossible for receivers to catch the wet football on a rainy day. Eric Rowe got more playing time, and it was a mixed bag. He got two penalties (although one was bogus), one a pass interference call that gave the Bills the ball at the one yard-line. The second corner is the biggest worry on defense; and until either Rowe or Logan Ryan claims it as his own, there will be continued concern.

Safety Patrick Chung had a great game. Among he five tackles were two that saved first downs, and one that saved a long gain when Chung got a guy by the ankle. Devin McCourty had some big hits, and knocked away a pass, and the Bills had very few big plays, so he did his job.

Special teams provided a spark when Amendola returned the second-half kickoff 73 yards to give the Pats a short field and an easy touchdown. They did give up a 35-yard kickoff return, but the Bills turned that one over on downs, so no harm no foul. No missed field goals for Stephen Gostkowski, which is good news. And among punters with at least 25 kicks, Ryan Allen is in the top 5 in fewest returned punts and fewest return yards given up.

The coaching yesterday was excellent, especially the defensive game plan. Knowing the Bills were short on good receivers, defenders hit every receiver hard on every play, sending a few of them to the sidelines. And the replacements were not as good as the people leaving the game, who were already not as good as the best on the Buffalo roster.

On offense, they played the Bills D like a fiddle. Brady didn’t need to manipulate the safeties to make completions; he broke them down by formation and motion. Most of the long passes, Brady almost certainly knew what he was going to do before the snap. It was beautiful to watch.

So where does that leave us? 7-1 and atop the AFC (and the entire league) is not a bad place to take a week off. The team should work on pass protection schemes and skills during the bye, and hopefully, Collins will come back fully healthy. That is the one injury that will really hurt if it lingers.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: It has to be Gronkowski. Lead the team in receptions, receiving yards, had the long touchdown, and as usual did a great job blocking.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots had more penalty yards than the Bills in both games this year. Trivia question: How many times have the the Patriots had as many, or more, penalty yards as the Bills in both games in a season (answer below)?

Non-Statistical Oddity of the Week: Someone threw a dildo on the field during the game yesterday. When I mentioned it on Facebook, my friend Rick had the best line: “Are you referring to Rex Ryan or that pink thing [pictured]?”

And here I thought Ryan was into feet…

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: “For once I’m with Rex Ryan: the Patriots will win the division.”

Keep the faith, and enjoy the bye,

- Scott

PS. 7-1!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
Including yesterday, it’s happened four times: 2016, 2003, 2001, and 2000. Interestingly, two of the previous three times the Patriots won the Super Bowl the same year.


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