New England pulled away from Buffalo 23-3, after the Bills’ defense held the score to 9-3 in the first half. The relative success of the Bills’ defense seemed to unnerve the usually unflappable Patriots. A shouting match erupted between Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after Brady threw a badly off target, third down, pass toward Brandin Cooks in the 1st quarter. Later in the 4th – moments after Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White intercepted an underthrown pass – intended receiver Rob Gronkowski threw a post-whistle head shot into the defenseless White.
Dion Lewis’s stiff arm bought him an extra 20 yards on his long run
Photograph by Tom Szczerbowki and published on WKBW.com
Nine Observations from Game Twelve…
1. Running back Dion Lewis is New England’s lead running back and on Sunday he carried 15 times for 92 yards, exclusively on first and second down. Half of Lewis’ carries went for four or more yards, including a 44-yard run midway through the 2nd quarter. On that play Lewis ran a zone run to the right, behind tackle Cameron Fleming’s clear out of defensive end Shaq Lawson. Guard Shaq Mason shoved linebacker Preston Brown out of the play and Lewis cut behind Mason, ran through the converging tackle attempts of linebacker Ramon Humber and safety Micah Hyde. Lewis stiff armed safety Jordan Poyer along the right sideline before he was pushed out of bounds in the red zone.
2. Running back Rex Burkhead spelled Lewis on 12 first- and second-down carries, for 78 yards. Like Lewis, nearly half of Burkhead’s carries went for four or more yards. On Burkhead’s 31 yard run, he took the handoff out of the shotgun formation and followed Shaq Mason’s pulling block to the right. Center David Andrew’s cut block on linebacker Ramon Humber neutralized the Bills’ pursuit near the line of scrimmage.
3. New England’s pass offense was mediocre on third-down opportunities against the Buffalo defense. On ten third-down pass plays, the team converted five and Tom Brady was five of nine, for 65 yards and one interception for a quarterback rating of 38.8. Brady was also sacked on third down when defensive tackle Kyle Williams got past guard Joe Thuney in the 2nd quarter. On the good side, Thuney prevented a safety in the 4th quarter when he picked up defensive end Jerry Hughes after Nate Soldier was beaten to the inside.
4. Speaking of protecting the quarterback, the 2017 Patriots are on pace to allow 89 quarterback hits – about 15% more than last season. Statistically there has been no correlation this season to quarterback hits and the resulting quarterback rating for the game. Brady’s top two quarterback-rated games this season came with a heavy price: 146.2 against Houston’s nine hits and 139.6 against New Orleans’ seven hits.
5. Quiet day for the wide receivers as Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola combined for only four catches and 51 yards. New England’s work horse was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught nine of 11 attempts for 147 yards. Most of that damage was done in the second half.
Eric Lee’s interception at the goal line snuffed out Buffalo’s promising opening drive
Photograph by James P. McCoy, published by Buffalo News
6. Left defensive end Eric Lee – who was signed three weeks ago off the Bills’ practice squad – had a career game on Sunday. In the 1st quarter Lee collected an interception after he faked the rush and dropped into a shallow zone to undercut a slant to LeSean McCoy. Again in the 1st, Lee showed nice speed when he tracked down the elusive quarterback Tyrod Taylor along the right sideline for a sack. In the 4th Lee contributed a tipped ball (incompletion) and sack assist.
7. New England’s defense has continued to improve in the statistic of “big plays allowed.” Over the first four games the team allowed an average of 5.5 plays over 20 yards (and 32 points per game); in the second quarter of the season they allowed 3.5 (and 13 points); and these past four games they’ve allowed only 2.3 big plays per contest (and 11 points).
8. In the 4th quarter we might have seen a watershed moment in cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s career with the Patriots. In one series in the red zone, Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman – in on relief for the injured Tyrod Taylor – targeted Gilmore three times when throwing to receiver Zay Jones. All three end zone attempts were incompletions, including two pass breakups – one on fourth down – to turn away a Bills’ scoring opportunity. Also credit to special teamer Jordan Richards for staying with the more talented LeSean McCoy and forcing him out of bounds short of the goal line on third down.
9. The goal line stand described above would not have been necessary if not for an obvious, and needless, holding penalty called against cornerback Malcolm Butler on third-and-ten. This observer finds it interesting that on a day that the team’s emotions bubbled over, the even-keeled Gilmore stood out.
…And one comment about Game Thirteen.
Two weeks ago the Dolphins put eight hits on Tom Brady and the Patriots look vulnerable for more of the same going into a Miami rematch. With the team potentially missing three of their best blockers on the right side of the line – Rob Gronkowski (suspension), LaAdrian Waddle (lower body injury), and Marcus Cannon (ankle injury) – the Patriots’ coaches will need to scheme a way to keep Brady healthy on Monday Night Football.