The Rear View Mirror – Game Fifteen

New England ground out a 37-16 against the division rival Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon in Gillette Stadium. After going into half time tied 13-13, the Patriots seemed to get stronger in the second half, outscoring the Bills 24-3.

Dion Lewis stretches out to get a fourth-down conversion in the 3rd quarter

Photograph by Nancy Lane/ Boston Herald

Nine Observations from Game Fifteen…

1. Dion Lewis was clearly the star of the game, as his 153 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Lewis averaged 5.4 yards rushing, without having any 20+ yard runs. Five of Lewis’ 24 runs were over 10 yards, and all off those longer runs came on first and second down, out of traditional “running” formations.

2. On Lewis’ 13-yard gain in the 1st quarter, TE Rob Gronkowski neutralized DE Ryan Davis, and guard Shaq Mason pulled around to seal off corner Tre'Davious White, to open the hole off right end. In the 2nd, guard Joe Thuney laid a key block on LB Ramon Humber, and Gronkowski trap blocked DT Adolphus Washington, to open up a 10 yard run by Lewis. On one play in the 4th, Shaq Mason initially doubled the defensive end and then got a block on the defensive tackle, opening up a hole for a 12-yard gain by RB Mike Gillislee.

3. Over the first ten games of the season, Tom Brady averaged a quarterback rating of 110.9. In the five most recent games, he has averaged 90.1 – a drop of almost 20%. Not coincidentally, Brady has thrown at least one interception in each of the five previous games.

4. Also over the past five games, the passing offense has been successful almost exclusively when going through Rob Gronkowski. On Sunday, the big tight end lead all Patriot pass catchers with 67 yards, including an incredible, back handed, “Gronk” catch for an 17-yard touchdown in the 2nd quarter.

5. The Patriots benefited from three noteworthy decisions by the game officials. In the 2nd quarter, a questionable pass interference call went against Buffalo’s Micah Hyde on a 44-yard heave to receiver Brandin Cooks. Later in the 2nd, the replay officials overturned what appeared to be a Kelvin Benjamin touchdown reception in the back of the end zone. In the 3rd, a Patriots drive was “stopped” with a failed Dion Lewis, fourth-and-one run before the Patriots challenged and the call was reversed. Those three favorable decisions on close calls netted New England 10 points.

Malcom Brown corralling the elusive Tyrod Taylor in the 3rd quarter

Photograph published by NBC Sports

6. If any play served as a turning point from the early stalemate to the late Patriots’ domination, it was defensive tackle Malcom Brown’s sack with five minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. New England had just tied the game at 16, and the Bills ran a play-action, screen pass that Brown blew up for a 15 yard loss. Earlier, in the 1st, Brown (in on six tackles for the day) beat center Eric Wood to tackle Mike Tolbert for a loss.

7. Special teamer-turned-linebacker Marquis Flowers was in on ten tackles and three quarterback hits. In the 1st quarter Flowers’ A-gap blitz scuttled a shuttle pass attempt. Late in the 2nd, he tracked down Tyrod Taylor for a sack along the left sideline. In the 4th Flowers got past guard Richie Incognito tackle running back LeSean McCoy for a loss.

8 Marquis Flowers’ play was also crucial to a fourth-down, red zone stop in the 2nd quarter. Defensive end Deatrich Wise pressured the left side of the pocket, forcing Tyrod Taylor to scramble to the right. Flowers deftly disengaged from right tackle Jordan Mills, kept the Bills’ quarterback from slipping around him, and eventually made the sack. Deatrich Wise’s pressure also ended the Bills first drive of the game, as he pushed left tackle Dion Dawkins into the pocket, and then caught Taylor for a sack as the quarterback started to scramble.

9. Cornerback Malcolm Butler often played WR Deonte Thompson tight at the line, giving up a 46-yard crossing pattern and a third-and-two 33-yard pass play up the right sideline in the 2nd quarter. In line with his many Jekyll-and-Hyde performances this season, Butler contributed a third-down strip sack and then a pass break up on a Thompson comeback route in the 4th.

… And one comment about Game Sixteen.

The Patriots survived a potential mental let down against the Bills after their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the prior week. Next, New England closes out the regular season at home with the New York Jets. When the two teams played in game six, the Jets jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the Patriots clawed back to win 24-17. Win and the Patriots are the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

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