What we learned from Patriots' victory over Bills
The New England Patriots (6-2) survived a slugfest with the Buffalo Bills (2-6), eventually pulling away from their AFC East rivals, 25-6, at New Era Field on Monday night to close out Week 8. Here’s what we learned:
1. They won’t all be easy, and they won’t all be pretty. New England’s Monday night win in Orchard Park was neither. The division-leading Patriots were held without a touchdown for more than three quarters against the haphazard Bills, trading field goals with the hard-hitting hosts for the bulk of the game. But thanks to clutch conversions from Tom Brady and a series of stops from Brian Flores’ defense in the second half, including an 84-yard game-sealing pick-six, New England closed out their AFC East rivals and kept pace with the conference-leading Chiefs.
The clinching interception from Devin McCourty came with six minutes to go, just one play after the Bills looked to have pulled within five on a beautiful touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to Jason Croom. But upon further review, it was clear the rookie tight end didn’t have possession, proving Bills Mafia’s hysterics premature. The next play, Anderson, in just his second start and 20th day as a Bill, looked down Charles Clay down the seam and didn’t see McCourty, who hauled in the attempt and took it for six. It was New England’s first defensive touchdown in 40 games, the longest drought in the league. That was the game: Buffalo keeping it close and knocking on the door into the final frames, but making the fatal mistakes its opponents did not.
2. Without starting running back Sony Michel, the Pats rarely ran the ball, and when they did scat-back James White and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson split touches. To combat the lack of efficiency on the ground, Brady (324 yards) tossed 31 passes in the first half and 45 total, spreading the rock mostly to Julian Edelman (9 rec, 104 yards) and James White (10, 79). The Pats struggled in the red zone and on third-down conversions early; New England settled for five field-goal attempts and 12 points in its first eight drives. But with the game on the line in the fourth, Brady converted two third-and-mediums to his favorite targets, Edelman and White, and helped march the Pats 85 yards in five minutes to score their first and only offensive touchdown.
3. Credit is due to Buffalo’s defense, which bounced back from a miserable showing in Indianapolis to bend (387 yards, 5.4 yards per play) and barely break against Brady and the Pats. The Bills linebackers, in particular, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, played especially well, each recording a tackle for loss. Alexander sacked Brady twice, and Edmunds was a sideline-to-sideline enforcer in the first half before exiting with a concussion. In Sean McDermott’s first two seasons, Buffalo has had to rely on stingy, opportunistic defense to stay in games. Monday night was no different. Whether that is a sustainable model for success remains to be seen. But the Bills defense, as New England’s first-half and late-down struggles made clear, is not to be taken lightly, despite the club’s record and putrid offensive output. Speaking of…
4. Anderson can start a professional football game, but he shouldn’t. With Anderson under center, the Bills offense has produced nine points and committed seven turnovers. It’s not all his fault, obviously. This unit was broken weeks before Anderson was called off his couch. The offensive line is in shambles. LeSean McCoy (13 rushing yards on 12 carries) isn’t headstrong enough at the line of scrimmage, even in the wildcat. Buffalo’s motley crew of receivers are getting open, but can’t make the clutch, chain-moving receptions. The offense is a season-long work in progress, and more change at QB won’t fix it, though one might be coming. Anderson (290 yards) left with an injury deep in the fourth quarter, and like the Ghost of Blowouts Past, Nathan Peterman rose from the bench for the final snaps, a dark omen as Hallows Eve approaches.
5. The Pats’ defense didn’t play like it missed Dont’a Hightower, who was out with a knee injury. Fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy had the game of his life, sacking Anderson twice and forcing a key third-quarter fumble that helped extend New England’s fragile lead. Ten different Patriots defensive linemen logged at least 13 snaps on Monday night, with Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn and rookie Keionta Davis standing out. That depth will prove useful down the stretch.
6. Shaq Mason’s injury should be one to watch. The Pats guard was bounced by a calf injury and replaced by Ted Karras in the fourth quarter. Given that Buffalo’s best pressures on Brady came up the middle on Monday night, Mason’s availability for New England’s clash with Green Bay next week is important.
7. This one didn’t move the needle in the division. The AFC East is firmly the Patriots’ to lose, as it has been for the past 97 years. Check my math on that one. Buffalo should be playing for the top pick, but two surprise wins against the playoff contending Titans and Vikings have sabotaged that goal. The Bills are alone in the East cellar.
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