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What Worked and What Didn’t: Week 8

The Bills drop to .500 on the year with yet another lopsided loss to the Patriots.

After blanking the New England Patriots 16-0 in early October, the Buffalo Bills had an opportunity to sweep their divisional foes for the first time since 1999. However, due to a typically clinical performance from New England quarterback Tom Brady, the Bills fell flat in a 41-25 loss.

Here is what went right and went wrong for the Bills in Week 8:

What Didn’t Work

1. Slowing Down the G.O.A.T.

The Bills haven’t made the playoffs in 16 seasons. Tom Brady is now in his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots. Though Buffalo has certainly had quite a bit to do with their own extended misery, playing the greatest quarterback of all time twice a season for the better part of the past two decades certainly hasn’t helped matters at all.

Brady’s performance on Sunday wasn’t the least bit surprising. Despite being sacked four times by Buffalo’s pass rushers, the 39-year-old quarterback never blinked. As he stared down Buffalo’s defense prior to each snap, Brady seemed to know exactly what the Bills were up to even before Buffalo’s defensive players were aware of it themselves. No matter how many players the Bills rushed, or how many differing types of coverage that Bills head coach Rex Ryan employed, Brady always had the answers. Whether it was Danny Amendola against Jonathan Meeks, Chris Hogan against Stephon Gilmore, or Rob Gronkowski against Nickell Robey-Coleman, Brady knew the matchup that he wanted and he very rarely failed to execute.

His final stat line on the day (22 for 33 for 315 yards and four touchdowns) represents the type of performance that the Bills have long yearned for from their own starting quarterback. However, for Brady, it was just another day. His numbers on the year (73.1 completion percentage, 9.84 yards per attempt, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions, 133.9 quarterback rating) remain remarkable, and even though he missed the season’s first four games due to a ridiculous suspension, Brady would currently be the obvious choice to win his third NFL MVP award.

Although the Bills certainly didn’t help themselves in certain respects on Sunday, the deciding factor in Sunday’s lopsided defeat had little to do with their own efforts. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to ever play football in the NFL, and while the Bills have certainly stood witness to his greatness more than others (Brady is now 26-3 against Buffalo after Sunday), they certainly aren’t the only team that’s been demoralized by the Patriots quarterback over the years.

While the defeat Sunday was surely disappointing, it was the glimpse into the future that should leave Bills fans unsettled. Despite playing in his 17th season, Brady looks as lethal as ever. Though we all privately hope that the New England quarterback steps closer to regression and retirement with each passing year, those hopes will continue to go unanswered for the foreseeable future.

Until Brady finally decides to walk away from football, the Bills will always be left playing for a spot in the Wild Card Round.

2. A Lack of Discipline

Although a penalty-free performance against Brady likely still would’ve resulted in a Patriots victory, the Bills shot themselves in the foot throughout Sunday’s game. Even though New England was actually penalized more yardage than the Bills (116 to 84), Buffalo’s lack of discipline on both sides of the ball greatly hindered their ability to keep things close.

Here is a brief look at all 12 penalties that the Bills took on Sunday:

- A five-yard penalty for 12 men on the field turns a 2nd and 10 into a 2nd and 5 on New England’s first drive of the game.

- A holding penalty on Lerentee McCray during a kickoff return pushes the ball back to Buffalo’s seven-yard line for the start of their second drive.

- A defensive holding penalty on a 1st and 20 by Robert Blanton gives New England an automatic first down.

- An illegal formation penalty wipes out an 18-yard pass play to Reggie Bush.

- One play later, an offensive pass interference penalty on Walter Powell pushes the Bills back and sets up a 2nd and 24.

- An offensive holding penalty on Eric Wood wipes out a 10-yard run from Mike Gillislee.

- A second offensive holding penalty on Wood pushes the Bills back for a 1st and 20.

- A second 12-men-on-the-field penalty turns a 3rd and 5 into a 1st and 10 for the Patriots at Buffalo’s 24-yard line.

- An unnecessary roughness on Nickell Robey-Coleman gives the Patriots a first down at Buffalo’s six-yard line.

- A defensive holding penalty on Stephon Gilmore gives the Patriots a 1st and Goal at Buffalo’s one-yard line.

- A roughing the passer penalty on Shaq Lawson on 3rd and 7 gives the Patriots a first down.

- A second defensive holding penalty on Gilmore on 3rd and 12 gives the Patriots an automatic first down at Buffalo’s 20-yard line.

Once again, even though a far more disciplined effort likely would’ve still resulted in defeat this week, the Bills can’t continue to hurt their own chances during more winnable games in the weeks to come.

3. Contract-Year Struggles

Even if you believe that Gilmore wasn’t at fault for Hogan’s 53-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, the 26-year-old cornerback looked far from elite against the Patriots. In addition to the two holding penalties that afforded New England a pair of automatic first downs, Gilmore was beaten when targeted by Brady. Though Gilmore may deserve the benefit of the doubt on Hogan’s early touchdown due to miscommunication troubles in the secondary, the former Buffalo receiver also beat the Bills cornerback for a 16-yard gain on a 3rd and 10. Later on in the game, Gilmore surrendered a back-shoulder, 33-yard gain to Gronkowski in which the big tight end swatted the fifth-year pro aside with ease.

While Gilmore certainly wasn’t alone in his struggles against the Patriots, the rest of the Buffalo secondary also isn’t looking to be paid like a top-five cornerback in the NFL. Though Pro Football Focus may fail to fully account for how game plans and coverage assignments may impact a cornerback’s weekly performance, a 90th place ranking among all NFL cornerbacks certainly can’t bode well for Gilmore’s camp heading into free agency.

What Worked

1. An Increased Role for Mike Gillislee

The quicker the Bills realize that Gillislee deserves more touches the better. With LeSean McCoy sidelined with his ailing hamstring, Gillislee was relied upon as the lead back on Sunday. He certainly didn’t disappoint. Gillislee ran for 85 yards on 12 carries (7.1 average) and consistently displayed a strong burst when the offensive line provided him with room to run. I also greatly enjoyed Gillislee’s interest in punishing defenders each time he touched the ball. While I’m a bit worried that his enthusiasm for contact may at some point inhibit his ability to stay on the field (the Dont’a Hightower hit in the first quarter was worrisome), Gillislee would provide the Bills with a fearless and physical complement to the absent McCoy.

Even if McCoy manages to suit up and play in some capacity next Monday, the Bills would be wise to feature Gillislee against the Seahawks. While the Patriots high-scoring offense didn’t allow Buffalo to attempt to grind the game out on the ground, Russell Wilson’s injury woes and Seattle’s shaky offensive line should keep the score close. As a result, despite the fact that the Seahawks rank 8th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (89.7), the Bills should attempt to wear down Seattle’s defense (and set up play-action) with a steady dose of Buffalo’s third-year backup.

2. A Career-First for Shaq Lawson

Though it came at a time in the game when the Patriots were comfortably ahead by 21 points, Lawson’s first career sack was a bright spot for the Bills. The No. 19 overall pick in this year’s draft evaded a low block from Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and wrestled down Brady from behind. While Lawson also took a roughing the passer penalty late in the game, the rookie made little contact with Brady. However, considering a stiff breeze against Brady may draw a flag from NFL officials (while Tyrod Taylor apparently abides by a different set of rules), Lawson has to adapt to the professional game.

Although he missed all of training camp, preseason action, and the season’s first six weeks, Lawson has looked impressive over the last two games. Despite his lacking preparation, the Bills may need their first round pick to take on a heavier workload against Seattle. After suffering a hamstring injury during a first-half punt, Lorenzo Alexander may miss out on the trip out west.

3. Improved Play From Run Defense

While Buffalo’s pass defense struggled mightily against Brady, the Bills run defense bounced back from its abysmal performance against Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins in Week 7. Boosted by the season debut of Marcell Dareus, who had four tackles and a sack while playing 62 percent of the defensive snaps against the Patriots, the defensive line limited New England to just 72 yards on the ground. In particular, the Bills held LeGarrette Blount in check. After running for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers last week, Blount managed just 43 yards on 18 carries (2.4 average), but he did add another touchdown to his season total. Though Dareus was impressive in his return, Kyle Williams was the best player on the field for Buffalo’s defense. The 33-year-old veteran registered a sack, a hurry, and three quarterback hits. He was also his normally effective self against the run.