The Buffalo Bills lost to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. This is not surprising given the fact that Buffalo’s only victories in the building have come when future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady either has not played (due to suspension in 2016) or has not finished the game (due to indifference in Week 17 of 2014). What made this one different wasn’t that it happened, but how it happened.
Buffalo had a lead in the fourth quarter. They had won a few big road games in tough environments, defeating the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day and a red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers team on Sunday Night Football just last week. However, as has happened far too often over the last 20 years, the Patriots proved to be too great a dragon to slay.
Our Patriots to watch all had an impact on the outcome of the game this week, though some had a greater hand in the final than others.
QB Tom Brady
So much for Brady’s recent struggles, both in general and against the Bills. As has happened too often in his storied career, Buffalo was exactly the panacea for all of Tommy’s ills. The Bills decided to use a coverage-heavy scheme, and Brady picked it apart with short, efficient timing throws that consistently allowed him to find open space in Buffalo’s zone. Overall, Brady had a great day, completing 26-of-33 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown. He nearly added a rushing touchdown to his ledger, but his 42-year-old legs couldn’t quite outrun Ed Oliver, who is twice his size and half his age. Brady’s line was his best in at least a couple of months, as he hadn’t completed over 60% of his passes since a Week 9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and he hadn’t had a 100 or better passer rating since a Week 5 victory over Washington. It’s also the first game since New England’s 33-0 victory over the New York Jets in October where he wasn’t sacked. Brady wasn’t sacked in either game against the Bills, who confounded Brady with a similar coverage-heavy scheme in September. As per usual, though, the Patriots were able to make the right adjustments while the Bills were left to play catch-up.
RB James White
Right position, wrong guy. White did not have a solid day, catching four passes on five targets for 24 yards. He added just three carries for only five yards on the ground. Instead, it was his teammate, Rex Burkhead, who did the heavy lifting out of the backfield. Burkhead caught four-of-four targets for 77 yards, adding five rushes for 20 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
WR N’Keal Harry
The big-bodied rookie wideout made some positive contributions to the game, though it doesn’t quite show up in the statistics. Harry caught two passes for 21 yards; he was targeted only three times. He ran the ball twice, as well, with one of the runs going for 18 yards. It was his second rush, however, that nearly turned the game. With a fourth-and-one from Buffalo’s 41-yard line, the Pats called Harry’s number on a jet-sweep. Cornerback Kevin Johnson upended the much bigger Harry, giving the Bills a shot at points before the half. They capitalized, pulling into a 10-10 tie at intermission. Harry was a terror as a blocker, as he was consistently tussling with Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White long after the whistle. It looked as if Harry had been tasked with getting under the gregarious corner’s skin, and his plan worked on a few occasions. The most obvious attempt came with New England backed up on its own one-yard line in the second quarter. Harry was right in White’s face, and when White retaliated after the whistle, it was possible that a personal-foul penalty could come. Had the Pats been flagged, it merely would have lost them a yard; however, if Harry had drawn the flag on White, it would have given New England a fresh set of downs on the 16-yard-line rather than the one. It was a smart play from a young receiver, even if it didn’t work.
LB Jamie Collins
The free-agent-to-be is still one heck of an athlete at 30, and he did a magnificent job both setting the edge against the run and rushing the passer all day long. Collins had six tackles on the day, one of which went for a loss, adding a quarterback hit in the process. His size, strength, and speed allows New England to do so much on the back end, as Collins is constantly disrupting plays in the backfield even when he isn’t the one to make the stop himself. He once again did well to contain quarterback Josh Allen for much of the day.
CB Joejuan Williams
Jonathan Jones sat, and Jason McCourty was unable to play more than four snaps thanks to his lingering groin injury, leaving Williams as the Patriots’ primary slot corner. As a result, Cole Beasley feasted, catching seven passes for 108 yards on the day. The Pats mixed things up at times, leaving outside corner J.C. Jackson to cover Beasley (like on the game’s final play), but it was Williams who the Bills targeted in the passing game most often, and with the most success. The rookie slot corner finished the day with just one tackle.