ORCHARD PARK, NY — The Bills (2-6) gave the Patriots (6-2) all they could handle but Tom Brady and the Pats came out with a 25-6 win on Monday night at New Era Field.
The Pats offense had one of its worst performances of the season as Brady was under constant pressure and the running game without rookie Sony Michel was nonexistent.
The Bills defense deserves credit for holding New England to 5-14 (36 percent) on third down and 1-3 in the red zone thanks to a combination of an aggressive pass rush and multiple coverages on the backend that threw off the timing of the Patriots’ passing concepts.
However, on a positive note offensively, head coach Bill Belichick pointed out in his postgame press conference that the offense didn’t turn the ball over for the first time this season.
“They [Bills] do a great job when they get the ball out, so I’m really glad for us that we were able to take care of it as well as we did. That’ll serve us well down the road if we do that.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo has the worst offense in the NFL; the Pats defense took away the easy stuff and forced the Bills to make plays on them which they couldn’t for the most part.
Below, we’ll go over ten things we learned from the Patriots’ sixth win of the season:
1. Patriots Wide Receiver Josh Gordon Plays Usual Role Despite Reports
Before kickoff, reports surfaced of a possible in-game suspension for Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon due to tardiness to team activities during the week. However, Gordon started and took on his usual workload despite the reports that he’d sit out a few series in the first quarter. The wideout was targeted six times and caught four passes for 42 yards against Buffalo, but left some yards out there on Monday night.
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On the Patriots’ opening drive of the game, Brady targeted Gordon on a go route on third and 14. The pass glanced off Gordon’s hands and fell incomplete inches away from a huge completion. The good news is that Gordon was able to stack Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White and get a step on him to demand a target from Brady. But the bad news is that Gordon should’ve come up with the ball as the separation he created should allow for him to adjust to the ball in the air to make up for what was subpar ball placement by Brady. After the game, Brady lamented that he threw the pass too far inside and that the wind caused the ball to flutter. It wasn’t a perfect pass by Brady but catchable nonetheless.
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Gordon partially made up for it later in the game with a terrific grab scooping the ball off the turf on a purposely low throw by Brady for an 18-yard completion.
We may never know if the reports of Gordon’s tardiness are accurate, but Belichick said of the reports, “you’d have to talk to whoever wrote that. I have no idea.”
2. Bills Pass Rush Almost Steals the Game for Buffalo
Upon film review, we’ll get the official number of dropbacks for Tom Brady while under pressure on Monday night but it was the story of the game through the first three quarters. The Bills defense entered Week 8 with the fifth-best pressure percentage in the NFL, and they dominated the matchup against the Patriots’ offensive line. Let’s get to some of the film to illustrate what went wrong for the Patriots up front.
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Here’s Lorenzo Alexander’s second sack of the game, but as you’ll see multiple breakdowns led to the sack. The Patriots run play-action and pull right guard Shaq Mason to sell the run fake. But Mason loses his block which causes the initial pressure and Brady is forced to elude the rusher which allows Alexander to work his bull rush on right tackle LaAdrain Waddle who ends up losing his block as well, and Brady goes down.
The Patriots’ inability to finish drives on the Buffalo side of the field was in large part due to the Bills’ pass rushes domination of the offensive line in those situations.
Brady didn’t have a chance to keep his eyes downfield to allow something to develop.
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The Bills forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal late in the third quarter thanks to a terrific T/T stunt by their interior rushers, and some poor awareness by backup right guard Ted Karras who entered the game for the injured Shaq Mason.
Veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams wraps around on the stunt and Karras doesn’t pick him up forcing Brady to throw the ball into the ground.
For the first three quarters, the Bills defense kept Buffalo in the game by harassing Tom Brady.
3. Patriots Running Game Disappears Without Sony Michel
In my Patriots game plan this week, I discussed the importance of running the football on Monday night due to the Buffalo pass rush. However, the Pats struggled mightily on the ground averaging only 3.2 yards per carry and found themselves searching for someone to run the football in Sony Michel’s absence. The lack of a primary ball carrier made the Patriots offense one-dimensional, and that was a significant reason why the Bills pass rush was so effective. The Patriots’ leading rusher both in carries (ten) and yards (38) was wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and although Patterson broke off some longer runs late, it’s clear that he’s not a sustainable option in that role. In Patterson’s defense, the blocking wasn’t good enough either as the Pats’ offensive line struggled in that regard as well. We saw how Michel struggled in his first two weeks of action behind a shaky offensive line, so it’s only fair to give Patterson and James White the same disclaimer. Monday night was all the proof we needed that Michel is now an integral part of the New England offense.
4. Patriots Defense Stops Bills’ Wildcat Offense
We all remember the infamous wildcat game loss to the Miami Dolphins during the 2008 season. Well, the Bills tried to recreate some of Ronnie Brown’s magic on Monday night running wildcat on three of their first four plays of the game and five times overall mostly with running back LeSean McCoy at quarterback. But the Patriots defense adjusted quickly this time after allowing a 12-yard run on the first play of the game to McCoy and ended up allowing only 1.8 yards per play on the five Wildcat plays, including two rushing attempts that lost yardage.
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Here’s a great example of how the Patriots approached the wildcat plays. The Bills flexed quarterback Derek Anderson out wide with McCoy taking the direct snap in the shotgun. The Pats didn’t cover Anderson begging the Bills to throw the ball out to their quarterback. The Pats committed eight players to stop the run and set hard edges as shown in this play by Jason McCourty (bottom) and John Simon (top). Then, Trey Flowers, as he did for most of the game, dominated at the point of attack using excellent arm extension and pad level to stack and shed the block from tight end Charles Clay leading to a three-yard loss on the play for McCoy.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll threw the kitchen sink at the Patriots early in the game with the wildcat look and a double pass on the opening drive, and the Pats defense was up to the task.
5. Patriots Defense Stout Against the Run Led by Trey Flowers
Along those lines, entering tonight’s game, the Patriots coaches and players marveled at the talent of Bills running back LeSean McCoy. However, in the game, the Pats held McCoy to only 1.1 yards per carry, and the Bills as a whole only managed 46 rushing yards on 19 carries on Monday in what was arguably the best effort of the season for the Pats run defense. The Patriots played with sound gap discipline and technique throughout the game, and their best player in the front seven, Trey Flowers, led the way. Flowers had six combined tackles and two tackles for a loss in this one as he put together another dominant effort. Here are a few plays that stand out from Flowers’ performance that sum up the success for the Pats defense:
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The interior of the Patriots’ defensive line did an excellent job of shedding blocks and penetrating the Bills offensive line as we see here with both Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton. Guy knife’s in the backfield and Shelton bench presses his man backward which forces McCoy to bounce this run to the outside where Flowers is waiting for him to usher him out of bounds.
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Here, Flowers does it all by himself blowing up the tight end into the backfield and shedding the blocker to bring down McCoy for a loss.
Flowers’ ability to get off the ball and play with sound technique makes him one of the Patriots’ best and most valuable players on the defensive side of the ball.
And on Monday night, he spearheaded a great performance against the run.
6. Devin McCourty’s Pick-Six Seals the Victory
One of the highlights of the win was Devin McCourty’s 84-yard pick-six where McCourty reached a top speed of 22.05 MPH, the fastest by any ball carrier in the NFL this season according to Next Gen Stats. It was also the Pats’ first defensive touchdown since December of 2015. At the podium after the win, McCourty described the play by saying, “we all kind of knew what was coming. Me talking to Chung before the play trying to show one thing and jumping the route just knowing that’s what we needed.”
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On the play, you can see McCourty bait Anderson into the throw disguising the coverage before making a perfect read on the pass over the middle. The Patriots came close picking off Anderson a few times earlier in the game on his second read and finally got to the Bills quarterback in a big way to turn a turnover into a touchdown at a critical time in the game.
After a rough start to the season, and a lot of criticism from the outside, it was great to see McCourty make an impact play, and his teammates on defense couldn’t be happier to see their leader in the end zone.
7. Julian Edelman and James White Save the Patriots Offense
On a night where the Patriots offense struggled, two of their most consistent players stepped up to bail the Pats out in the fourth quarter.
Julian Edelman and running back James White combined for 211 yards from scrimmage and the game’s lone offensive touchdown, and the two led the Patriots down the field on their only touchdown drive of the game.
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Let’s start with Edelman’s 26-yard catch on third down early in the drive which was Brady’s best throw of the game. Edelman runs a deep out toward the sideline, and Brady throws a dart on his second read finding Edelman working the backside of the formation. Edelman led the Pats with nine catches for 104 yards.
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As for White, his nine-yard catch on third and eight extended the drive as well. In true James White fashion, the Pats running back caught the ball short of the sticks and made a defender miss to reach the line to gain.
Without Edelman and White’s performances, the Bills pull off the upset on Monday night.
8. Gilmore Island Claims Kelvin Benjamin
For the third week in a row, Patriots top cornerback Stephon Gilmore shadowed an opposing wide receiver and erased him from the game on the whole.
This week, Gilmore followed Bills wideout Kelvin Benjamin, and besides a 40-yard completion where Benjamin got away with a push off, Gilmore shut him down.
“He pushed off on that one [40-yard completion]. They didn’t call it, but they called it the next time. He’s just big, slow. He pushed off that’s the only way he can catch it,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore was able to lock down on Benjamin throughout the game living in his hip pocket, was seldom beat by the big receiver, and deflected two passes intended for the Bills wideout.
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On this play, Gilmore does a fantastic job of forcing an outside release sticking to Benjamin’s front hip, turns his head, locates the football, and knocks the pass away.
Over the last three weeks, Gilmore has held Benjamin, Chiefs wideout Sammy Watkins and the Bears’ Allen Robinson to four catches for 63 yards on passes into his coverage.
9. Patriots Play-Action Passing Game Effective Against Young Bills Linebackers
As it so often is, the Patriots’ play-action passing game was potent against the Bills defense as they exposed Buffalo’s young linebackers in coverage by taking advantage of their slow processing skills and aggressiveness, especially rookie Tremaine Edmunds. The Pats moved the Bills rookie with the play fakes and then threw right into the zone that he vacated over the middle of the field.
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On Chris Hogan’s 29-yard catch, you see Edmunds take a false step forward and then freeze in the middle of the defense as Hogan runs right behind him and through his zone for the huge completion.
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And again on Gronk’s 11-yard grab in the second quarter, you see Edmunds take multiple steps forward before reading pass, and Brady fits the ball into Gronkowski right in the area where Edmunds should be defending.
Overall, the Patriots’ play-action attack was extremely effective on Monday night.
10. Josh McDaniels’ Creative Usage of Jet Motion
Finally, from a schematic perspective, Josh McDaniels’ usage of jet motion has been instrumental in the Patriots’ screen game this season.
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McDaniels sends Cordarrelle Patterson on a fake jet sweep, and that causes the defenses to flow toward the motioning Patterson. Then, the Pats run play action and slip running back James White out of the backfield on a screen pass. As you can see, the entire defense is moving in the opposite direction, and thanks to a terrific block from Shaq Mason on Edmunds, White runs free for a massive gain.
McDaniels’ understanding of the manipulative effect that jet motion has on a defense has paid enormous dividends for the Patriots this season.