By Gregory Hunt
It wasn’t easy, but on Monday night the New England Patriots pulled out a 20-13 win at Gillette Stadium over an aggressive, physical Buffalo Bills team. It was New England’s lowest scoring output of the season. The Patriots now own a 10-0 record and lead the AFC East by five games over the Bills and Miami Dolphins, who are both 5-5.
The banged-up New England offensive line struggled mightily against Buffalo’s talented pass rushers. Brady was sacked only once, but a variety of well-disguised blitz packages led to quarterback Tom Brady getting hit numerous times. Tackle Marcus Cannon seemed to struggle the most, picking up two penalties and having a third offset by a Buffalo penalty. As a result, Brady completed only 20-of-39 of his passes (51.2 percent), and he also threw an interception when he tried to force a pass to wide receiver Chris Harper, who was double covered. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was well-contained, as he caught only two passes for 37 yards.
On the positive side, wide receiver Danny Amendola came up big, catching nine passes for 117 yards before leaving the game with a knee injury. Running back James White caught only two passes, but one was a nice screen pass for 12 yards, and the other was a 20-yard touchdown reception on which he broke a tackle in the open field. Running back LeGarrette Blount struggled to gain yards early in the game, but he eventually finished with 56 yards on 16 carries.
On a night when the Patriots offense was struggling, the defense did an excellent job of making the stops they needed to make. In the 3rd quarter, New England did give up an 80-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown run by Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy, but that was the only touchdown of the night for the Bills. New England sacked Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor twice, 1½ times by linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
Malcolm Butler, who has otherwise had a great season, blew a coverage that allowed Buffalo wide receiver Chris Hogan to make a 31-yard catch, and later in the game Butler was flagged for pass interference. Safety Patrick Chung, who spent much of the game lining up as a third cornerback, had trouble covering Hogan, who caught six passes for 95 yards.
Special Teams: B
After making 31 consecutive field goals, kicker Stephen Gostkowski finally lost his streak when he missed a 54-yard attempt, but he did make two other attempts. Punter Ryan Allen had an unusually busy night, making seven punts. It was a windy night, but he still made a 50-yard punt in the 4th quarter that reduced the odds of a Buffalo comeback. New England’s biggest special teams play came on a punt in the 3rd quarter when defensive back Brandon King forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Jonathan Freeny. The worst play came on a field goal attempt, when tackle Cameron Fleming was late coming onto the field, forcing New England to waste a time out.
New England coaches made a curious call by putting Bryan Stork at center. Rookie David Andrews had played extremely well at center all season while Stork recovered from a concussion, so pulling Andrews risked upsetting the chemistry of an offensive line that had already lost a number of players to injury. It was also curious that coaches didn’t provide more help to Cannon, who had a great deal of difficulty blocking Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes
Next week, the Patriots will travel to Sports Authority Field to meet the Denver Broncos possibly clinch the AFC East division title. The Broncos will be missing an injured Peyton Manning at quarterback, but they still have one of the best defenses in the NFL, so New England will need to figure out how to move the ball and score points against Denver despite losing so many skill position players. New England finished Monday night’s game with only three wide receivers.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.