Now’s a fitting time to remember that the 3-1 New England Patriots will soon be starting their third quarterback in five games. But before the page turns entirely to Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium and next Sunday’s encounter with the Cleveland Browns, plenty is still left to account for from this past Sunday.
Let’s digest some of the numbers behind New England’s 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
A game removed from shutting out the Houston Texans, the Patriots suffered their first-ever shutout at Gillette Stadium. The last time New England was held to zero points at home was Nov. 28, 1993, when the Boomer Esiason-quarterbacked New York Jets handed rookie Drew Bledsoe and Co. a 6-0 loss.
The last time the Bills defeated the Patriots at Gillette was Dec. 28, 2014. Doug Marrone was Buffalo’s head coach, and Kyle Orton was the team’s starter at quarterback. The Bills won that finale by a score of 17-9.
With a seven-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to LeSean McCoy in the flat, Bills struck a 7-0 lead with 5:31 to go in the first quarter. Buffalo’s opening touchdown marked the first time this season that New England did not score first, and also the first time a team had notched first-quarter points against the Patriots’ defense.
It was the first-down difference between the Patriots and the Bills. Buffalo moved the chains for nine first downs through the first 15 minutes of action, while the Patriots were held without one. And that didn’t change much from there on out, as Buffalo finished with 24 first downs and the Patriots pieced together 13.
The Patriots finished Sunday’s matchup 1-for-12 – eight percent – on third down. The Bills, on the other end, finished 7-for-15 on third down. And if that doesn’t tell enough of the story, Buffalo ran 22 plays in opponent territory through the 7:46 mark in the second quarter, while the Patriots ran zero.
Patriots rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett would complete every pass he attempted in the first half. He would, however, only attempt three. New England turned to running back LeGarrette Blount for nine of 16 official plays before intermission.
Former Bills wideout Chris Hogan was called for holding and offensive pass interference on the first play from scrimmage, wiping out a 90-yard screen and scamper by Julian Edelman. And that miscue set an early tone. By game’s end, New England had racked up 15 total penalties. Nine would be enforced to the tune of 74 yards.
Tackles can be taken with a truckload of salt when it comes to the cornerback position. And that was the case for Logan Ryan against the Bills. Logan Ryan had 17 tackles on the season entering the 1 p.m. ET kickoff Sunday. A few hours later, he’d have another 17. Bills wide receiver Robert Woods managed to find the soft spots in Ryan’s predominant zone coverage, catching five passes for 63 yards in the first half and finishing with seven grabs for 89 yards through his respective matchups. The Bills did an excellent job of taking what was there.
A 48-yard field-goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski faded wide right in the third quarter. It was his second miss in the last three weeks. Gostkowski, who is now 6-of-8 on the season, went 33-of-36 last season on the way to earning his fourth Pro Bowl and second first-team All-Pro honor.
Brissett found tight end Martellus Bennett for a 58-yard reception midway through the second quarter, and it was good for the longest pass of the rookie quarterback’s career as well as the longest catch of Bennett’s career. Bennett would finish the game as New England’s leading target, reeling in five for 109 yards in what was his second 100-yard game in the last three weeks.
The 10-yard line. It was the closest the Patriots' offense would get to the end zone on Sunday. On the heels of Bennett’s 58-yard pickup, New England had its first red-zone opportunity with 5:11 to go before halftime. But on third-and-11, Brissett scrambled for eight yards before he was met by Bills linebacker Zach Brown at the 10. The result was a fumble, recovered by linebacker Preston Brown.
After catching a pass in 80 consecutive regular-season appearances to begin his career, Rob Gronkowski saw his streak snapped last week against the Texans. But in the fourth quarter Sunday, he reeled in his first pass of the year for a gain of 11. It would be his lone grab on the day.
Cyrus Jones averaged 15 yards on the two kick returns he elected to take out of the end zone Sunday. The rookie second-rounder brought the opening kickoff out to the 10-yard line, despite special-teams captain Matthew Slater signaling him to take a knee. And on his second opportunity, Jones made the same move, in turn bringing New England’s offense onto the field at the 14. He’d opt to stay in the end zone thenceforth.
Brissett connected with his wide receivers for just 16 yards versus Buffalo. And all 16 arrived on one third-quarter pass to Julian Edelman. For Edelman, it was the first time since Week 8 of the 2014 season versus the Chicago Bears that he had been limited to only one catch.
The time-of-possession battle played to the strengths of the grind-it-out Buffalo offense. New England’s defense stood on the field for 36 minutes, yet seldom over the course of that sample size did the front manage to set the edge, contain, or pressure the elusive Taylor. The Bills’ quarterback was sacked twice, threw for 246 yards and rushed for an additional 28. Buffalo’s running backs found lanes as well, hitting the century mark on the ground.