The player of the game for the Patriots was running back Dion Lewis who set career highs in rushing attempts (24), rushing yards (129), offensive touches (29), scrimmage yards (153), and snaps (51).
One almost expected a career day for Lewis as the Patriots’ best running back this season set up to have an increased workload with injuries to Rex Burkhead and James White who were both inactive for this game.
Lewis continued to star in the Patriots’ backfield by gaining yards after contact averaging nearly three yards after contact per rush against the Bills (2.83). On the season, Lewis now ranks fourth among running backs that have played at least 25% of their teams snaps averaging 3.4 yards after contact per rush in 2017.
Moving to the offensive line, offensive tackle Cameron Fleming got the call once again at right tackle. Fleming played 67 of a possible 71 snaps at right tackle for the Patriots, and fellow backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle played just four snaps in garbage time late in the fourth quarter.
The right tackle spot will continue to be one to monitor as the Patriots enter the playoffs. With starter Marcus Cannon done for the season, LaAdrian Waddle appeared to be the next man up, but an ankle injury for Waddle opened the door for fourth tackle Cameron Fleming, and Fleming has been the guy over the last four weeks.
Finally, with the score out of hand late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots did sub in some backup offensive players, including backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. Hoyer, running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and center Ted Karras all played the final series for the Patriots on offense, which went 19 yards on four plays to put this game on ice.
The Bills offense had three drives of 10-plus plays and reached the red zone four times, but ultimately managed just nine points and 4.8 yards per play (3rd-lowest by NE opponent this season).
Let’s start with the star of the game on defense for the Patriots, Marquis Flowers. The linebacker had about as complete a performance as any linebacker has had this season on New England’s defense, lining up both as an on-ball linebacker in the middle of the field and an edge setter at outside linebacker.
In all, Flowers played a season-high 55 snaps, made a combined ten tackles (3 run stops), and added 2.5 sacks in a breakout performance in Week 16. The Patriots have struggled mightily to get production out of the linebacker position outside the injured Kyle Van Noy, but Flowers seems to be carving out a decent sized role for himself as the team finishes out the regular season.
Also, a trend that started last week at the cornerback position continued into Week 16 for the Patriots secondary. Now healthy after a leg injury earlier in the season, cornerback Eric Rowe has replaced fellow corner Jonathan Jones as the Patriots’ third cornerback. Rowe played 51 snaps as the Patriots’ third corner, while Jones didn’t log a single snap on defense.
Jones played very well on defense when given the opportunity this season, but Rowe is the more experienced, and likely the more talented, player. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots go back to Jones this season based on a matchup that they might like down the road.
Lastly, in recent weeks the Patriots have begun to settle into an evenly distributed rotation among their traditional defensive lineman.
Malcom Brown (40 snaps), Lawrence Guy (36), Adam Butler (34), and Ricky Jean Francois (18) have kept each other fresh along the defensive line by splitting snaps, and the strategy has worked well with the Patriots’ front continuing to get stronger as the game goes along.
All four players have been productive when given the chance and all of the sudden the Patriots appear to have a deep group along the interior defensive line, especially if veteran Alan Branch can return from a knee injury in January.