The New England Patriots took care of business against the Buffalo Bills and won 25-6. It wasn’t the most exciting game, but it counts as a win and the Patriots are creating some distance within the AFC East and in the AFC.
Here’s what we learned.
The Patriots didn’t have a running game
Running backs James White and Kenjon Barner combined for 19 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries (1.9 yards per carry). Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson led the Patriots with 38 rushing yards on 10 carries, while Julian Edelman added 13 yards on 2 carries. Tom Brady added 8 yards on an early scamper.
In total, the Patriots had 78 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. They really missed having Sony Michel on the field and the lack of a running game had a major impact on the viability of the play-action game and the efficiency of the offense in the red zone.
New England was able to get away with it this week because the Bills are terrible. They’ll need a rushing attack next week against the Green Bay Packers.
Tom Brady had a very low-impact game
Brady had an effective day in the office, completing 29 of 45 passes (64.4%) for 324 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. He had...four, maybe five passes that anyone would consider “difficult” but it was entirely unnecessary because the Patriots didn’t have to do anything difficult to win.
Brady spent much of his day dumping the ball off to James White (10 catches for 79 yards) or throwing it to Julian Edelman in the middle of the field (9 catches for 104 yards). It would have been nice if Brady were able to make any magic in the red zone (1 for 4, a fumble, for a net of +1 yards), but the Bills defense did a great job against the Patriots skill players.
It honestly just felt like the Patriots were trying to “get through” this game as healthy as possible, with the hopes that Rob Gronkowski will be healthier next week and Sony Michel will be able to return to the lineup.
The Patriots defense showed up against a weak opponent
Football Outsiders always preaches that the best teams show up against the weakest teams and don’t play to the level of the competition- and the Patriots defense rose to the occasion and crushed the terrible Bills offense. The defensive stars played as they should.
Trey Flowers was the best player on the field and racked up two tackles for loss and a third for no gain, two quarterback hits, a pass defended. Kyle Van Noy was also excellent in the place of the inactive Dont’a Hightower, leading the Patriots with 8 tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a tackle for loss.
Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, and Malcom Brown combined for 2 tackles on the day, but the Bills running backs gained a mere 47 yards on 18 carries, with LeSean McCoy getting a laughable 13 yards on 12 carries.
Credit also to the Patriots secondary, with Stephon Gilmore having another great game, holding Kelvin Benjamin to 2 catches for 45 yards on 7 targets, with 40 of those yards coming on a jump ball that he defended as well as he could. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty did a good job against Charles Clay, holding the tight end to 3 catches for 36 yards on 6 targets. McCourty also returned an interception for a touchdown.
Hopefully the Patriots defense can build off this and play better over the second half of the season.
Special teams had an up-and-down day
The Patriots didn’t have the best day on special teams, with Ryan Allen averaging an “as-unimpressive-as-it-sounds” 37.0 yards per punt average; the Bills four drives off of Allen punts started at an average of the 37-yard line. On the flip side, Julian Edelman was penalized for an unsportsmanlike penalty that pinned the Patriots on their own 5-yard line.
Stephen Gostkowski had a strong day, hitting field goals from 25-, 40-, 38-, and 25-yards and missing one from 50-yards. He also connected on his extra point and did well on his kickoffs with four touchbacks and the Bills starting on an average of the 22-yard line on kicks they returned.
The first half of the 2018 NFL Season is in the books.
The (6-2) Patriots now have a 2.5-game lead in the AFC East, with the head-to-head tiebreaker over the (4-4) Miami Dolphins. The (3-5) New York Jets and (2-6) Buffalo Bills are pretty far in the rearview mirror as the Patriots are on pace to win their 15th division title in the past 16 years.
Within the AFC, the Patriots trail the (7-1) Kansas City Chiefs, but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker if they wind up with matching records at the end of the year. The (5-2) Los Angeles Chargers have the third-best record in the AFC and are second in the AFC West.
The (4-2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers somehow lead the AFC North ahead of the (5-3) Cincinnati Bengals and (4-4) Baltimore Ravens, which adds import to the Patriots-Steelers showdown in week 15; the winner has a strong chance of getting a first round bye.
Meanwhile, the (5-3) Houston Texans have a strong lead in the AFC South ahead of the (3-4) Tennessee Titans and (3-5) Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Texans, again cementing New England in strong position in the conference.
The Patriots are 6-2, which is par for the course under head coach Bill Belichick. Only four Patriots teams have started better (8-0 in 2007 and 2015; 7-1 in 2004 and 2016), with the 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2017 Patriots also all starting 6-2.
The Belichick teams that didn’t were the 2000-02, 2005, 2008, and 2011-12 Patriots. It’s good to note that the Patriots have made every single AFC Championship Game since that 2011 season and that means they’re right on track for the second half of the year.