From beating the Buffalo Bills and securing a tenth consecutive AFC East title to moving up in the conference’s playoff seeding, Sunday was a good day for the New England Patriots. For some of the Patriots it was better than for others, though: let’s take a quick look at some of the players that stood out — for better or for worse — during the Patriots’ 24-12 win over their division rivals.
Winner: The run blocking
New England had a dominant day on the ground and a big reason for it was the blocking up front. The starting offensive line, the tight ends and fullback James Develin as well as the wide receivers’ downfield blocking all contributed to the Patriots running for 275 yards on 45 non-kneel down carries — the tenth best rushing outing in franchise history, and the second best under head coach Bill Belichick since a 2008 win in Oakland.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
While the blocking up front deserves plenty of credit, so do the actual ball carriers — and no one was more active than Sony Michel. The first-round rookie received 18 handoffs and took them for a combined 116 yards and the game’s first touchdown. It was Michel’s fourth 100-yard game of his young career and an outstanding outing yet again that helped New England control the tempo of the game from start to finish.
Winner: RB James White
James White is still not back to being the vital part of the Patriots’ offensive attack he was earlier during the season, but he still had his best December game against Buffalo. The 26-year old touched the football a combined ten times and looked particularly good as a ball carrier: White attempted eight rushes and gained 41 yards and a touchdown. Furthermore, he caught two passes on four targets for 13 yards.
Loser: QB Tom Brady
To quote from our postgame observations story: Tom Brady, who finished the day with 13 completions of 24 attempts and 126 yards as well as a touchdown and two interceptions, is still a very good quarterback capable of leading the Patriots to a championship. He was pretty much a non-factor against Buffalo, however, as New England opted to focus on the running game to move the offense. And even when Brady and the passing offense were called upon they were inconsistent in their performance — with the quarterback leading the way.
Winner: ST Matthew Slater
One week after being snubbed for his eighth straight Pro Bowl nomination, Matthew Slater played arguably his best game of the season. With fellow special teamer Brandon King out with a knee injury, the veteran stepped up and finished with two special teams tackles, a blocked (although officially counted as “tipped”) punt and two downed kicks off punter Ryan Allen. A dominant outing by the 33-year old.
Loser: Josh Gordon’s replacements
After losing Josh Gordon earlier this week, the Patriots were unable to replace his production against the Bills. The player elevated into the number two role — Chris Hogan — was a no-show and despite playing 62 of 75 snaps was not targeted even once. The same goes for Phillip Dorsett, who played 27 snaps, but did touch the football twice on jet sweep runs. Cordarrelle Patterson was solid as a ball carrier — he received four carries for 66 yards before a knee injury forced him out of the game — but also unable to step up as a receiver, finishing with one 3-yard reception.
Winner: DT Malcom Brown
The Patriots’ run defense struggled mightily the last three games but bounced back with a solid performance against the Bills. While the addition of Danny Shelton certainly helped, Malcom Brown also played a big role after playing uninspiring football as of late: the former first-round draft pick who is in the final year of his contract finished the game with just one tackle but held well at the line of scrimmage while also showing tremendous pursuit when run plays broke to the outside or second level — which also helped him recover a fumble in the third quarter.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Without Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman was the wide receiver asked to carry the Patriots’ passing game — and carry it he did. While he did not play a perfect game, the veteran was active all day and finished the game as the leader in all receiving categories: Tom Brady targeted him 10 times and Edelman caught six of the passes thrown his way for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Loser: TE Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski was again dominant as a run blocker, but once more failed to contribute much in the passing game. While the game plan certainly played a role in this, the 29-year old still was inefficient getting constant separation and when targeted failed to come up with the reception: the one catchable ball thrown his way went through Gronkowski’s hands and was intercepted. A perfect example for his day — and possibly season — as a pass catcher as a whole.
Winner: The starting cornerbacks
New England has one of the best cornerback groups in all of football, and it again showed against Buffalo. Stephon Gilmore was his usual stellar self as the Patriots’ number one at the position, while J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty both came up with interceptions. McCourty, furthermore, also forced a fumble and did not allow even one of the five passes thrown his way to be completed. An outstanding performance by him and the rest of the cornerbacks.
Welcome to the Pats Pulpit Live Postgame Show! The Patriots clinched their 10th straight AFC East title today with a win over the Bills. Send us your questions and comments!Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, December 23, 2018