Once again, the New England Patriots are the champions of the AFC East — something they accomplished by beating the visiting Buffalo Bills with a final score of 24-17 on Saturday. Along the way, the Patriots played one of their best games of the season and showed positive signs on defense, in the kicking game, and especially on the offensive side of the ball.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the players who stood out on Sunday, without the benefit of a film review.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
For the first time in the last few weeks, Tom Brady looked his usual self for an entire 60 minutes. He spread the football around well, hitting nine different targets, and also made sound decisions and accurate throws on a consistent basis against one of the best defenses in the league. His final stat-line — 26 completions on 33 attempts for 271 yards and a touchdown — may not be overly spectacular, but it shows that Brady had a very good game and seems to be building some momentum.
Winner: Josh McDaniels
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called one of his best games of the season against Buffalo, by trying to establish a presence on the ground and challenging Buffalo with play-action and other misdirection concepts on a regular basis. Whether it was screens, sweeps or even a direct pitch to a wide receiver pitching the football to a running back, McDaniels opened up his playbook and the players appeared to respond very well.
Winners: RB Sony Michel & RB Rex Burkhead
In 2018, the Patriots gained some rhythm early on in the season by continuously running the football well. At least on Saturday, they did the same with Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead leading the charge. While Michel carried the football 21 times for 96 yards and a 4.6-yard-per-carry average, Burkhead registered five carries for 20 yards as well as four catches for 77 more. Both backs looked very good, with the latter showing some strong resiliency after a first quarter fumble.
Winner: The offensive line
The Patriots’ offensive line has been showing some signs of life lately, and it culminated in arguably the best performance of the season on Saturday. Tackles Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon and — after Cannon’s ankle injury, Marshall Newhouse, guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, and center Ted Karras performed very well together: they helped New England gain 145 yards on 33 carries for a solid 4.4 yards per run, and also held the opposing defense without a sack for the first time since Week 7. A strong effort even after Cannon’s injury.
Loser: WR Mohamed Sanu
While Mohamed Sanu did catch three passes for a combined 24 yards and also had three punt returns for 17, the Patriots’ in-season trade acquisition again had a limited impact on the game. The expectation was that Sanu could become a core contributor with more experience in the offense and further removed from an ankle injury suffered in Week 11, but he has struggled to consistently get open while also whiffing on a run-block in the second quarter that led to a failed fourth down rushing attempt by N’Keal Harry. So far, the Patriots are getting limited return on their investment.
Winner: K Nick Folk
So far this season, Nick Folk attempted 16 field goals and nine extra points for the Patriots, and he only missed three combined kicks: he saw a field goal blocked, and two others sail off the mark in difficult conditions in Week 11. All in all, Folk has been pretty good so far as a replacement for the injured Stephen Gostkowski and it showed again on Saturday: he found success on all three of his field goal tries — including one from 51 yards out — and also made his lone PAT of the day. He also handled the pressure well, given the close nature of the game.
Winner: LB Dont’a Hightower
After missing the first game of the season against the Bills due to a shoulder injury, Dont’a Hightower was back in the lineup and immediately made an impact. Not only did he play a big role in limiting Buffalo running back Devin Singletary to 46 yards on 15 carries, he also had some strong plays against the pass: Hightower was responsible for 1.5 of the Patriots’ four sacks, and also registered a pass breakup. New England’s on-field signal caller showed why he was voted to the Pro Bowl.
Loser: WR Phillip Dorsett II
Even with Mohamed Sanu having another up-and-down performance and with Julian Edelman sitting out two drives while being evaluated for a potential head injury, Phillip Dorsett saw only irregular playing time: he only played a handful of snaps and finished without a catch for the third game in a row. As strong as he looked early in the season, it seems as if the recent emergence of N’Keal Harry in combination with a concussion suffered a few weeks back has turned him into little more than a depth option at this point in time.
Loser: CB Jason McCourty
As opposed to other players on this list, Jason McCourty is not here because of his performance: he looked as solid as always early on against Buffalo. However, he had to leave the game in the second quarter with what was later announced to be a groin injury — a potentially worrisome development considering that McCourty had already missed three of the last four games due to just that issue. The 32-year-old is a core member of the secondary and losing him for any extended period of time because he re-aggravated the groin injury would be a tough pill to swallow.
Winner: WR Jakobi Meyers
While first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry had another solid performance and finished with four touches for 39 yards and two penalties drawn, Jakobi Meyers may have had the more impressive performance: coming off the bench after Edelman briefly left the game, the undrafted rookie caught all three of his targets for a combined 25 yards and showed some strong concentration and hands in the process. While Meyers will remain a depth player moving forward, his outing was still encouraging.
Winners: TE Matt LaCosse & FB Elandon Roberts
The Patriots’ success on the ground was not just due to the backs themselves and the offensive line opening holes, but also in part because of the play of tight end Matt LaCosse and fullback-linebacker-hybrid Elandon Roberts: LaCosse, who has progressed nicely as of late and also caught his first touchdown of the season on Saturday, saw regular action as a run blocker while Roberts continues to impress as the stand-in for James Develin and Jakob Johnson. They may be role players, but both played their parts well against the Bills.
Winner: DT Lawrence Guy
Lawrence Guy might be one of the most underrated interior defenders in the NFL. You rarely here his name mentioned, but he delivers week-in and week-out. Saturday’s win over Buffalo was no exception: the third-year Patriot held his ground well in the running game — allowing players such as the aforementioned Dont’a Hightower to clog lanes — and also generated a nice up-field push as a pass rusher, finishing with a sack and two quarterback hits. At this point, one could call it “business as usual” for the 29-year-old.
Pats Pulpit Live: Week-16 vs. the Buffalo Bills
Welcome to a T-SHIRT AND HAT EDITION of Pats Pulpit Live! The Patriots clinch the AFC East and remain on track for a 1st-round bye with a huge 24-17 victory at home over the Bills!Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Saturday, December 21, 2019