And then there’d be one unbeaten left in the AFC East.
The New England Patriots’ Sunday visit to Orchard Park ended in a 16-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. No style points were awarded.
Here’s a touchdown’s worth of observations from what went into the tug-of-war for 4-0.
Stepping up at linebacker without Dont’a Hightower
A shoulder injury sent Hightower out of New England’s meeting with the New York Jets last Sunday. And this Sunday, it sent the 29-year-old captain to the inactives list after garnering the questionable designation.
Hightower’s first missed game of 2019 illustrated the depth New England carries at the linebacker position. Jamie Collins wore the green dot of communication at a raucous New Era Field. Ja’Whaun Bentley, a fifth-round pick last spring, joined him and Kyle Van Noy in the starting front. A downhill first-year captain in Elandon Roberts filed on for short-yardage soon after.
Hightower hasn’t played in all 16 games since the 2013 regular season. But the Patriots were in good hands in his absence. Collins added to his sack and interception tally, Bentley and Roberts accumulated a handful of tackles, and Van Noy posted two sacks to go with two forced fumbles. New England’s defense wouldn’t allow its first touchdown of the campaign until the third quarter versus Buffalo. Veteran John Simon and rookie Chase Winovich would also notch sacks off the edge by then.
Two tight ends will soon become three for New England
Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse entered Sunday having caught a combined four passes for 77 yards over 167 offensive snaps for the Patriots this season. But two tight ends will become three this week.
Ben Watson is set to return from his four-game suspension as early as Monday, and activating the No. 32 overall pick from the 2004 NFL draft will require a corresponding move. Izzo and LaCosse have both started this September for New England, though the latter, has missed two contests due to an ankle sprain suffered in the preseason opener.
Against Buffalo, Izzo and LaCosse were both active. Izzo started in-line on a drive that opened with two consecutive runs. LaCosse took a backseat before being involved in a challenge for offensive pass interference. They’ll now get company in the 38-year-old Watson. And after game in which guard Jermaine Eluemunor even subbed in as an eligible tight end, that company is needed.
Four games, four picks for Patriots safety Devin McCourty
McCourty intercepted Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Luke Falk through New England’s 3-0 start. And on Buffalo’s initial drive Sunday, Josh Allen became the next quarterback in line for New England’s safety.
With his fourth pick in as many games, McCourty tied Hall of Famer Mike Haynes. McCourty intercepted four passes over the Patriots’ last four regular seasons. His career-high seven transpired back in 2010, when the rookie out of Rutgers earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors at cornerback.
Allen would be replaced by backup Matt Barkley following a helmet-to-helmet hit from Patriots nickelback Jonathan Jones in the fourth quarter.
Errant extra points continue for kicker Stephen Gostkowski
A touchdown scamper by running back Brandon Bolden saw the Patriots strike first in Buffalo. But the 6-0 score would not become 7-0. Gostkowski missed his fourth extra point of September instead.
New England’s all-time scoring leader previously missed two PATs against the Miami Dolphins and another against the Jets. It stands as the most point-after misses in a single season for Gostkowski, who began Sunday having gone 6-of-7 on field goals this season.
Gostkowski made good on his subsequent extra points in Buffalo, along with a 23-yarder.
J.C. Jackson crosses paths with a fellow undrafted free agent from 2018
Two undrafted rookies from New England’s 2018 class met in the first quarter. One was Jackson. The other was punter Corey Bojorquez.
The result was a blocked punt.
Jackson stormed off the right side of the Patriots’ line to reject the football off Bojorquez’ left foot. The first touchdown in the career of perennial Pro Bowl and All-Pro gunner Matthew Slater followed. Jackson, who’d also retrieve a pair of interceptions, arrived by way of Maryland, Riverside Community College and Florida. Bojorquez arrived by way of New Mexico and Cerritos College before being claimed off waivers.
Buffalo’s passing game not the only one out of sync
Though Buffalo’s quarterback began 2-of-10 for 24 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 0.0, New England’s quarterback wasn’t immune.
Tom Brady was picked off in the end zone by Bills defensive back Micah Hyde with under five minutes remaining before intermission. A rollout pass intended for wide receiver Julian Edelman, who’d been ruled questionable Friday with a chest injury, marked the end of a 16-play drive. Timing wouldn’t be there. A disruptive defense in its own building would be.
Brady finished 18-of-39 with 150 yards and the interception. In the backfield, James White accounted for 57 receiving yards while Sony Michel accounted for 63 rushing yards. And be it vertical or horizontal, Patriots wideouts in Edelman, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett managed to find the ball for nine completions on 23 targets.