Their road win against the Buffalo Bills was a tale of two units for the New England Patriots: while the defense played another lights-out game and registered five sacks and four interceptions while giving up just 10 points, the offense struggled for most of the day and put up only 16 — with seven points being the result of a blocked punt on special teams. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however, and instead take a look at some of the men that stood out during the contest.
Winner: CB J.C. Jackson
J.C. Jackson had a spectacular game against the Bills, and made three impact plays. He started his day by blocking the punt mentioned above in the first quarter, when he shot into the backfield unblocked and deflected the kick. Later in the same period, the second-year man picked off an underthrown pass by Bills quarterback Josh Allen. In the third quarter, finally, he added another pick — one that saw him display great concentration by coming down with both feet in bounds. All in all, Jackson became the first player in the NFL since 1989 to register two interceptions and a punt block in one game.
Winner: WR Matthew Slater
After Jackson had blocked the punt attempt, the football shot up into the air and ultimately landed in the waiting arms of veteran special teamer Matthew Slater. Appearing in his 184th regular season or playoff game in the NFL, Slater calmly collected the football and took it to the end zone for his first career touchdown as a pro. The 11-yard return marks the high-point of what is a very good 12th season in the league so far for the team captain.
Loser: QB Tom Brady
During the first three games of the season, Tom Brady was lights-out. Against a very good Bills defense, however, the greatest quarterback of all time looked human. His stats — he completed just 18 of 39 pass attempts for 150 yards and an interception — tell only one part of the story, though: Brady looked rushed throughout the day and never got into any sort of rhythm. His inexplicable end zone pick in the second quarter was emblematic of his struggles, as he never appeared to find his comfort zone.
Winner: P Jake Bailey
After being named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the New York Jets last Sunday, Jake Bailey put forward another very good outing against Buffalo. All in all, he was called upon to punt on nine different occasions — and he delivered: averaging 48.1 yards per kick with a net of 43.0, the rookie looked good when it came to hang-time, distance and ball placement. He is quickly turning into a true field position weapon for New England.
Loser: WR Phillip Dorsett II
The Patriots’ wide receivers as a whole did not have a good game against the Bills. But while Josh Gordon actually had the team’s biggest play and Julian Edelman caught four passes despite entering the game coming off a chest injury, Phillip Dorsett was nearly invisible. Of the nine times Brady targeted him, only two passes were completed for 10 yards. Dorsett is in the middle of a tremendous season, but he had a down performance against the Bills — just like most of New England’s offense, to be honest.
Losers: TE Ryan Izzo & TE Matt LaCosse
With Benjamin Watson set to return off his four-game suspension soon, the Patriots’ tight end group will receive a much-needed infusion of talent. It could not come at a better time after the two members of the current position depth chart were essentially no-shows against Buffalo: neither Ryan Izzo nor Matt LaCosse were able to stand out in any meaningful way. In fact, the only time the two were mentioned was in regards to penalties: Izzo had a false start in the first quarter, LaCosse was investigated for offensive pass interference on Josh Gordon’s 31-yard catch.
Winners: LB Kyle Van Noy & LB Jamie Collins Sr.
Despite Dont’a Hightower missing the game against Buffalo due to a shoulder injury, the Patriots’ linebacker group did not skip a beat — with two players standing out in particular: Kyle Van Noy had two sacks on the day and forced the game-sealing interception, which was caught by Jamie Collins who also registered a quarterback takedown. Both Van Noy and Collins continue to be playmakers for New England’s defense.
Winner: DE John Simon
While others Patriots defenders get the headlines for their turnovers — see J.C. Jackson, for example — the impact of edge defender John Simon cannot be underestimated either. Playing 69% of New England’s defensive snaps, he registered a sack and two quarterback hits and also deflected a pass attempt at the line of scrimmage. Now in his second year with the team, the 28-year-old continues his development as a valuable rotational piece in the front seven.
Loser: The offensive line
Missing two starters — left tackle Isaiah Wynn and center David Andrews — the Patriots’ offensive line had a tough time against Buffalo’s strong defensive front. While Brady was not sacked even once, he consistently had to maneuver in and out of the pocket to buy additional time and create room to step into throws. Furthermore, the run blocking was again mightily inconsistent: New England’s ball carriers were able to gain just 3.9 yards per attempt with the operation being either hit or miss throughout the day.
Winner: RB James White
His impact as a runner was limited to one carry for one yard — it did convert a third down, though — but James White was arguably still the Patriots’ best offensive player against Buffalo. Serving as Brady’s security blanket in the passing game, he finished the game with a team-high eight receptions for 57 yards. His 26-yard over-the-shoulder reception on third down in the first quarter helped set up New England’s first touchdown of the day.
Winner: FS Devin McCourty
Four games into the 2019 regular season, Devin McCourty already has four interceptions to his name — his highest total since 2012, when he had five picks in 16 contests. Against the Bills, the team captain became the first player in Patriots history to record an interception in each of his team’s first four contests of a season and the first in the NFL since 2003 to accomplish the feat. How did he do it? By reading the play perfectly and undercutting a deep pass attempt from Josh Allen in the first quarter.