The New England Patriots came closer to a victory than they have in their last three losses, but they still came up short in the end: despite a promising drive that could have either ended with a game-winning touchdown or at least tied the game inside the red zone, the Patriots fumbled the ball away to lose 24-21 to the Buffalo Bills. The loss was a punch to the gut for New England, and only raises more questions about the team’s outlook.
With all that being said, though, let’s take a look at how New England opted to use the talent on its roster versus Buffalo.
Total snaps: 65
G Shaq Mason (65; 100%), G Joe Thuney (65; 100%), OT Isaiah Wynn (65; 100%), OT Michael Onwenu (65; 100%), C David Andrews (65; 100%), QB Cam Newton (65; 100%), WR Damiere Byrd (65; 100%), WR Jakobi Meyers (64; 98%), TE Ryan Izzo (48; 74%), WR Gunner Olszewski (42; 65%), RB Rex Burkhead (32; 49%), RB James White (31; 48%), RB Damien Harris (20; 31%), FB Jakob Johnson (16; 25%), WR Isaiah Zuber (6; 9%), OT Korey Cunningham (1; 2%)
With both Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry out because of injury, the Patriots’ offense relied heavily on second-year men Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski to fill the vacant spots alongside Damiere Byrd. While Olszewski finished with only one 6-yard run and no statistics in the passing game, Meyers led the team in receptions and receiving yardage gained by catching six passes for a combined 58 yards as well as a two-point conversion in the third quarter.
The other skill position players, meanwhile, were used like they have been all season: Ryan Izzo was the top tight end by default with both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene inactive, while the running back rotation featured three players — Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris — who all saw a somewhat similar share of playing time. Harris, who gained 102 yards and a touchdown on 16 rushing attempts was the most productive member of the group.
Up front, the Patriots finally received some stability after plenty of personnel turnover along the offensive line over the last few weeks. The starting five went wire-to-wire and had a very good performance both against the run and the pass. Also seeing the field, albeit for just one snap, was Korey Cunningham: with both Jermaine Eluemunor and Justin Herron on injured reserve, he has taken on the number three role at offensive tackle.
Total snaps: 58
S Terrence Brooks (58; 100%), S Adrian Phillips (58; 100%), S Devin McCourty (58; 100%), CB Jason McCourty (58; 100%), CB J.C. Jackson (57; 98%), CB Jonathan Jones (54; 93%), LB John Simon (47; 81%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (47; 81%), DT Byron Cowart (45; 78%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (35; 60%), DT Lawrence Guy (20; 34%), LB Tashawn Bower (19; 33%), DT Adam Butler (19; 33%), DT Nick Thurman (17; 29%), CB Joejuan Williams (13; 22%), LB Josh Uche (12; 21%), LB Shilique Calhoun (7; 12%), LB Derek Rivers (6; 10%), LB Chase Winovich (5; 9%), CB Myles Bryant (3; 5%)
Even with the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, out because of a knee injury suffered during practice, the Patriots used a defensive back-heavy game plan versus the Bills: the team’s top-six cornerbacks and safeties each played over 93 percent of the snaps. The plan did help limit Buffalo’s aerial attack — quarterback Josh Allen completed 11 of 18 passes for 154 yards and an interception — but the light personnel group made New England vulnerable against the run.
What also stands out from the playing time shares is that Chase Winovich again played a reduced role. While only four men saw more action than him in the kicking game, his five defensive snaps present a season-low for the outside linebacker who looked terrific before New England’s bye week. The reason behind this is anyone’s guess, but the fact that fellow outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun also only played seven snaps might be an indication that the Patriots preferred bolstering the edge with John Simon and Deatrich Wise Jr.
Meanwhile, second-round rookie linebacker Josh Uche played 12 snaps in his NFL debut — and he made them count. The youngster aligned both on the edge and off the ball, and made two impressive plays on third down: he teamed up with Winovich to flush Josh Allen out of the pocket at one point and later took him down in the open field short of the line to gain. All in all, it was a solid debut for Uche.
Total snaps: 24
CB Justin Bethel (21; 88%), WR Matthew Slater (21; 88%), S Cody Davis (17; 71%), S Terrence Brooks (16; 67%), WR Gunner Olszewski (13; 54%), CB Joejuan Williams (13; 54%), LB Chase Winovich (13; 54%), LB Cassh Maluia (13; 54%), RB Rex Burkhead (12; 50%), FB Jakob Johnson (12; 50%), CB Jonathan Jones (12; 50%), P Jake Bailey (12; 50%), S Adrian Phillips (8; 33%), LB Josh Uche (8; 33%), LB Shilique Calhoun (8; 33%), LS Joe Cardona (7; 29%), LB John Simon (6; 25%), RB James White (5; 21%), LB Tashawn Bower (5; 21%), S Devin McCourty (4; 17%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (4; 17%), DT Byron Cowart (4; 17%), G Shaq Mason (3; 12%), G Joe Thuney (3; 12%), OT Isaiah Wynn (3; 12%), OT Michael Onwenu (3; 12%), OT Korey Cunningham (3; 12%), DT Lawrence Guy (3; 12%), DT Nick Thurman (3; 12%), K Nick Folk (3; 12%), G Hjalte Froholdt (3; 12%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (2; 8%), LB Anfernee Jennings (1; 4%)
New England employed 33 players on special teams against the Bills, with nine of them being used exclusively in the kicking game: the three specialists Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona and Nick Folk were joined by core coverage players Justin Bethel, Matthew Slater and Cody Davis — the latter just returning from injured reserve — as well as linebackers Cassh Maluia and Anfernee Jennings, and guard Hjalte Froholdt.
Jennings’ usage in particular stands out. After he set back-to-back career highs in defensive playing time but was up-and-down against San Francisco in Week 7, he was used on only one snap on special teams. Another Day Two draft pick, meanwhile, was employed more diversely: Joejuan Williams again saw regular action in the game’s third phase, but added 13 defensive snaps as well after not being used at his listed position the last two weeks.
Did not play
QB Jarrett Stidham, RB J.J. Taylor, C James Ferentz
With the game coming down to the wire, backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham remained on the bench throughout the contest after being inserted into the lineup in two of the last three games. Joining him were running back J.J. Taylor, who has not played a snap since Week 3 despite an encouraging start to the season, as well as backup interior offensive lineman James Ferentz.
QB Brian Hoyer, WR N’Keal Harry, CB Stephon Gilmore, S Kyle Dugger, TE Dalton Keene, TE Devin Asiasi, DT Carl Davis
New England’s inactive list featured plenty of big names, even without wide receiver Julian Edelman and offensive tackle Justin Herron, who were both placed on injured reserve over the weekend. While N’Keal Harry, Stephon Gilmore, Kyle Dugger, Dalton Keene and Carl Davis were all deactivated due to medical issues, with Brian Hoyer and Devin Asiasi healthy scratches. Under normal circumstances, Harry, Gilmore, Dugger and one of the rookie tight ends would have seen plenty of action. Alas, they were all unavailable.