ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Patriots' 37-22 win over the Bills on Sunday certainly wasn't perfect. The offensive line didn't do a great job protecting Tom Brady, the running game only averaged 2.3 yards per carry, and several significant players left the game with injuries, possibly for a while – Jerod Mayo (knee), Stevan Ridley (knee), and Dan Connolly (head).
That they left western New York with a double-digit victory, though, is pretty impressive — maybe even more impressive than last week's beatdown of the Bengals.
The Patriots were shorthanded – in addition to the injuries, they also didn't have Donta Hightower, Brandon Browner, and Dominique Easley — were playing in a hostile environment, and facing a stout Buffalo defense. The offense certainly struggled to move the ball in the first half, but didn't turn it over, kept grinding away, and eventually poked holes in Buffalo's defense.
And the passing game finally found its groove in the second half, with 274 yards after halftime and three touchdowns. If Brandon LaFell is catch-and-running, and Brian Tyms is stretching the defense, and Julian Edelman is moving the chains, the Patriots are going to be hard to beat.
The Patriots also did a good job of capitalizing on Buffalo's mistakes, scoring 13 points in the first half, all off turnovers. When the Patriots win the turnover battle, 3-0, they're going to win every time.
Other quick-hit thoughts:
■ These injuries couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the Patriots next facing the Jets this Thursday night in Foxborough. The coaching staff certainly will be tested, as the Patriots will need several backups to play significant snaps. Losing Ridley deprives the Patriots of their toughest runner, and if Connolly can’t play, that means more Jordan Devey (gasp). The running game is going to struggle if Ridley is out for an extended period.
■ Rob Gronkowski also took an absolute beating on Sunday. The Bills whacked him coming off the line of scrimmage on most snaps, and he took several big shots over the middle. He had one scary moment in the third quarter, when he stayed down on the field for several moments and was helped off by trainers. But on the sideline, the training staff replaced his forearm brace, and Gronk came back on the next series and dominated. He finished with seven catches for 94 yards, and also had a touchdown catch negated by a holding penalty.
Video: Gronk Is Back in a Groove
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is back to being his old self, and he’s happy to take some hard shots on the field again. (By Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff)
■ Tyms just might be the missing link for the Patriots’ offense. He only had one catch on Sunday, but it was incredible – a 43-yard touchdown grab on which he went up and caught the ball over THREE Bills defenders. Opposing defenses haven’t had to respect the Patriots’ deep passing game this year and have been able to compact the field. If Tyms can keep defenses honest, it could really open up the field for Julian Edelman and Gronk.
Video: Brian Tyms On His First NFL Touchdown
Patriots receiver Brian Tyms scored his first career touchdown on a 43 yard pass from Tom Brady in the Patriots win on Sunday. (By Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff)
■ Brady was smart and efficient, completing 27 of 37 passes for 361 yards and four TDs, and hitting 10 different receivers (none named Danny Amendola). The biggest positive of Brady’s performance is he stood in the pocket, scanned the field, and looked for his second and third options.
■ Brandon LaFell, Amendola, and Edelman each had a false start penalty. Weird.
Video: Brandon LaFell On His Two Touchdowns in Buffalo
Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell scored two touchdowns Sunday in New England’s 37-22 win in Buffalo. (By Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff)
■ Darrelle Revis shadowed Sammy Watkins all game, and Kyle Orton avoided him like the plague. Watkins didn’t get his first pass thrown his way until the third quarter, and finished with just two catches for 28 yards. Alfonzo Dennard, though, got picked on for the second straight game.
■ The Patriots really could have used Browner to slow down Bills TE Scott Chandler, who had a phenomenal game with 105 yards receiving. It was the Bills’ first 100-yard game from a tight end since Pete Metzelaars in 1992.
■ Solid game from the two defensive ends. Rob Ninkovich had three sacks (he entered the game with one all season), and Chandler Jones pulled off an unassisted triple play – sack, strip, fumble recovery – right before halftime to give the Patriots an extra 3 points.
■ Orton absolutely gift-wrapped an interception to Jamie Collins in the second quarter, turned the ball over twice, and had terrible pocket awareness, taking four sacks that definitely weren’t entirely the fault of the offensive line. The Bills don’t look much better with Orton under center than they did with EJ Manuel.
■ The Patriots defense can handle Buffalo’s inept offense. And it can probably handle the Jets on a short week, too. But it’s a unit that is extremely thin in the front seven right now, and can’t afford any more injuries.