ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Stephon Gilmore stared at the floor and fiddled with his gray headphones, keeping his answers short. He flipped his hair back, seemingly frustrated. When Gilmore did look up to answer questions, he occasionally stared past the scrum in front of him.
New England wide receiver Chris Hogan had burned Gilmore for a 53-yard touchdown and the latter was also called for two holding penalties. The first came late in the third quarter when he knocked away a pass but grabbed Hogan. It gave New England a first and goal at the 1-yard line. LeGarrette Blount scored on the next play to put the Patriots ahead, 38-17.
Gilmore received his second holding penalty when he grabbed running back James White’s arm as he fell down in the fourth quarter and Tom Brady fired a pass at White. The play helped the Patriots convert on a third and 12 at the Buffalo 20-yard line. Four plays later, New England kicked a field goal to extend its lead to 41-17 and put away the Bills.
“Penalties gave them everything,” Gilmore said, “just gave them everything, really.”
Rex Ryan’s team looked like a Rex Ryan team again on Sunday. The Bills hurt themselves with penalties, particularly on third down. In the Ryan era, the Bills have averaged more than nine penalties and 82 penalty yards against the Patriots. Penalties stalled at least one Buffalo drive and propelled two New England drives.
Buffalo gifted New England six first downs from penalties Sunday in the Patriots’ 41-25 win. In the Bills’ three prior games against the Patriots with Ryan at the helm, the Bills gave up five combined. The penalties allowed New England to avenge a 16-0 loss from the fourth week of the season and put distance between itself and the rest of the AFC East.
“We had way too many penalties,” Ryan said. “It was embarrassing. First and 20, you get a holding call. That’s not acceptable.”
After the Patriots had taken a 14-3 lead in the first half, Buffalo tried moving down the field. The Bills picked up a first down, but followed that with an illegal formation penalty and an offensive pass interference penalty on consecutive plays. Facing second and 24 from its 30-yard line, Buffalo eventually punted for the third time in three drives.
“We messed up early on, put ourselves in bad situations on third downs, and on their third downs, we gave them first downs,” the Bills’ Robert Woods said. “So penalties cost us.”
On the same drive Gilmore held Hogan in the third quarter, the Bills helped the Patriots convert two other times. First, New England quickly ran up to the line on third and 5, catching Buffalo mid-substitution and with 12 men on the field.
Three plays later, Danny Amendola picked up 3 yards for a first down. Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman shoved Amendola near yellow dotted lines, about 10 yards out of bounds. Amendola rolled all the way to the red track encircling the field. Gilmore’s hold was the finale in a series of miscues on the drive.
Those three defensive penalties wasted the Bills’ prior drive, which had spanned 6 minutes, 3 seconds and ended with a fourth-and-3, 26-yard touchdown run by Tyrod Taylor that cut Buffalo’s deficit to 31-17.
The Bills outgained the Patriots by 19 yards on one fewer drive, outran the Patriots by 95 yards, and were nearly as efficient on a per-play basis. New England even racked up more penalty yards with 116. But Buffalo took penalties when the Patriots needed them most.
“We had a lot of reaching and holding calls, roughing the passers,” linebacker Preston Brown said. “It seemed like every time we did get a stop, it wasn’t a stop because we got a penalty.”
Five minutes into the final quarter, defensive end Shaq Lawson hit Brady at least two steps after the quarterback had launched a deep, incomplete pass to Hogan on third and 7. The hit extended the Patriots drive, which ended with a field goal and New England’s last points.
Gilmore’s holding penalty on White gave the Patriots another first down on that drive.
As Marcell Dareus pondered his team’s mistakes, a reporter asked him how tough it can be to play against the Patriots when the Bills don’t play perfectly.
“You lose,” he responded.