This was just a weird game overall for the Patriots
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 25-6 win over the Bills:
■ The Patriots earned no style points for this victory, and there will be no chest-thumping in the locker room, either. But the Patriots will gladly get out of Buffalo with a win and move on to Sunday’s home showdown with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
“We’ll take the win however we can get it,” a relieved Tom Brady said after the game.
These division games are never easy, and the environment — “Monday Night Football,” an electric Buffalo crowd — made it even more difficult. Add in Sean McDermott’s disciplined defense, and the Patriots being a bit shorthanded on both sides of the ball, and the Patriots won’t mind an ugly win as long as it’s a win.
■ I give a lot of credit to McDermott’s defense. The Bills entered the game as one of the stingiest defenses in terms of allowing big plays, and they made the Patriots earn every inch of the field.
“It was the usual tough day in Buffalo,” Bill Belichick said.
They didn’t blitz, hung back in coverage, and made Brady dink and dunk down the field. The Patriots had a few nice passing plays off play-action, but the Bills did a great job of taking away their downfield passing attack. Brady also was lucky not to throw a pick-six to Matt Milano early in the fourth quarter.
■ Of course, facing a one-dimensional Patriots offense also helped. Belichick tried to get away with not having a traditional running back, and it almost cost the Patriots. Cordarrelle Patterson was actually their leading rusher, with 10 carries for 38 yards, but it didn’t work that well. He gained 22 yards on one rush in the fourth quarter, and otherwise gained 16 yards on nine touches. Patterson is too tall and runs too upright to be an effective running back.
James White had eight carries for 15 yards, but that’s not his game. Kenjon Barner didn’t pick up the slack, either, rushing just two times for 4 yards. He had as many carries as Julian Edelman, who had two for 13 yards.
The Patriots could get away with not having a running back against the Bills. But they badly need Sony Michel back for the Packers.
■ In fact, this was the second straight week that the Patriots offense needed help scoring points. Last week, the Patriots needed two special teams touchdowns to beat the Bears. This week, they didn’t put the game away until Devin McCourty picked off Derek Anderson and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown with 5:54 left in the fourth quarter. It was the Patriots’ first defensive touchdown in 40 games, the longest such streak in the NFL.
■ McCourty’s critics have been getting loud this year, saying the ninth-year safety has lost a step. But on his pick-six, NFL Next Gen Stats clocked him at 22.05 miles per hour, the first ball-carrier to crack 22 this year.
“I guess I gained a step back,” McCourty quipped.
■ Edelman had his best game since his return from suspension, catching 9 of 10 passes for 104 yards, his first 100-yard game since the AFC Championship game win over Pittsburgh in January 2017. And White was Mr. Reliable as always, catching 10 passes for 79 yards and adding a rushing touchdown.
But Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon were mostly invisible. Gronk caught only 3 of 8 passes for 43 yards, and looked like he was still dealing with his back injury, though his circus catch in the fourth quarter was one of the best of the season. Gronk also was on the sideline for a few third-down plays, which was interesting.
He said after the game that his back was feeling fine, but I wouldn’t expect him to say otherwise. Gronk just doesn’t look right, and that back injury should put a scare into Patriots fans.
Gordon caught 4 of 6 passes for 42 yards, but lost track of a deep ball that he should have caught in the first quarter.
■ Just a weird game overall for the Patriots. A wide receiver was their leading rusher. A running back was their leading receiver. And Brady threw a decent block on a 6-yard end-around for Edelman. Nice block, Tom, but don’t do that again, please.
“I was more like a road block,” he quipped.
■ We all knew that the Bills’ offense wouldn’t have much on Monday with Anderson on offense. And the Bills showed right away that they would be desperate, running the Wildcat and a reverse flea-flicker pass on the first drive.
The Patriots did a great job defending the Wildcat, especially Trey Flowers, who had two tackles for loss on the play. Flowers had a great night and has been their best front seven player.
■ Smart move by Belichick to sit Dont’a Hightower, who traveled to the game but was made inactive. The Patriots didn’t need him against this putrid Bills offense, and now they can get him ready for the Packers.