Patriots’ breakdown: The best, worst (and everything in between)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Finding the end zone was a problem Monday night. Except, of course, for certain Bills Mafia hurling dicey objects from the stands.
James White finally crashed in from a yard out midway through the fourth quarter to break up the field goal fest and spark the Patriots to a 25-6 win.
Devin McCourty’s 84-yard pick-6 with 5:54 left sealed the victory and forced a stampede for the exits. The turnover was especially stinging for the Bills as it came a play after they had a touchdown overturned.
It was the first career interception return for a touchdown for the nine-year veteran and it came on New England’s 11th pick of the season. The Patriots, who have at least one interception in every game this season, had just a dozen last season.
The Patriots put together some lengthy drives but unlike the previous four weeks, they couldn’t cash those yards into points against a game Bills squad that was looking for their first home win on “Monday Night Football” since 1994.
Tom Brady and Co. were able to move the ball in spurts but struggled to consistently convert on third down (they were 5 of 14 on the night) and in the red zone (1 of 3) and that resulted in three Stephen Gostkowski field goals as they built a 9-3 lead at the half.
Gostkowski added another in the third quarter and the Patriots held a not-so-comfortable 12-6 lead before the White and McCourty back-to-back touchdowns.
“The [Bills] don’t give up any big plays,’’ said Brady. “So we were just moving it down the field and we got into the red area and we just couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. Just not enough positive plays down there. We had a couple of opportunities that we just didn’t take advantage of. I think if we score those touchdowns, we feel a lot better.’’
Patterson in backfield
With Sony Michel out of action, the Patriots dipped into their bag of tricks early by using receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as a tailback in the first quarter.
Patterson, a returner and receiver by trade, has been used as a running back in his previous NFL stops in Minnesota and Oakland. He came in with 51 career rushes for 490 yards and half dozen touchdowns.
It was another creative way to get the ball into the hands of the electric Patterson, who often refers to himself as a “playmaker.” Patterson has often been employed as a jet sweeper by Josh McDaniels.
He opened the game with a nice 6-yard rush but was destroyed two plays later when former BC standout Matt Milano slipped in unblocked and dropped him for a 4-yard loss.
Patterson bounced back on the second series with a pair of rushes for 7 yards. His biggest rush came in the fourth quarter when his 22-yarder helped fuel New England’s first touchdown drive.
“When my number’s called, I’ll be ready and Josh did a hell of a job putting me back there and showing trust in me,’’ said Patterson, who finished with 10 carries for a game-high 38 yards. “Next time I hope I’ll get like 25 carries.’’
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so in that vein the Patriots ran some nifty no huddle at old Ralph Wilson stadium, where Marv Levy popularized the attack.
Tom Brady led the Patriots on a 15-play, 73-yard drive on New England’s second possession using a heavy dose of the hurry-up attack. Brady hit his first four passes of the march and wound up 7 of 10. It stalled at the end, however, and after a Brady sack and incompletion, New England settled for Stephen Gostkowski’s 25-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Bills came out with some trickeration on their initial drive, a Wildcat formation with LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory both taking direct snaps.
It was effective at first (12-yard rush on first down) but the Patriots sniffed it out thereafter and the Bills abandoned it.
The Bills also trotted out the rare double-flip flea-flicker with quarterback Derek Anderson handing to McCoy, who tossed it to Zay Jones, who tossed it back to Anderson. The quarterback’s deep pass to tight end Charles Clay was well defended by Patrick Chung and fell incomplete.
“We were kind of prepared for — not exactly what they were doing — but we were prepared that we could get some different looks because as a defense, we knew [Bills offensive coordinator Brian] Daboll was here and he kind of knows how we operate,’’ said Devin McCourty. “I thought they did a good job coming out in the Wildcat and with some different personnel groups but I thought we did a good job of relaxing and staying calm and getting through that early part of the game.’’
Booming and blooming
Trey Flowers had one of his most dominating performances of the season and he continues to develop into one of the top edge defenders in the game.
He served notice pretty quickly that he was going to be a force, nearly singlehandedly blowing up Buffalo’s second possession of the game.
On first down, Flowers dropped LeSean McCoy for a 3-yard loss. On second down, he swiped away a chop block attempt before skying to swat Derek Anderson’s pass to the turf.
Flowers finished with six unassisted tackles, including two for losses, and a pair of quarterback hits.
“Looked like Trey had a lot of big plays,’’ said Bill Belichick. “I thought overall our defensive line seemed to do a great job.’’
Hightower out, Van Noy in
With Dont’a Hightower a late scratch, Kyle Van Noy wore the green dot as the defense’s communicator and he was seemingly everywhere.
He collected a team-high seven tackles, including a pair of sacks and a forced fumble.
“Kyle’s a real instinctive player and we play him at a lot of different spots,’’ said Belichick. “He takes on a great amount of responsibility as a signal caller. Plays on the line, off the line. Plays the Mike, plays the Will . . . He’s done a great job for us.’’
Quote of the day
“He looked fast to me — I didn’t have a clock on him but he looked fast running down there. It was good to see,’’ Bill Belichick, when told Devin McCourty was clocked at 22 miles per hour on his interception return.
The Patriots briefly lost Elandon Roberts to a groin injury, with Nicholas Grigsby taking some of his middle linebacking snaps in the third quarter. He returned after missing two series and came within in a whisper of a pick-6.
Right guard Shaq Mason exited early because of a calf problem and was replaced by Ted Karras. Mason was classified as questionable to return, but he didn’t.
For the Bills, leading tackler Tremaine Edmunds suffered a concussion and missed the second half.
Green Bay Packers
The Patriots welcome in a Cheesehead crew that is looking for some consistency as Mike McCarthy’s troops come in at 3-3-1 and have yet to put together back-to-back wins.
Green Bay is looking for a bounce-back effort after dropping a 29-27 decision to the undefeated Rams in Los Angeles. They employ the best quarterback in league not named Tom Brady — giving them a chance to win every game.
Aaron Rodgers is smart, savvy, and has a superior arm. He’s played most of the season on a balky knee but looked to be close to his regular self in Los Angeles.
“Aaron’s one of the best to ever play,’’ said Brady. “So it’ll be exciting and we’re going to have to play really well . . . It’s a big game for us. We started 1-2, we’re 6-2, to get to 7-2 would be huge.’’