ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — With 9:10 left in the third quarter and the Bills lining up a second-and-10 play, third-string Buffalo tight end Logan Thomas was assigned to block Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers.
It went predictably badly.
Flowers trampled Thomas, a former college quarterback at Virginia Tech turned NFL tight end, and punished running back LeSean McCoy, dropping him for a three-yard loss that forced the Bills to settle for a 51-yard field goal two plays later.
It was one of several impact plays from Flowers, who looked like the best player on the field on a night when the Patriots defense held its opponent to a season-low six points in Monday night’s 25-6 victory over the Bills.
“I think we came out and we knew it was going to be a tough battle, and I think a lot of our guys responded well to the situational defense,” Flowers said. “Third down, sudden changes, things like that. It was one of the things that we came into the game plan trying to execute and I think we did that today.”
Flowers finished second to Kyle Van Noy with six tackles, two of which went for losses. Flowers hit Bills quarterback Derek Anderson twice and deflected one pass, though he was kicking himself on the play midway through the first quarter because it could have been an interception.
Anderson misfired a pass intended for tight end Jason Croom on a crossing route, hitting Flowers in the face mask, the ball bouncing off before he could grab it.
“I’ve got to work on that,” Flowers said, laughing and shaking his head. “Get on the JUGS machine.”
Safety Duron Harmon, known to snag a few interceptions himself, said he’d give Flowers some coaching if he wanted, but let his teammate off the hook for the play. The Bills punted two plays later on that drive, so Flowers’ deflection was not wasted.
“He’s a D-lineman,” Harmon said, laughing, too. “He gets a pass.”
In the areas where Flowers’ defensive lineman responsibilities do lie, setting the edge and getting in the backfield, he put in a great day of work. Flowers dropped McCoy in the backfield both on the play in the third quarter and on another play that came just before the one where he nearly had the interception, one where McCoy was lined up as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
Flowers had no trouble sniffing out the play and tackled McCoy for a loss of three yards.
“We knew they were going to come with a little wrinkle that we probably haven’t seen a lot,” Flowers said. “So for them to come out and establish the Wildcat, they hit us with it a couple times but we settled down and understood that was where they was trying to attack us and I think we did a pretty good job.”
Overall, the Patriots held McCoy to 13 yards on 12 carries, though he added 6 catches for 82 yards on 8 targets in the passing game. In the run game, however, McCoy couldn’t get much space to bounce outside as the Patriots set a hard edge. On multiple occassions, McCoy ran into a wall of Patriots defensive linemen.
“We understand he’s a dynamic run player,” Flowers said. “You can set the edge one way and he’s going to bounce it, reverse, things like that. So just being able to kind of contain him like you said, being disciplined on the backside so we got him bottled up, he wasn’t able to hurt us as bad.”
Overall, the Bills gathered only 2.4 yards per carry with Chris Ivory having the best mark with 34 yards on six attempts. For his efforts, Flowers earned some praise from Bill Belichick in the coach’s postgame remarks.
“Looked like Trey had a lot of big plays,” Belichick said. “I thought overall our defensive line seemed to do a pretty good job in the running game.”
Harmon said that the strong performance up front on McCoy helped the safeties, who had far less to clean up since the linemen weren’t letting him escape.
“It helps us a lot. He’s an outside runner guy who likes to get to the outside, get to space and do his thing in the open field,” Harmon said. “Trey, Deatrich [Wise], the whole defensive line, John Simon, Kyle Van Noy, those guys did a great job of just being a strong front for us, turning him back in to our big guys, Lawrence [Guy], Malcom [Brown], Danny [Shelton] and the linebackers and just doing a good job of just tackling.
“It’s one thing to turn him back in, but it’s another thing to tackle him and I think we did a tremendous job of tackling him.”