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Ben Volin | Instant Analysis

Patriots’ running game had to be good because their passing game is in shambles

Sony Michel (116 yards on 18 carries) and the running game carried the Patriots to victory.matthew j. lee/Globe staff

FOXBOROUGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 24-12 win over the Bills:

■  On the positive side, the Patriots pounded the Bills into submission, rushing the ball 47 times for 273 yards, the second-most rushing yards in the Bill Belichick era (277 yards in 2008 against Oakland). Sony Michel (116 yards on 18 carries) had his fourth 100-yard game of the season, Cordarrelle Patterson (66 yards on four carries) was electric with the ball in his hands before leaving with an injury, and James White, Rex Burkhead, and Phillip Dorsett contributed nice gains on the ground. This against a Bills defense that entered the game ranked No. 9 in the NFL against the rush, and No. 7 in yards per carry allowed (4.0).


But on the negative side, the Patriots had to run the ball that much, because their passing game is in shambles. Tom Brady only was sacked once, but had a pass rusher in his face seemingly every time he dropped back to pass. He finished with 126 passing yards, his lowest output since 2013. Rob Gronkowski looked even slower than usual, and was held without a catch for just the fourth time in his career. Chris Hogan and Dorsett didn’t even get a target.

The Patriots’ offensive game plan revolved around Patterson and the running backs, because they were the only ones who had any sort of matchup advantage over the Bills’ defense. The Patriots’ rushing attempts were their most since 2014.

■  And the Patriots’ short-yardage rushing attack still stinks. They had first and goal on the 5 midway through the fourth quarter, and got stuffed three straight times. For whatever reason, the Patriots have trouble punching the ball into the end zone this season.

■  Thank goodness for Julian Edelman, because he was basically a one-man band on Sunday, catching six passes for 70 yards and a huge 32-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Patterson’s 3-yard catch was the only other reception by a Patriots receiver. Edelman showed tremendous awareness on his touchdown by instantly realizing he never hit the ground. And he had a terrific 25-yard punt return in the fourth quarter to set up what was essentially a game-clinching field goal. Edelman had two bad penalties in the first half — the penalty for an illegal block after calling for a fair catch was the second time he has done that this season (also against Buffalo) — but he was the only receiver who came to play on Sunday. The Patriots certainly missed Josh Gordon’s size and physicality.


■  The stat sheet says Burkhead had a decent day, with 13 carries for 39 yards, and four catches for 40 yards. But he was responsible for two of the Patriots’ three turnovers. He coughed up the football while fighting for extra yards, then miscommunicated with Brady on a quick throw over the middle, which was intercepted by Lorenzo Alexander. Burkhead has had a tough season and looks like he still needs to get on the same page as Brady.

■  Brady’s 48.3 passer rating was the fifth-lowest of his career (including postseason), but neither interception was his fault. The first one was on Burkhead, and the second went right through Gronk’s hands. But Brady’s mobility looked even worse than usual, he wasn’t able to duck and weave away from the blitz, and it certainly does look like he is nursing an injury. The fact that Brian Hoyer came into the game with more than six minutes left lends credence to that.


■  Great performance by the defense, especially in limiting the Bills to 3 points off three Patriots turnovers. The Bills missed a 43-yard field goal on one drive, failed on a fourth-down attempt on another, and finally converted a short field goal. The defense also created three turnovers — interceptions for J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty, and a great forced fumble by McCourty with the Bills moving inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line. McCourty had a reduced role on Sunday, but came up with two big plays.

■  But this wasn’t exactly the Chiefs or the Rams offense the Patriots were facing. Josh Allen is one of the worst passers in the league, he has some of the worst weapons in the league, and rookie receiver Robert Foster missed several big plays.

■  But the Patriots did a great job of stifling Allen’s mobility, holding him to five carries for 30 yards. In an interesting wrinkle, the Patriots used their cornerbacks and safeties to spy on Allen and make sure he didn’t spring loose. The QB spy is usually a linebacker’s job, but the Patriots don’t have much speed at linebacker. Jonathan Jones however, was able to track Allen all across the field.

Ben Volin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin