Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME : B+
The Bills got over their handoff allergy by getting Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller far more involved in the offense than a week ago in Houston. Jackson rushed for 80 yards, averaging 5.0 a pop, and had two touchdowns. Spiller ran for 70 yards and actually managed to improve his already-gaudy average. But I had to deduct big points for Jackson’s goal-line fumble.
PASSING GAME: C
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a nice game for the most part. He was 27 of 40 for 337 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bills’ pass offense committed a pair of turnovers. In the first quarter, Vince Wilfork notched a strip sack at Buffalo’s 13-yard line, and New England turned it into a touchdown. Buffalo’s dramatic comeback fizzled when rookie T.J. Graham ran the wrong route, and Fitzpatrick threw an interception.
RUN DEFENSE: C-
The Bills certainly improved since the last time they played the Pats. That was the game the Bills became only the second team in NFL history to allow two 100-yard rushers, two 100-yard receivers and a 300-yard passer. The Patriots were without one of those backs, but Stevan Ridley still went for 98 yards, and three Bills defenders got obliterated by one-on-one blocks on Danny Woodhead’s 15-yard TD.
PASS DEFENSE: D+
Bills linebacker Bryan Scott and cornerback Leodis McKelvin dropped would-be interceptions on the opening drive. Three Bills defensive backs committed four pass interference penalties for 64 yards. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore had two of them. A couple of the calls were questionable, but the Bills got sloppy enough to put themselves in those situations.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
McKelvin returned only one kickoff and fair caught his lone punt return. The Bills covered kickoffs pretty well. Shawn Powell averaged 45 yards on two punts. But the Bills committed a pair of costly penalties: Ron Brooks’ 15-yarder for running out of bounds on punt coverage (short field set up Patriots TD) and Tashard Choice’s illegal block (Bills started on their own 6 in the fourth quarter).
The Bills went to Foxborough with a sufficient offensive game plan to beat the Patriots. But they gave the Patriots one and a half football fields of penalty yards and committed three turnovers. You can’t beat the Patriots that way. Chan Gailey got the ball to Spiller and Jackson much more effectively, but defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt must figure out how to force more field goals.
Grading the Patriots
RUNNING GAME: B+
The Patriots lost starting guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly in the third quarter, but they still kept marching forward. Ridley averaged only 4.5 yards a carry but seemed to perform better than that number would suggest. He was a strong runner in the second half, breaking tackles to churn up yardage and the clock. Ridley had 76 of his yards after halftime.
PASSING GAME: B+
Tom Brady completed 23 of his 38 throws for 237 yards and two touchdowns, but his receivers had trouble holding onto the ball. Wes Welker let a perfectly thrown pass up the seam (a surefire touchdown) spin through his hands. Two ricochets nearly led to Bills interceptions. The Bills sacked Brady only once and hit him four times. The end-zone lob to Rob Gronkowski was a gorgeous play.
RUN DEFENSE: D+
The Patriots’ run stoppers didn’t play as advertised. They entered Sunday tied for seventh in yardage and second in average, giving up a measly 3.5 yards per attempt. But Spiller and Jackson had productive afternoons. Bill Belichick noted afterward that his defense was successful in its mission to keep them from breaking any big runs.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
The Patriots’ pass defense yielded at least 61 yards to Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, Scott Chandler and Spiller. But they came up with the big play when the game was on the line. McCourty, who also forced Jackson’s goal-line fumble, made Graham’s mistake hurt. The Patriots sacked Fitzpatrick three times, got him to fumble once and tattooed him a few other times right after he got rid of the ball.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
The Patriots didn’t make any glaring errors here. After the Bills cut the lead to 34-31, Julian Edelman returned a kickoff 32 yards to give the Patriots some breathing room. Stephen Gostkowski boomed six touchbacks on his eight kickoffs. The Patriots also kept McKelvin in check with one special-teams return.
The Patriots were home, were coming off their bye week, have Brady at quarterback, have one of the NFL’s best running backs, have Gronkowski at tight end, gathered three takeaways, committed no turnovers, were gifted 148 penalty yards and still came 15 yards and a rookie mistake away from getting beaten by the reeling Bills, who gained a season-high 481 yards and a franchise-record 35 first downs.