Patriots

Five quick thoughts: Gronk explodes in Patriots' 23-3 win over Bills

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Five quick thoughts: Gronk explodes in Patriots' 23-3 win over Bills

Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from what transpired between the Patriots and Bills on Sunday afternoon . . . 

PATRIOTS 23, BILLS 3

1) Rob Gronkowski has always loved heading back to Western New York. Going into Sunday he averaged almost 100 yards and a touchdown in his career in Orchard Park. He was relatively quiet in the first half, but the Patriots made a concerted effort to feed their big man coming out of the break. He finished with 9 grabs for 147 yards, including one emasculating catch when Gronkowski ripped the football from the hands of rookie corner Tre'Davious White. 

2) White and his teammates played Gronkowski physically throughout the course of the game, and eventually Gronkowski lost his mind. White held and pushed Gronkowski during one pass play in the fourth quarter that resulted in a White interception. With the Bills' defensive back on the ground Gronkowski threw himself at White, appearing to injure him with the unnecessary late hit. On the same play, Danny Amendola launched himself at Micah Hyde, resulting in a brief scrap that saw both players get penalized. Unhappy with the outcome, Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes said something to an official that earned him a flag. When it was all said and done, the Bills had possession, but they were looking at a first-and-25 situation. Gronkowski has long been frustrated by the physicality he believes defensive backs get away with in coverage on him, but that was an out-of-character moment for No. 87. 

3) Eric Lee had a nice little homecoming of his own at New Era Field. On the Bills practice squad a couple of weeks ago, he faced off against his old club and made a big impact. Though he had issues setting the edge early, he got more comfortable as the game went on. He had a critical pick deep in Patriots territory on the Bills' opening drive, he recorded a sack on Buffalo's second series, he had a pass-breakup to start the fourth quarter, he put a hit on Tyrod Taylor to force an incompletion on the very next play, and he recorded a sack in the final two minutes. With Trey Flowers out, Lee saw a serious uptick in work, and he responded. 

4) Sure! Let's do it! Let's add another Patriots player with Bills ties to the Happy Returns list. Stephon Gilmore, who spent the first five years of his career in Buffalo, was particularly lock-down late. After Taylor left the game injured, giving way to Nathan Peterman, Gilmore got his hands on the football three times. Zay Jones caught one pass off of Gilmore's deflection, but the other two were batted away for incompletions in the end zone -- and one came on fourth down. Another nice day for Gilmore. He's been solid since the bye week. 

5) The Patriots dared the Bills to stop their power running game, and Sean McDermott's defense never really did. Getting their linemen on the move -- particularly athletic right guard Shaq Mason -- the Patriots were able to open up huge running lanes for both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. The Bills allowed over 600 yards running in losses to the Saints, Chargers and Jets last month. The Patriots tested them to see if they'd solved their issues. They hadn't. 
 

Patriots check-up: Chris Hogan will give it a go; Trey Flowers ruled out

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Patriots check-up: Chris Hogan will give it a go; Trey Flowers ruled out

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Chris Hogan made his way to South Florida with the Patriots on Sunday. And not to watch. 

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense have gone without Hogan since he injured his shoulder late in a Week 8 win over the Chargers. It's unclear how much he'll play, but after four practices this week in Foxboro, he's going to give it a go Monday night against the Dolphins. 

Earlier in the week, we went into some detail on how Hogan could help the Patriots offense if he's able to go. With Rob Gronkowski suspended, Hogan could serve as a valuable red-zone target. 

Hogan's return could also have an impact on the workload issued to his teammates. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola's snap-counts have been relatively unchanged with Hogan out, but Phillip Dorsett has taken on the No. 2 receiver role in terms of play-count since Week 8. In four games since Hogan's injury, Dorsett has averaged 42 snaps per game.

Here's a quick look at how the Patriots may be impacted by some of the injuries they're dealing with . . . 

Marcus Cannon, Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers ruled out: Cannon's ankle injury will hold him out yet another week, leaving the right-tackle duties to LaAdrian Waddle (more on him later) or Cam Fleming. Van Noy's absence could be a difficult one for the Patriots. He has handled the hybrid end-slash-linebacker duties once held by Dont'a Hightower, and he's emerged as a leader of the New England front-seven. Without him, the Patriots become thinner at both the edge and the second-level. Players like Eric Lee (57 snaps against the Bills last weekend), Elandon Roberts (49), David Harris (25) and Marquis Flowers (35) can all expect a busy day with Van Noy unavailable. Trey Flowers will miss his second consecutive game with a ribs injury. Special-teamer Brandon King (hamstring) has also been ruled out.

Issues on the edge: Injuries to Van Noy and Flowers aren't the only issues the Patriots have on the edge. Deatrich Wise (foot) came into the weekend listed as questionable. He only managed to get onto the field for one practice this week. The Patriots have been perilously thin at defensive end all season -- the Derek Rivers injury, Rob Ninkovich retirement and Kony Ealy release had something to do with that -- and are facing a situation where they may have to go deep into their bench just to man the position. If Wise is at all limited, Bill Belichick could be forced to turn to Lee and Geneo Grissom -- both of whom were practice-squad players just a few weeks ago. Rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler could also potentially bump outside; the Patriots worked him there throughout training camp. 

Waddle improving, still questionable: Waddle worked out prior to the Bills game but was deemed unable to go. His ankle injury has improved steadily since then, however. While it's not certain he'll play, he'll have a better shot at getting back onto the field than he did a week ago. Waddle was injured in the fourth quarter of his team's win over the Dolphins in Week 12. Whoever is playing right tackle for the Patriots, whether it's Waddle or Fleming, will have his hands full. Dolphins pass-rusher Cameron Wake typically lines up on that side. 

Something going around the running backs room: Mike Gillislee (illness) was ruled out on Sunday night. He missed Saturday's practice with an illness one day after Dion Lewis missed a practice due to illness. Lewis practiced on Saturday and is expected to be ready for Monday night. Gillislee has been a healthy game-day scratch since the Week 9 bye. 

Patriots will have to wait for hats, tees after Bills overtime win

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Patriots will have to wait for hats, tees after Bills overtime win

The Patriots had a chance to earn their ninth-straight AFC East title before taking the field on Monday night. But the hat-and-t-shirt hoopla will have to wait. 

A loss or a tie for the Bills on Sunday afternoon would've allowed the Patriots to extend their record for division championships, but Buffalo got an overtime win against the Colts, delaying the inevitable. 

Oddly enough several former Patriots factored into the outcome as the Bills beat the Colts, 13-7, during a snow storm in Orchard Park.

Jacoby Brissett attempted 22 passes and completed just 11 in the blizzard-like conditions for 69 yards and a touchdown. Adam Vinatieri made a 43-yard extra point in the fourth quarter to help send the game to overtime -- conjuring up memories of his 2001 postseason -- but missed a field goal from the same distance as time expired in regulation that would have won it. Kenny Moore, an undrafted rookie who spent training camp with the Patriots, was in coverage on a long completion that got the Bills into Colts territory. Soon thereafter LeSean McCoy dashed for the game-winning touchdown. 

The Patriots can clinch the division with a win Monday night against the Dolphins.

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