Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs. Bills
Lost in the hullabaloo surrounding Rob Gronkowski's late-game shot on Tre'Davious White and Tom Brady's sideline outburst was the fact that there was a game played on Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park. But that it played out about the way many expected didn't help make it any more memorable.
The Patriots defense had trouble early when it came to containing Tyrod Taylor's mobility and sealing the edges without Trey Flowers. Offensively there were issues deciphering Sean McDermott's scheme with a batch of players who playing in roles the Patriots hadn't seen them play in person before.
But Bill Belichick and his staff did what they do. They made adjustments offensively. They came up with key stops defensively. And, despite a herky-jerky start, they still won by 20.
With the ability to post relatively mediocre grades and still come away with that kind of margin of victory against a .500 team tells you the level at which the Patriots are operating.
You didn't need to see Tom Brady curse out his offensive coordinator to know he was frustrated. All you had to see were the decisions he made and the quality of his throws. Though what he did was at times great, there were more than a couple of plays he would consider substandard. The interception to Tre'Davious White that led to Gronkowski's elbow drop is hard to pin entirely on him. With Gronkowski, floaters in one-on-one coverage are actually not terribly low-percentage throws, especially when it's a corner checking him. But the near-pick earlier in the fourth quarter, by former Boston College linebacker Matt Milano, was a more egregious mistake. Brady was lucky it wasn't caught and returned for a touchdown. He missed two throws at the end of New England's first drive: Dwayne Allen was wide open in the flat on first down and was ignored, then, on third down Brady missed Brandin Cooks over the middle and Phillip Dorsett down the left sideline uncovered. No surprise those misses led to an eruption of expletives. Brady's shot to Danny Amendola in the Cover-2 hole along the sideline on second-and-15 was money. His cross-field, third-and-2 completion on an out-route to James White on the same drive was perfect. His movement to extend the play and hit Rex Burkhead over the middle for a first down on third-and-eight was tremendous. And his ability to take a hit and still find Cooks over the middle when deep in Patriots territory was impressive. But Brady's misses were more frequent than normal, and his forced throws -- including two dangerous passes over the middle to White and Amendola that got both players labeled -- were an indication that he didn't exactly have every answer to the test in this one.
RUNNING BACK: A
This group continues its long run on the honor roll by helping pick up Tom Brady on a less-than-stellar day for the quarterback. It's the kind of performance that we've come to expect, especially since the bye. Behind Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, they provided multiple explosive runs and ended up averaging almost six yards per attempt. The offensive line -- which we'll get to momentarily -- was great, but what Lewis can do at the second level makes him special. Just ask Jordan Poyer, who was on the wrong end of a vicious stiff arm during Lewis' career-high 44-yard scamper. Or ask the Bills at the second level who bounced off his Lewis' spin move during a 15-yard run that got the Patriots down to the goal line. Burkhead seems to be the choice for the Patriots on the goal line in recent weeks, and they showed confidence in him by giving him two consecutive shots at a score when he was stuffed on first down in the third quarter. James White made an impact as well, particularly on a third-and-10 conversion when he caught an off-target Brady throw and turned upfield to lunge for the sticks. It looked like he was short, but the officials gave it to him. It was that kind of day for Patriots backs.
WIDE RECEIVER: C
The Patriots got very little from this group, and credit should go to the Bills defense. They clearly wanted to limit explosive pass plays by playing with two high safeties and with nickel personnel (even when the Patriots had two tight ends on the field) for much of the game. Danny Amendola made a nifty catch on the sideline against Cover-2 in the first quarter, and Brandin Cooks made a difficult catch over the middle in the fourth to get the Patriots out of the shadow of their own end zone . . . but that was about it in terms of production. Phillip Dorsett continued to show up with a downfield block or two -- as he does just about every week -- to help backs pick up some extra yardage, but he was not targeted. The fact that he was as open as he was at the end of the first drive and Brady missed him might be a sign that he's not exactly in Brady's circle of trust. Since the bye, with Chris Hogan out, Dorsett has played 168 snaps and has three targets. Amendola's penalty at the end of the game, taking a shot at Micah Hyde around the same time Rob Gronkowski threw himself at Tre'Davious White, docks this grade.
TIGHT END: A-
The plan out of the halftime break was clear: Run the football, and throw it to Gronk. The result was seven receptions for No. 87 in the second half, which led to a total of 9 catches and 147 yards for the day. Using a long and physical corner in Tre'Davious White on Gronkowski was enough to frustrate the behemoth, but it wasn't enough to slow him down. His catch over White, ripping the football away as though White were a small child, was one of Gronkowski's most impressive of the year. He also made a great play on the football to fight through a Micah Hyde hold, and he made a smart decision to get low and brace for contact on a big-gainer in the second quarter. Dwayne Allen was once again solid in the running game, and so this grade was really only hurt by flags. Gronkowski's penalty for his ugly hit on White was an obvious one, but he also had a holding penalty and a false start called against him. (He was whistled for an offensive pass interference call as well, but that was questionable at best.) Allen was flagged for a false start as well.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
For the second straight week, the Patriots picked up nearly 200 yards on the ground. Though the backs have made plenty of those yards on their own, they wouldn't be in positions to create if it weren't for the massive holes being opened up by their teammates up front. Lewis' 44-yard run Sunday was a perfect example. Shaq Mason's big block is what helped get that started. Rex Burkhead's nine-yard run in the first quarter was sprung by good blocks from Joe Thuney, David Andrews (in his first game back since dealing with an illness that popped up during the team's week in Colorado) and Rob Gronkowski. Mason destroyed Micah Hyde for another big run by Burkhead late in the second quarter, and the Patriots linemen even looked good in the screen game -- a point of weakness for them for weeks. Nate Solder (false start, block in the back) and Cam Fleming (false start) picked up flags that didn't help this grade. And both Andrews (in the run game) and Thuney (twice in the pass game) whiffed on blocks that earned the unit demerits. But otherwise it was a solid day for Dante Scarnecchia's group.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Stephen Gostkowski's field goals were critical early on. Those weren't easy conditions to kick in, yet he made all three confidently and he banged through his two extra points. His kickoffs were also well-placed once again. Ryan Allen's punts were mostly effective. None of the three were returned and one was fair-caught at the 15-yard line. His 26-yarder to the Bills 27 was one he might like to have back, but hard to tell how the wind was impacting things in that instance. Perhaps biggest error here was Johnson Bademosi's holding call in the third quarter, which means it was a pretty clean day overall. Danny Amendola fair-caught a punt at the Patriots 32-yard line, and Bademosi's penalty moved them back 10 yards to start a drive that eventually resulted in a touchdown.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
This ranks with the secondary grade from Week 6 as among one of the tougher marks I've come up with this season. Why? There were some stellar moments here. We wrote extensively about Eric Lee's day -- and his journey -- immediately after the game. The pick, the 1.5 sacks, the pass-breakup . . . all really, really good. And against his team no less. Then there was Malcom Brown's afternoon, which was dominant at times. He was a force in the passing game, coming up with five total pressures, a sack and a quarterback hit in only 29 pass-rush snaps. That's a seriously efficient performance. He was also a factor in the run game and seems to be fully over the ankle injury he suffered in Week 7. Now here's where the "but" comes in. The line helped allow the Bills to scoot for 183 yards rushing. And while they had some trouble containing Tyrod Taylor (32 yards), his injury suffered on the first play of the game slowed him down. It was sealing off the edges that was an issue, which often fell on Lee and Deatrich Wise. Alan Branch showed up with a hit -- he actually pushed his blocker back into Taylor -- that helped create Lee's first-quarter pick, but the permissiveness of the Patriots front in the running game left lots to be desired.
David Harris helped this group get off on the right foot when he tracked down Tyrod Taylor from behind on the game's first play from scrimmage. But as was the case with the defensive line, it was a mixed bag here. Elandon Roberts drew a pair of penalties that helped New England's cause, but he seemed to lose a gap on Joe Webb's 22-yard run up the gut out of a Wildcat look. He also was stressed on a later Wildcat play when it looked like he was the closest man in coverage on a wide-open Travaris Cadet, who Webb should've hit with a touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Kyle Van Noy made two big-time third-down plays -- notching one pass breakup and showing great hustle to sack Taylor on Buffalo's first drive of the third quarter -- but he seemed to re-aggravate his leg on his sack and his time was limited.
Think Stephon Gilmore left Western New York with a little pep in his step? He got his hands on three passes near the end when the Bills continuously targeted him, with little success. One of his deflections was caught by Zay Jones despite the fact that it was perfectly played. The other two were batted away in the end zone -- including one on fourth down. In the last two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore has allowed a passer rating of 2.8 on balls thrown in his direction. Jonathan Jones also continued to play well against Buffalo's lackluster receiving corps. He allowed one catch on three targets for three yards and is now 19th among corners when it comes to passer rating allowed, per PFF. Devin McCourty made back-to-back big-time plays on LeSean McCoy to start the second quarter -- an open-field one-on-one tackle and a pass breakup over the middle on third down -- and Patrick Chung made a strong stuff of McCoy in the fourth quarter (hurting his hand in the process). Malcolm Butler's holding penalty in the fourth quarter wiped away a Deatrich Wise sack and got him benched for a play. That didn't help this grade. Neither did Jordan Richards screaming up the field and losing contain on Tyrod Taylor's long run at the end of the first quarter. But overall this was a good day for Patriots defensive backs. And it should've been. The Bills passing game was overmatched from the jump.