ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts on what went down at New Era Field Monday night between the Patriots and Bills. . .
McCOURTY SUPPLIES THE DAGGER
With just under six minutes remaining, Devin McCourty read Derek Anderson on a third-and-15 dropback to smoothly undercut Anderson's target, reel in the interception and return it 84 yards for a touchdown. McCourty's speed to outrun the Bills offense was on display on the play, as was Adrian Clayborn's effort to provide him an escort all the way to the goal line. It was the Patriots' first defensive touchdown since 2015 -- the 40-game streak without one was the longest in the NFL -- and their first pick-six since 2013. When it was finished, what looked like the majority of the Patriots bench tried to get into the end zone to congratulate the defensive captain. Dwayne Allen and Brian Hoyer were among those looking to celebrate. As the group made its way back to the Patriots bench, Kyle Van Noy waved goodbye to the fans, and they heeded his advice, heading for the New Era Field exits in droves.
FOURTH QUARTER EXECUTION
Early in the fourth quarter the Patriots made a series of key plays offensively that earned them their first touchdown of the game and some much-needed breathing room. Julian Edelman got things going with that 26-yard grab on third down. Then on third-and-eight, Brady found White in the flat for another conversion. Patterson followed that up with a 22-yard run from out of the I-formation. Next came a back-shoulder completion to Chris Hogan. All sorts of diversity to the attack in those moments. It ended with a one-yard plunge from White. The two-point attempt failed when Brady was picked, but the Patriots offense got itself in order when it needed to most.
PATRIOTS GET CREATIVE AT RUNNING BACK
The Patriots dressed only two running backs on Monday -- James White and Kenjon Barner -- and both got plenty of run. But they also incorporated Cordarrelle Patterson as a back in the early going. He was part of their I-formation package and carried several times in the first half, with the assumption being that the Patriots coaching staff believed his open-field running ability might help him as a runner. Not wanting to use White too much, incorporating Patterson as a back until Sony Michel (knee) works his way back into the lineup makes some sense. Between Patterson's usage and Julian Edelman being deployed on end-around runs, the Patriots managed their backs by leaning on their receivers. Patterson's 22-yard run in the fourth quarter, mentioned above, was one of the key plays in the game.
BILLS MAFIA A FACTOR IN THE RED ZONE?
The Patriots had opportunities early in the game to get into the end zone but couldn't. Bills Mafia a factor? Perhaps. In the first quarter, Patriots tackles had issues on back-to-back snaps. Trent Brown allowed a strip sack -- which we highlighted as a potential issue earlier in the day -- and then LaAdrian Waddle allowed a pressure that helped force a Tom Brady incompletion. Deep in enemy territory, on the road, it can be difficult for tackles to get the snap count. And if Brown and/or Waddle lost a beat to Lorenzo Alexander and/or Jerry Hughes -- both having strong seasons off the edge -- then it would make it tough for them to recover. The Patriots accepted a field goal on the play. The first of three for them in the first half. Late in the third quarter, the Bills red-zone defense held firm once again, pressuring Brady into an incompletion and forcing another field goal.
PATRIOTS BANGED UP
The Patriots dealt with a handful of injuries over the course of the night. Right guard Shaq Mason left in the third quarter with a calf injury and was replaced by Ted Karras. Elandon Roberts dealt with a groin issue starting in the third quarter that led to Nicholas Grigsby getting snaps with the first-team defense. He returned and nearly had a pick-six to start the fourth quarter. The Patriots seemed to avoid a more significant injury in the first quarter when Julian Edelman was shaken up after throwing a block in the first quarter. He took an awkward shot to the head and neck area but remained in the game and remained active throughout the night. He had a key 26-yard catch on a third-and-seven play early in the third quarter deep in Patriots territory.
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