Curran's Patriots-Bills preview/review
Curran's Patriots-Bills preview/review
The Bills have downplayed any revenge talk and have plenty to play for besides payback, but stakes remain high for the Patriots, too.
So what did Tom get right in his preview? What did he get wrong? Let's take a look . . .
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Last week’s outcome doesn’t obliterate the fact the Patriots are 3 for their last 20 on third down. Their total yards in the losses to Miami and comeback win against the Steelers are the lowest of the season for them (248 and 360) and the protection for Tom Brady the past three games has slipped a bit from the stretch where the running game was keeping the heat off, play-action was effective and the ball was coming out quickly because separation was coming fast. With the Patriots, trend-correction is a way of life so we’ll see what they’re able to cook up to change what’s been going on. Obviously, a lot of the third-down woes came in Miami when they were sans Gronk and the success late in Pittsburgh and in the second half against Buffalo shows (at least to me) that he’s never had a more singular impact on their offense than he is having right now. With two touchdown passes and four picks in his past three games, Brady is in the midst of a pressure-related cold snap. The absence this week of Rex Burkhead will cause a little shuffle in the running back corps. James White hasn’t run the ball in three weeks but – unless Mike Gillislee gets the dust blown off him and is active – White will be the next-man-up in the running game. The Pats gashed Buffalo on the ground three weeks ago. As for the Bills defense, they have been outstanding on third down for the past month. They’ve allowed just eight first downs on the last 32 third downs they’ve faced and 15 of the last 57 over four games.
The Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession then followed with a 13-play drive that didn’t bog down until it got inside the 10. Digging into their roster, the Patriots pulled out Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden for backfield snaps and had tight end Jacob Hollister with plays dialed up for him. After the Bills' failed fourth-down attempt, Brady threw a pick-six on a slant intended for Kenny Britt. On the next Patriots drive, Brady threw on play-action on seven of nine plays and capped the drive with a back-shoulder throw to Rob Gronkowski that Gronk plucked one-handed and secured with a toe tap. The Patriots added a field goal from Gostkowski on their final drive of the half. In the second half, the Patriots went field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown to close it out with authority. The third-down woes offensively were largely rectified as the Patriots went 5-for-11 and also tacked on a fourth-down conversion. They also went 4-for-6 in the red zone finishing drives. Dion Lewis was the Patriots' most valuable offensive player with 129 yards on 24 carries and five catches for 24 yards. He scored twice.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Alan Branch is down so that’s a bit of a blow but the interior of the Patriots defensive line has been brilliant with Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown showing up big last week. The linebacker level has been reduced without Kyle Van Noy who may return this week. With Trey Flowers banged up, the pass rush hasn’t gotten home much. Don’t expect them to this week. The mobility of Tyrod Taylor means a corralling pass rush from the Patriots will be ordered up rather than a full-on attack that opens up scrambling lanes. Taylor could have Kelvin Benjamin back from injury. He’s large. He’s also not that remarkable. The offense is LeSean McCoy both on the ground and in the passing game. So bottle him up, get him on the ground and avoid the home run are the orders of the day.
The Bills strung together an impressive opening drive in which they converted on four third downs and went 16 plays before settling for a field goal by Steve Hauschka. They were in the process of another long drive before they stalled inside the New England 10. Great pursuit by Marquis Flowers led to a sack of Taylor that ended the Bills drive pointless. On the Bills' final drive of the half, Stephon Gilmore was thrice-victimized by Kelvin Benjamin and rookie Adam Butler had a brain-dead encroachment penalty to put the Bills on the verge of a touchdown. But a drop by Charles Clay and an overturned touchdown (controversy . . . ) made them have to settle for a field goal. Buffalo got another field goal off the second half kickoff and then . . . they couldn’t keep pace. A 15-yard Malcom Brown sack on the first play of Buffalo’s next drive harpooned that possession, Buffalo missed a 50-yard field goal and that was pretty much that. Buffalo went 1-for-6 on third down after starting 7-for-11. The Patriots front did a nice job bottling up McCoy on the ground -- 17 for 72 with an 18-yarder mixed in there. But the trio of McCoy, Kelvin Benjamin and Deontae Thompson combined for 235 receiving yards from the throwing-challenged Taylor.
THE KICKING GAME
Bills kicker Steve Hauschka is 23 for 26 on field goals and has made seven of eight outside 50. Stephen Gostkowski gacked a PAT last week for the first time since week 2 but has made his last 13 field goals. Gostkowski is sixth in the NFL in FG percentage made. They are fifth in kickoff return average. They are third in defending punt returns and sixth in kickoff return average.
Gostkowski ran his field goal streak to 16 hitting from 21, 40 and 34. The Patriots coverage teams were again excellent. Ryan Allen punted just once for 44 yards with no return.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: DT Alan Branch (knee) and RB Rex Burkhead (knee).
QUESTIONABLE: RB Brandon Bolden (groin), WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), S Brandon King (hamstring), DE Eric Lee (ankle), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) and RB James White (ankle).
Hogan, White and Van Noy were the prominent inactives. There were no injuries reported during the game for the Pats.
BILLS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: WR Andre Holmes (neck).
QUESTIONABLE: WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee), CB E.J. Gaines (knee), G John Miller (ankle), TE Nick O'Leary (back) and DT Kyle Williams (groin).
Travaris Cadet left in the second quarter with a grotesquely twisted leg.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Can the Bills finish? Buffalo went 0-for-2 in the red zone against the Patriots three weeks ago including a red-zone pick that concluded an otherwise impressive first drive. Stringing drives together that end with touchdowns – which Buffalo was able to do three times last week in its win over Miami – is vital. No chance to win without it. Throw the Gronk-Tre’Davious White interplay into this category as well. Will he be the recipient of some retribution?
After settling for a field goal at the end of their first drive, the Bills weren’t about to do that again and gambled on a fourth-and-2. They didn’t get it. The sting was taken out by a pick-six from Jordan Poyer a few plays later. But the Bills had drives end at the 23, 4, 12 and 6-yard lines of the Patriots and managed just nine offensive points. Another drive made it to the New England 32 before being followed by a missed field goal. The Bills finished 0-for-4 in the red zone. They were 0-for-2 in the red zone in the first meeting between these teams. On six red-zone trips, they managed nine points.
BILLS GOTTA STOP
Rob Gronkowski. He absolutely manhandled the Bills in the second half while being manhandled in the Buffalo meeting. He’s been the Patriots best player for weeks now and is the answer to this question every single week now.
Gronk finished the first half with three catches for 33 yards and a ridiculous 17-yard touchdown. In the second half, Gronk had a 16-yard reception that injured Micah Hyde and drew a 33-yard end zone pass interference to help the Patriots to a touchdown that put them up 23-16. Gronk finished with 67 yards on five catches and left with his knees intact..
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
LeSean McCoy. Stop Shady on first and second down, get the Bills behind the sticks and then let Tyrod Taylor try to make a play. He doesn’t have the offensive weaponry to do that.
Overall, very good job by the front bottling up one of the shiftiest guys in the game. Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler have coalesced into a competent group over the past two weeks dealing with first Le’Veon Bell and then McCoy.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“They play well every week. They’ve had a couple, like we all have, games that haven’t gone the way you want it to go. The team has bounced right back. They’re competitive in all three phases of the game for 60 minutes pretty much every week. They play consistently, they’re tough, they make very few mistakes. I know this is twice now preparing for them. You look on the film, you just don’t see many mistakes.” – Bill Belichick on the Bills’ performance in 2017.
There’s really nothing you can chalk up in this loss to Bills stupidity. They have a quarterback who’s not in the same stratosphere as Brady and they couldn’t keep pace. The egregrious lost yardage on a Taylor sack in the second half and a screen to their fullback wasn’t stupidity. They are what they are. And they are a few players away.
THAT SUMS IT UP BILLS STYLE
“I'm going to do the same thing I've been doing. I'm not going to change the way I play. I'm going out there and just get in his face and try to throw the timing off. I think I do a great job of doing that ... and try to make the plays that my coaches and my teammates expect me to make.” – Tre-Davious White, Bills corner, on facing Gronk for the first time since Gronk’s suspension-inducing cheap shot.
Gronk didn’t get the roughing up that was predicted over the past three weeks. White had five tackles including one tackle for loss.
THE CREW, THE BOOTH AND THE LINE
Craig Wrolstad and his crew have this one. The home team winning percentage for Wrolstad this season is just .308. The last time he had the Patriots was Week 2 in New Orleans. The Patriots are favored by 11.5, the total is 47.5 and CBS’ No. 1 crew of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will call this one.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 27, Bills 17
Patriots 37, Bills 16