The New England Patriots (7-1) defeated the Buffalo Bills (4-4) 41-25 on Sunday at New Era Field in a revenge game. Tom Brady roared out of the gate with over 200 yards and three touchdowns before halftime. The Bills tried to keep up but, by the second play of the third quarter, it was all over. Rob Gronkowski caught his 69th career touchdown pass which set a Patriots franchise record and, though the defense did not play flawless football, when it was time they shut down the Bills feeble attempts to stay alive.
The New England Patriots head into their bye week with the league’s best record, a three game lead on their closest divisional opponent (the Bills), and sure do look like a team on a mission to punish the NFL for what the team has endured for nearly two years.
New England Patriots Week Eight Takeaways
Brady Continues to Dominate
Tom Brady has been on fire since his return from his four game suspension for the Deflategate scandal and this game was no different. Brady was 14/21 for 209 yards and three touchdowns, hitting three different receivers and completing two passes for 53 yards all before halftime.
On the opening kick of the second half, Amendola, returned the kick for 73 yards. Two plays later, Brady would find Julian Edelman for Brady’s fourth and final touchdown throw and Edelman’s first touchdown on the year. Brady would finish the day 22/33 for 315 yards and four touchdowns, he also continued to show his surprising elusiveness on a 15 yard scramble run that net a first down in the third quarter.
It was yet another impressive performance by the future hall of famer who has thrown for 12 touchdowns since his return four games ago. He has thrown zero interceptions this year (in fact no Patriots quarterback has thrown for an INT this season) and has thrown for 1,319 yards. Brady is making a case for being the NFL’s MVP and, with most of November’s slate of games being against very bad teams, Brady should continue his dominance after the bye.
The Defense Continues to Be Suspect
In last week’s takeaways, Stephen Deming pointed out how weak the Patriots defense looked weak against Pittsburgh’s play-makers. This week, they cleaned that up (giving up no touchdowns to a Bills receiver and giving up only 218 yards in the air) but made a set of new errors in their run defense. Mike Gillislee ran for 85 yards on 12 carries for a touchdown and Tyrod Talor also ran for 48 yards on five carries for a touchdown. In total the Pats gave up 167 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
The Patriots pass rush was ok, with Trey Flowers securing two sacks in this game, but the Pats ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ philosophy continued in this game. The only real turnover possibility in this game for the Patriots (the defense did force two fumbles but they were recovered by Buffalo) came during the first half where it appeared Devin McCourty had secured an interception on a Taylor pass but that was waved off by two penalties by Eric Rowe and Patrick Chung. Rowe did not have a good game and really none of the Patriots corners, with the exception of Malcolm Butler, impressed today. The Patriots defense gave up 17 points when it mattered (and eight during garbage time) and when they had to shut down the Bills, they generally did just that. But, if the Patriots want to make the deep playoff run that it is starting to look like they can make, the defense has got to tighten up. Two weeks in a row the defense could have blown a win for the Pats if they were playing better opponents (a Big Ben-less Steelers and a outmatched Bills).
Keeping with the trend this year of penalties galore in NFL games, this game had 22 accepted penalties: 10 for 116 yards for the Patriots and 12 for 84 yards for the Bills. Heading into this game the Patriots had 42 accepted penalties for 379 yards through the first seven games of the year. They are averaging 6.5 penalties for 61.88 yards a game. They have got to clean up these self imposed mistakes because good teams will capitalize.
The Patriots offensive line has shown improvement this year since the Pats convinced Dante Scarnecchia to return to the team last February. They are young and they are finding continuity but the offensive line gave up five sacks today with Nate Solder giving up two of those sacks in a particularly bad outing for him in this game. The line also failed to create much separation for LeGarrette Blount who had only 43 yards on 18 attempts (though he did score his 9th touchdown of the year).
Special teams rebounded pretty well this week with Stephen Gostkowski looking crisp yet again and Danny Amendola‘s aforementioned 73 yard kick off return to start the second half. But, the Pats special teams did have one big miscue: Bills punter, Colton Schmidt, muffed a fourth down punt and had to scramble for 16 yards to earn a first down. That would set up a drive that ended up being 13 plays, 75 yards and ending with a Tyrod Taylor 26 yard touchdown run.
The Patriots are 7-1 and they look like they are a pretty deadly foe for any NFL team. They have won two road games in a row, avenged their only loss (at home in an embarrassing game against Buffalo). Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick have done a hell of a job managing Tom Brady’s four game suspension and just allowing him to dominate opponents since his return.
But these games have not been without their flaws for the Patriots. Like last week against the Steelers, today the Patriots had some pretty glaring miscues. If the Pats can clean up their miscues during the bye week, they might truly be unstoppable.
The Patriots come out of their bye week and finish November hosting the 4-2 Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football before games at the San Francisco 49ers (1-6), and the New York Jets (3-5) before coming home for a game against the visiting Los Angeles Rams (3-4) on December 4th. The Patriots will certainly be favored in all of those games and it is possible that the Patriots will have secured the AFC East yet again by this point.
The road ahead looks well for this team as they make their push for the AFC’s first overall seed in the playoffs and home field advantage. If they can right their wrongs and continue on the track that they currently are on, then it is not too early to anticipate that the 2016 New England Patriots are favorites to win the Super Bowl.