In one of the worst officiated games you’re likely to see this side of replacement officials, the New England Patriots saw off a strong fight from the Buffalo Bills to claim the result everybody predicted all along.
The Bills, in truth, may have played the better football for the majority of this game, but a ludicrous penalty count coupled with a pair of killer fumbles from Fred Jackson and a final last-gasp interception from Ryan Fitzpatrick ensured they would come up one score short in the game as the final seconds ticked off.
The Bills were badly hurt by the officials who called a pair of horrible defensive pass interference penalties on balls that were completely uncatchable (the second of which landed past the first row of photographers out of the back of the end zone), but the ‘zebras’ also helped them out on a couple of occasions by missing a clear false start and a defensive offside penalty later in the game. The pass interference calls were bigger in terms of yardage and setting the Patriots up at the goal line, but the Bills had bigger problems than the officials in the game.
Let’s see what performances stood out.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Much has been made this year about how underwhelming the Bills have been up front given the talent on that line, but the three big names in this game all graded positively, with the defensive tackle pairing in particular having a major impact. Kyle Williams was again at his destructive best, notching a sack, a pair of hits and two more hurries as he devastated the New England interior, while Marcel Dareus batted down a pair of passes and got in on a sack along with Williams. That sack showed perfectly the kind of dominance the pair can have. With 11:18 to go in the third quarter, both players lined up in a two-point rushing stance in the middle and destroyed the Patriots assigned to block them. Dareus ran right over center Ryan Wendell, while Williams span off the block of left guard Logan Mankins and the pair met at the quarterback for a sack. This is what we expected to see every week from the Bills this year, but it has been all too rare.
Picking on the MLB
If there was one player that had a really tough time of it for the Bills, it was Nick Barnett (-5.5) in the middle. He found himself matched up in man coverage with the stable of Patriots shifty slot receivers and running backs, and was just exposed again and again. Overall he was in primary coverage for nine passes and allowed eight catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. He was beaten multiple times by Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, both players who are matchup nightmares for a linebacker, and once by Rob Gronkowski for a 24-yard gain. It’s fair to say that Barnett won’t see a tougher test in terms of his coverage skills this season, and he’ll be glad to put this game behind him.
The Rollercoaster Day of Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson
This is where things get very tricky, because both players actually played very well for the majority of the game but they were responsible for the Bills’ four biggest negative plays. Fred Jackson rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns, at five yards per carry, adding four catches for 35 yards, but he coughed the ball up twice, once inside the Patriots’ 5-yard line ending a potential scoring drive, and once on the final drive of the game when he was stunned by a hit from Brandon Spikes. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for two scores, 337 yards and had a passer rating of 99.7, but he fumbled the ball in the course of a sack he could see coming, and threw an unforgiveable interception at the death to finally end the game. It may be harsh, but this game typifies Fitzpatrick’s play, in that even when he is on song, he conspires to find a way to screw it up and come up short.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Not a Vintage Day on D
As you might imagine given the points Buffalo put on the board, this was not a banner day for the New England defense — but nobody came out of it looking quite as bad as Rob Ninkovich (-7.0) who graded negatively in every facet of the game we track. He was beaten in the run game consistently by the Bills’ offensive line, notched just three total pressures (albeit one sack) from his 43 pass rushes, gave up three receptions in just six snaps in coverage, missed two tackles and was penalized for jumping the snap. The only solace for the veteran defender is that he was not alone in showing poorly. The Patriots missed a massive 15 tackles, with nine of those coming in the secondary and the rest coming at the second level from linebackers. Buffalo has running backs that can make you miss, but the Patriots need to tackle better than that to contain them.
The CB Carousel Continues
New England at times seem like they rotate players on defense just for fun, or to somehow strike on the right combination by luck as if pulling the plunger on a slot machine … sooner or later it will come up jackpot. Well so far it hasn’t, and all they have succeeded in doing is running through a staggering number of young defensive backs, each of whom seem to struggle as badly as the last after flashes of talent. This time it was Alfonzo Dennard who was taken to task, being targeted 10 times and allowing seven receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Dennard found himself in the slot a lot and seemed totally lost without a boundary to protect him, allowing massive cushions on quick-breaking routes and 31 yards after the catch. Devin McCourty, the Patriots’ best defensive back, continued his solid play at safety, allowing only one catch and picking off Fitzpatrick to seal the win. But is he better used at corner? I think so.
Just when you think the Patriots have forgotten about Danny Woodhead, he pops up with a game like this that makes you remember what a problem he is for defenses. His size, speed and quickness make him a Wes Welker in the backfield, and he was a real factor over the middle working against the Bills’ linebackers. He was thrown at six times, catching four of them for 46 yards and a touchdown, and in truth should have had a second on the last Patriots drive (discounting the kneel) when Tom Brady got clear of pressure only to bury the ball in the turf at Woodhead’s feet rather than hit him for a touchdown at the front corner of the end zone. He got only the lone carry, but he made the most of it, breaking back and scampering 15 yards for a score.
– New England had all three running backs on the field for 15 or more snaps, and four TEs saw playing time.
– Tom Brady was 0-2 on passes 20+ yards in the air, and only 38 of his yards came from passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, on only three completions.
– Under pressure, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a passer rating of 110.1.
PFF Game Ball
It would be harsh to give the ball to anybody other than Danny Woodhead, given his contribution to the scoring, but Kyle Williams ran him very close in a losing effort.
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