With the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals already winning earlier in the afternoon, the New England Patriots had to earn the No. 2 seed and subsequent playoff bye that they desired. The Patriots did just that, defeating the Buffalo Bills 34-20. With a steady, heavy rain falling throughout the afternoon, the running game took to center stage for both teams, but it was Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount who stole the show. Whether running through contact, or cutting back and avoiding it altogether, Blount was unstoppable as a runner and as a kick returner, and Buffalo just didn’t have an answer for his 334 all-purpose yards. The Bills had some success moving the ball, both on the ground and through the air, but a number of third and fourth down failures proved costly as they fell two touchdowns short.
Here’s a look at the key performances from this AFC East showdown.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Offensive Line Struggles
Three of the five starters up front graded in the red including left guard Doug Legursky (-2.1), right guard, Kraig Urbik (–2.1), and right tackle Erik Pears (-2.5). Legursky had his struggles in the run game, grading at -2.8 as defensive tackle Chris Jones got the best of him on a number of occasions. Urbik pulled a similar -2.3 grade as a run blocker with DT Sealver Siliga giving him problems. While the guards struggling in the running game, Pears was the worst pass blocker on the day grading at -2.1 surrendering a hit and four hurries on 35 attempts. He got beat by both defensive ends, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, for his pressures and he nearly forgot to block outside linebacker Jamie Collins on a screen pass as quarterback Thaddeus Lewis took a huge shot. Overall, it wasn’t a great day for Buffalo up front.
Mixed Results in the Front Seven
Giving up 267 yards on the ground can make for some ugly grades up front. Yet, it was really a mixed bag up front and many of the big runs by the Patriots were the result of one or two major breakdowns, often at the linebacker level. DE Corbin Bryant (-1.5 run defense) was moved around at will early in the game while linebacker Kiko Alonso (-2.8 run defense) was too often taken out at the second level. Among the bright spots, DT Marcell Dareus made a quick impact after serving his first half suspension grading at +2.8 overall and fellow defensive tackle Stefan Charles (+2.5) continued to flash some potential on his 20 snaps. He led the team with five stops, including a sack, as he makes a case for a roster spot heading into next season.
Thaddeus Shows Well
Making his fifth start of the season, Thad Lewis continued his previous trend of mixing in some nice throws with some bad ones. Throwing in some poor conditions, Lewis impressed with his throw in between the cornerback and the safety at the 8:04 mark of the first and his well-placed deep ball with 3:30 to go in the third quarter. Those are the types of throws that make you believe in Lewis as a potential starter, but he often pairs the good plays with some head-scratchers. Whether it was air-mailing a pass into the flat, fumbling in the pocket, or leaving a clean pocket and running into a sack, Lewis showed that he still has plenty of room to grow, but overall he was quite impressive and he should continue to stick as a backup in the league.
New England– Three Performances of Note
Blount Steals the Show
As mentioned, LeGarrette Blount was the story of the afternoon as he ran for 189 yards on 24 carries to grade at +3.0 overall and he added two kickoff returns for 145 yards and a +2.8 return grade. The only blemish was one fumble, perhaps due to the slippery weather. Blount forced seven tacklers to miss and he picked up 91 of his yards after contact. There were a number of plays that appeared destined to be a short gain, but Blount continued to move the pile to turn it into an eight or nine-yard effort. Other times, he was elusive enough that no one touched him, as was the case on his first touchdown at the 12:22 mark of the second quarter. The Patriots ran power to the left, but Blount found a cutback lane against the flow of the play and he hit the hole and was gone for a 36-yard score. He finished the day in style with a 35-yard run with 2:40 to go in the game as this time he patiently waited for the play to develop before hitting the hole, stiff-arming safety Jim Leonhard up the sideline, and taking it all the way to help clinch the bye for New England. It was an impressive all-around day for Blount.
Siliga Controls the Middle
The numerous injuries up front may have paved the way for the Patriots to discover DT Sealver Siliga who has played extremely well in recent weeks. He graded at +3.5 on the day, notching seven stops including a sack. He shed blocks and found the football throughout the game, usually controlling the guards, but he even got the best of Pears at the 10:22 mark of the second quarter. For the season, he’s grading at +6.6 on 221 snaps, with 14 stops in just five games. Siliga has become a huge part of the Patriots defensive line rotation and he’ll be a key player to watch come playoff time.
Strength at Tackle
A week ago it was the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line that had a strong day against the Baltimore Ravens, but this time it was offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon who led the way, grading at +3.6 and +4.1 respectively. They were both perfect in pass protection on 29 dropbacks while doing fine work in the running game. Solder often does his best work at the second level and he stayed true to form with a pancake of LB Nigel Bradham at the 12:54 mark of the first. Cannon graded at +1.6 as a run blocker as he sealed Bryant a number of times but also getting to the second level as he did against Alonso with 4:07 to go in the second quarter. The offensive tackles led the way on Sunday.
– Patriots DE Chandler Jones played 69 of 70 snaps in the game, bringing his season total to 1,141 for the season, most ever for defensive lineman since PFF started in 2008. Teammate Rob Ninkovich is second all-time with 1,114.
– Kiko Alonso played all 75 snaps Sunday and finished the season playing all 1,177 of the Bills’ defensive snaps.
– Thad Lewis graded at +2.6 in a clean pocket but only -2.2 when pressured.
PFF Game Ball
LeGarrette Blount was the best player on the field, grading at +3.0 overall and +2.8 as a returner.
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