Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Patriots Grind Down Bills 14-10

The Patriots bulldozed the Bills all night and came away with a 14-10 victory. The win puts them at 9-4, 1.5 games up on those same Bills for first place in the AFC East, and currently sitting with the #1 playoff position in the conference. Next up is the Bye week, followed by a Saturday night tilt in Indianapolis against the Colts.

I give the Pats full credit for the win last night. They understood the weather conditions (40-50mph winds) and adjusted accordingly, running 46 times and throwing just 3. They adjusted their blocking to get a few key chunk plays, and stayed committed to the ground game throughout.

What I don't agree with is the media coverage, calling this a brilliant coaching job or one of the best games ever coached by Bill Belichick. The better description I've read called it "unorthodox," and I think that's about right. A brilliant plan wouldn't have required a Bills missed field goal and a fourth-down play that could have cost you the game late.

I reserve "brilliant" for the 59-0 beatdown of Tennessee in the rain and snow, the 13-3 Super Bowl plan against the Rams, or the novel designs: the Bullseye (targeting Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl 36), the Amoeba (vs. Drew Bledsoe and Buffalo), or the Eligible Receiver deception used to beat the Ravens in the 2014 playoffs.

Not that I'm complaining about the win. I'll take that all week long and twice on Monday. It's just the media gushing over what seemed like a simple decision based on conditions. And I have a quibble with the plan -- they should have used five or six more play-action passes to defeat the Bills' 9- and 10-man fronts.

As for the game, the big guys up front on both sides were the real stars. The Patriots used six O-linemen for much of the game but still were able to run against those stacked fronts from Buffalo. The interior linemen were exceptionally good, and the receivers and blocking back Jacob Johnson sealed the edges and opened up just enough room to spring the backs.

222 yards on 46 carries only averages to 4.8 yards a carry. But those numbers are a lot better when you consider the Bills *knew* the run was coming and couldn't stop it often enough. Damien Harris led the team with 111 yards on 10 carries, including a 64-yard burst for the team's only touchdown. And when Harris left the game with a hamstring problem, Rhamondre Stevenson filled in capably with 78 yards on 24 tough runs.

And note: if the plan included wearing down the Bills defense it didn't accomplish that at all. If it had, their fourth quarter running stats wouldn't be six rushes for minus-2 yards (not including two Mac Jones kneel downs for minus-8 yards). The game nearly got away from the Pats as their offense finally sputtered in the fourth quarter and the Bills moved the ball seemingly at will down the stretch.

On defense, linemen Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy had great games, stuffing most runs for almost no gain and ending up with 10 and 4 tackles respectively. It's pretty uncommon for a Patriots interior lineman to total double-digit tackles, so kudos to Godchaux.

The linebackers played really well, especially Kyle Van Noy (mostly kept the Bills QB in the pocket and knocked down a key pass) and Ja'Whaun Bentley (eight tackles). Dont'a Hightower made some nice stops but also whiffed a few times and had a bad penalty that almost cost the Pats late.

The secondary did a nice job keeping everything in front of them. Given the conditions, short passes were on the menu, and safety Adrian Phillips and corner J.C. Jackson knocked down passes and forced errant throws. Though Myles Bryant came up with the game-saving pass knockdown on the Bills final play of the game.

Kicker Nick Folk was excellent, going 2 for 2 on field goals in really bad conditions, but Jake Bailey's kickoffs were short (even with the wind) and his punts were problematic, and N'Keal Harry botched a punt return and turned the ball over to the Bills. (Note: Buffalo scored their only touchdown on the next play.)

My only coaching complaint was the lack of play-action plays. Otherwise, the defensive game plan and calls were great, and the offensive adjustments were perfect.

Where does that leave us? 9-4 and riding a seven-game winning streak, the Pats are atop the AFC for the time being. They've got a week off before traveling to Indy for a Saturday game with the Colts, and then it's these same Bills again, this time in Foxboro. Life. Is. Good.

Biggest on-going concern: Injury concerns are starting to mount. Harris was gimpy, Kyle Duggar was in COVID protocol, Adrian Phillips was hurt near the end of the game, and Matthew Judon looked like he had a shoulder injury last night.

All of those might be fine in two weeks, but the concern remains until shown otherwise.

Non-QB MVP: Godchaux, who stuffed so many running plays that Butterball wants him for their turkeys next year!

Statistical oddity: This was the first NFL game of Mac Jones' career when he didn't get sacked... (LOL).

Water-cooler wisdom: "Meet the new boss! Same as the... I'll finish this later in the season."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-4!

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