Here are 23 thoughts on the Patriots’ 23-3 victory over the Bills Sunday in Buffalo.
1. Milestones continue to be the result of the grind. For the second straight week, the Patriots took their share of lumps in a physical victory over an outclassed but combative AFC East opponent. Last Sunday it was a 35-17 win over the Dolphins that was more tense than the final score suggests. This Sunday? A 23-3 win over the Bills, who are probably the (distant) second-best team in the division. Buffalo kept it close for a half, limiting the Patriots to three field goals in the first half.
2. But Tom Brady, under siege yet again, led the Patriots on two touchdown drives in the third quarter, a couple of ex-Bills (Stephon Gilmore and newcomer Eric Lee) led a stout defense, and there was credit to be distributed all over the depth chart. As Tony Romo put it almost offhandedly late in the broadcast, “They’ve got so many guys who do so many different things.’’
3. Even though it was an imperfect victory – seriously, they must start protecting Brady better — we’re left to count the achievements in the postgame aftermath once again. The victory was the Patriots’ eighth in a row and 14th straight on the road. It was Brady’s 27th against the Bills, the most any quarterback has ever had against a single opponent. And it was the team’s 10th of the season, their 15th straight. Only the 49ers of 1983-98 have hit double-figures in wins in more consecutive seasons.
4. The Patriots’ game plan in the second half could have been titled Wait, We Have Gronk? Well, Dang, Why Aren’t We Using Him Then? Brady went to him on the first play of the third quarter, an 11-yard catch negated by a cheapo offensive pass interference call. (Ex-Patriot Leonard Johnson didn’t even flinch when Gronk initiated contact.)
No matter. Brady found him three more times on that drive, for 19, 16, and 15 yards, the 19-yarder coming on third and 11.
5. Gronkowski took the ball away from Bills defensive back Tre’Davious White on a 31-yard catch in the third quarter. I’d call it a 50-50 ball, but when Gronk is one of two players with a shot at it, it’s more like an 85-15 ball. Maybe 90-10. He finished with 9 catches for 147 yards.
6. It wasn’t a quintessential Gronk performance, though. He had four penalties in the second half, including some sort of wrestling move (the Peoples’ Elbow, perhaps?) in which he dove onto White during a scrum in the fourth quarter. Romo suggesting he might be suspended for that was a bit much, but it’s rare to see Gronk’s Bills Mafia roots showing through like that.
7. After missing an open Brandin Cooks to stall a drive in the first half, Brady yelled at Josh McDaniels like he was wearing a Joey Galloway jersey. You suspect McDaniels had the nerve to point out there that the mistake was Brady’s, while Brady probably didn’t want to hear it given that he’d been publicly assaulted by the Bills defense so far to that point.
8. I suppose the coach and the coordinator yelling at each other is a topic that will kill some time on sports radio Monday in between fat-loss testimonials. But for Patriots fans, it’s a point of bemusement. Angry Brady is always fascinating to watch. And we know the frustration in the moment never lingers to become a feud or a grudge. Sometimes your parents might yell at each other, kids, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
9. In general, if not on that particular play, Brady had a right to be furious. After getting roughed up by the dirty Dolphins last week, the Bills began the siege anew on Sunday. In the first half, Brady was hurried seven times, knocked down six, and sacked thrice. He finished the half just 8 of 14 for 96 yards.
10. Can’t imagine I was the only one surprised that Dion Lewis’s 44-yard run in the second quarter was the longest of his career. It seems like he breaks one of that approximate length every third week or so, though we’re probably juxtaposing his long kick returns into memory there.
11. Walter Payton retired three years before Lewis was born. Payton died when Lewis was 9 years old. I have no idea if Lewis is familiar with Payton’s work, though all NFL running backs should be keenly aware of Sweetness’s legacy, of course. But I know this much: Lewis’s you’re-gonna-taste-the-turf-now stiff arm of Bills safety Jordan Poyer was straight out of an NFL Films tribute to Payton.
12. Over the last three games, Lewis has 40 carries for 264 yards, an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Good thing that chatter early in the season that the Patriots might trade him proved to be nothing but the secondhand smoke from the rumor mill rather than any kind of fire.
13. He’s two games into his Patriots career, but Eric Lee is starting to look like he’s going to be the season’s version of Kyle Van Noy or Akeem Ayers – an in-season pickup who ends up being a genuine asset to the defense.
14. Lee, who was plucked off the Bills practice squad, had a sack last week against the Dolphins in his Patriots debut. Sunday, he had collected a sack and an interception before the first quarter was complete.
15. The pick, which he snagged at the New England 1-yard-line to thwart the Bills’ first possession, ended up being one the biggest plays of the game given the sputtering start for the Patriots offense. If Buffalo scores 7 there, who knows how the rest of the game plays out.
16. Jim Nantz, after Lee emerged in the Buffalo backfield again late in the fourth quarter: “Is it possible to be a Week 12 practice squad pickup and play in the Pro Bowl in the same year?’’
17. In his return to Buffalo, Gilmore continued his recent strong play, with a couple of pass breakups in the second half. The Patriots limited the Bills to just 115 yards passing, with Nathan Peterman going 6 of 15 for 50 yards in relief of Taylor. The Bills’ top receiver was Zay Jones with 22 yards.
18. Watching Stephen Gostkowski play the quiet hero in the first half, with three drive-salvaging field goals that allowed the Patriots to take a 9-3 lead into the break, got me thinking about his place among all-time kickers. He’ll rate second to Adam Vinatieri in Patriots lore, but when his career here is over, he may be one of the top 10 scorers in NFL history.
19. Gostkowski is 33 years old. From 2012-2015 he averaged approximately 154 points per season, and he may exceed that average this year. He has 122 points this year and 1,579 in his career. If he averages in the range of 140 points over the next four years, that will put him well over 2,000 career points and on the verge of passing Jason Hanson for fourth all-time, behind only Morten Andersen, Vinatieri, and Gary Anderson. It’s a long way down the road, but it’s feasible that he ranks among the NFL’s most accomplished kickers when he’s done.
20. I suppose I understand what the Bills don’t see in Tyrod Taylor. He throws a nice ball, but not always an accurate one, and he checks down so much you’d think he learned the offense from Trent Edwards’s leftover playbook. (Edwards’s nickname per his pro-football reference page is Captain Checkdown).
21. But he’s at least competent, a nuisance to try to contain and a quarterback whose caution if nothing else limits his turnovers. Even if the Bills don’t see him as the quarterback of the future, he’s at least a competent placeholder in the present for a team with postseason aspirations. I cannot understand why the Bills benched him for Peterman, a raw rookie.
22. Taylor is tough, too. He was injured on the first play of the game and could muster only 97 yards of offense (65 passing, 32 rushing) before he needed a cart to get off the field early in the fourth quarter.
23. Can’t decide which standard Sunday afternoon tweet from the assortment of Patriots reporters is my favorite: A picture of the cover of the program (look, they’re paying homage to Cam Cleeland this week!) or the “view from the press box’’ shot of the still-empty venue before the game. Let’s just say I love them both equally (and have been guilty of both).