Thirty-seven thoughts on the Patriots’ win over the Bills …
1. If Duron Harmon is often the Patriots’ defensive closer with his knack for late-game interceptions, then Dion Lewis, at least this week, can be called offensive closer (this is Tom Brady’s role most weeks, of course). Lewis scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter – a 12-yard reception and a 4-yard run – to turn a tight 23-16 game into a 37-16 victory that was not the blowout the score suggests.
2. Lewis finished with a season-high 24 carries for 129 yards, picking up more of the workload with James White and Rex Burkhead both sidelined.
3. Over the last five games, Lewis has 82 carries for 477 yards, a 5.8 average per carry. If any future opponent looks at the Patriots and doesn’t believe they have a top-notch feature back on the roster, they’re in for a rude awakening.
4. So much for Bills vengeance. The concern that Buffalo would cheap-shot Rob Gronkowski as payback for his dirty hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White three weeks ago never materialized. I suppose that’s a tribute to the Bills, too.
5. The Bills played a tough game for three quarters and didn’t let the game devolve into a mess at any point. At 8-7, they’re on the outside looking in right now in the playoff race, but I’d like to see them get in. They looked like a professional operation Sunday, one trending the right way.
6. Gronkowski finished with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, and seemed to get more shots in on the Bills than they did on him. Bills defensive back Micah Hyde had to leave the game for a bit after he ended up with Gronk’s cleat marks on his torso after tackling him by the legs.
7. Had no idea of this until Jim Nantz mentioned it late in the broadcast, but the Bills’ last playoff game – the famed Music City Miracle – occurred 19 days before the Patriots hired Bill Belichick after his brief, memorable stay as HC of the NYJ.
8. That, my friends, is a playoff drought. But that’s what you get for choosing Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie to start a big game.
9. Whenever the history-altering Tuck Rule application in the Snow Bowl has come up over the years, my response has always been that it was the correct interpretation of a stupid rule. Said the same thing about the “surviving the ground’’ silliness last week on Jesse James’s catch that wasn’t a catch by the letter of the law. The league’s most absurd rules have benefitted the Patriots at times, no doubt.
10. But the perception from 31 other fanbases that the Patriots get all the breaks will certainly be enhanced by a call that went their way Sunday. Late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 13-10, Kelvin Benjamin made a terrific toe-tapping catch in the right corner of the end zone that initially looked like a 4-yard touchdown reception.
11. It was ruled on the field as a catch, and CBS’s replays were inconclusive. It should have stood up. But it was overturned by the suits in New York upon replay, and the Bills had to settle for a field goal.
12. The call benefitted the Patriots, but it’s a pretty lousy thing for football in general. It’s almost like the officials think we enjoy watching them cut through red tape more than we do actual football.
13. The Patriots also had a call overturned on replay when Lewis initially appeared to fall short of a conversion on fourth down. That was the correct call, however – Lewis had stretched out the football past the first down marker before his knee was down. Not a lot of breaks going the Bills way in this one, though.
14. On the Patriots first possession, Brady missed Jacob Hollister on third and 7 with a throw that nearly led him into a head-on collision with a couple of Bills defensive backs. Good thing he got low.
15. Then on the Patriots second possession, Brady found Hollister for 4 yards, with five Bills on the scene to take him down in an especially unfriendly way. Gronk’s understudy probably picked up a few bruises on his behalf.
16. Phillip Dorsett flashed some fancy footwork for a 24-yard gain down the sideline on the Patriots’ second possession. The former first-round pick hasn’t done much (8 catches, 144 yards entering Sunday) since coming over from the Colts for Jacoby Brissett, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a Bethel Johnson-style out-of-nowhere big play before the postseason is over.
17. Dorsett’s big-gainer was just his fifth catch in the last eight weeks. It was followed immediately by Mike Gillislee’s first carry since October. Two plays later, Jacob Hollister picked up 5 yards on a carry. The Patriots were using so many players that I half expected Bam Childress and Brian Tyms to show up in the passing game.
18. Gillislie later scored his fifth touchdown of the season. That’s more in nine games than James White and Danny Amendola have this season, and as many as Dion Lewis had entering the game.
19. Travaris Cadet, another one of those players who seemed to be on and off the Patriots roster for several years, suffered a gruesome injury late in the second quarter. It was a sign of the severity of the injury – and perhaps a sign of respect from his time as a Patriot – that several Patriots went over to acknowledge him as he was being carted off the field.
20. The Patriots’ willingness to utilize the depth chart creatively is impressive. But there wasn’t a lot of early action for the elite players on the Patriots offense. Gronkowski had just one catch through the first 21 minutes, while Brandin Cooks didn’t have a touch. Through the same span, Lewis had 7 touches for a total of 23 yards.
21. But it was the Patriots’ best offensive players who fueled the touchdown drive that tied it at 10 midway through the second quarter. Lewis, who is not a “little guy’’ as Jim Nantz called him, but a vertically-challenged truck, weaved his way to a first down on a second-and-10 carry from the Buffalo 27.
22. On the next play, Brady found Gronkowski for a 17-yard touchdown, with Gronk plucking it out of the air with one of his Hulk-sized mitts while simultaneously making sure he got his feet inbounds. It was a remarkable play, and one that came as no surprise whatsoever given who made it.
23. Brady wasn’t sharp for much of the first half. He missed Gronk down the seam and an open Cooks deep down the sideline, though he did go right back to the latter for a 44-yard pass interference call. His worst throw was picked off by Jordan Poyer and returned for a touchdown and a 10-3 Bills lead.
24. Brady has now thrown interceptions in five straight games, tied for his career-long streak. And CBS had an especially starting stat: Over the last five games, he’s thrown one touchdown and six interceptions on third down. If he wasn’t so spectacular down the stretch against Pittsburgh, I might be worried.
25. Always strange to see Brandon Tate and get the reminder that he’s still in the league, eight seasons after the Patriots drafted him in the third round in 2009. Tate has 70 catches for 1,095 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns in his career. Or basically the equivalent of a slightly-below average season of the Patriots’ seventh-round pick that same year, Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman.
26. I’ve got questions about the front seven on the Patriots’ defense going forward, but they had their moments in the first half, including a couple of impressive plays by Marquis Flowers. He chased down and sacked Taylor to prevent the Bills from converting a fourth and 2 from the Patriots 6. He also sacked Taylor near midfield on the Bills’ final drive of the first half. They were his first two sacks of the season.
27. The Patriots did limit the Bills to three field goals in the Bills’ four red zone opportunities, though the Benjamin catch theoretically should have made Buffalo one-for-four. It’s a different game if the Bills convert a couple of those 3-pointers into 7-pointers.
28. In the Patriots’ 23-3 win over the Bills three weeks ago, Buffalo didn’t have anyone with more than 22 receiving yards over the entire game. Deonte Thompson had 87 yards in the first half alone.
29. Having seen Tyrod Taylor twice in the last three weeks, I can see why he can be productive and exasperating at once. He makes some incredibly athletic plays, but also holds the ball a split-second too long when a receiver gets open.
30. In other words, when Tony Romo says the Bills are headed the right way and should be a contender with a couple of tweaks, I suspect he means one of the tweaks is finding an upgrade on Taylor.
31. Very interesting to hear Romo predict that Josh McDaniels will take a head coaching job in the offseason, and not because there’s some perception around here that he’s in line to be Belichick’s successor. That’s my theory, anyway.
32. But as we’ve learned in listening to Romo through his first season in the booth, his predictions are better than educated guesses. Often he knows something before he shares them.
33. One reason I like Romo as analyst: He actually seems to be a genuine sports fan.
34. During Sunday’s broadcast he referenced Gale Sayers (after a weaving LeSean McCoy run), the 1979 Magic/Bird showdown in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (during an appreciation of Dick Enberg), Michael Jordan’s personal trainer (when Nantz brought up the Alex Guerrero situation), and Kevin McHale’s post moves (CBS has a production crew member by the same name).
35. Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals and added four extra points. This is probably the first time I’ve ever accounted for a kicker’s stats during one of these X-number-of-thoughts in-game columns, but this is notable, honest.
36. His final extra point was his 150th point of the season, the fifth time he has hit the milestone in his career. That serves as a reminder that if Gostkowski stays at this level for a couple more years, he has a good chance of ending up in the top-five scorers in league history.
37. It’s also a reminder of how much kicking has changed through the years. When Mark Moseley won the NFL Most Valuable Player award in 1982, the Redskins kicker finished with 161 points. Gostkowski could conceivably surpass that next week in the season finale, and it would be a joke if he got MVP consideration.