By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- It was not pretty in the least. For most of the 60 minutes, it was a slog. But the Patriots did enough to win -- and win on the road, against a divisional opponent -- on Monday night in Buffalo.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the game was still up for grabs. But the Patriots made a sequence of plays to put the game away and put a final score on the board that made it seem like a blowout.
Here are the Four Ups and the Four Downs from an uneven performance in Orchard Park -- though, on this night, we're going to fudge the numbers a bit.
Kyle Van Noy
The New England offense was lacking on this night, and though the defense was doing its job, the Patriots only led 9-6 late in the third. They needed a little extra from the D.
Kyle Van Noy provided that when he burst past left tackle Dion Dawkins and delivered a jarring blow on quarterback Derek Anderson to force a fumble on the sack.
Patrick Chung recovered the fumble, converting the first turnover of the game for either team.
On a short field, the Patriots did have to settle for a field goal on the resulting drive. But the Patriots ended the game on a 16-0 run after that turnover. It was, as they say, the turning point of the football game.
Van Noy added a sack in the closing minutes to ensure that the Bills didn't add to the scoreboard. On a night when Dont'a Hightower was inactive, Van Noy recorded eight tackles, seven of which were solo tackles, as a key contributor to a massive defensive effort.
Perhaps next time he plays on Monday Night Football, the play-by-play announcer will know how to pronounce his name.
Part of that aforementioned 16-0 run was the biggest play of the game, turned in by defensive captain Devin McCourty.
With 6:09 left in the fourth quarter, the Bills were still alive in this game, as they only trailed by 12 points. They had driven all the way to the Patriots' 30-yard line when McCourty broke their backs.
The veteran safety dropped back into coverage, read Anderson's eyes, and broke in front of tight end Charles Clay. McCourty made the interception at full speed and returned it 84 yards for the score.
That pick-six broke a stretch of 40 consecutive games without a touchdown for the Patriots' defense.
McCourty's play was the highlight for a defensive backfield that played a solid game. Jason McCourty made five tackles and broke up a pass in the end zone, Stephon Gilmore broke up two passes while only giving up one long reception to Kelvin Benjamin, and Patrick Chung broke up a pass on a reverse flea flicker on Buffalo's opening drive of the game.
With just two active Patriots running backs in this game, the game plan focused heavily on the passing game. James White, as he tends to be, was a major part of that plan.
White led the Patriots with 10 receptions, picking up 79 yards, and he also scored the Patriots' only offensive touchdown of the night with a one-yard run in the fourth quarter.
That wasn't White's biggest play, though. That title belongs to the catch-and-run he made on a third-and-8 at midfield earlier on that touchdown drive. Without any deep options, Tom Brady threw to White in the open field and let the running back do the rest. White casually slipped the would-be tackle of Julian Stanford to turn a five-yard reception into a nine-yard gain.
Without that play, the Patriots would have punted the ball back to Buffalo in a 12-6 game. Instead they drove down the field and scored.
Julian Edelman had his first JULIAN EDELMAN performance of the season.
He caught nine passes (on 10 targets), and six of those nine passes moved the chains for New England. That included a 26-yard reception on a third-and-6 from the New England 19-yard line to keep that touchdown drive alive.
Edelman also rushed for 13 yards on two carries, including a six-yard gain on a third-and-2 on a drive that ended in a field goal.
"He played good. I mean he's got such great awareness and instincts in the middle part of the field," Brady said after the win. "He made some other plays for us, he blocks a lot, does a lot of dirty work. It's just great having him out there."
Yeah, it's a Fifth Up, technically, but we can't ignore this performance.
Brady had to throw the ball 45 times. Roughly three of those were obviously inaccurate, leading to Twitter lighting up with critics of the quarterback. But on a night when he was under siege from an aggressive pass rush, Brady was his normal self, accounting for 332 of the Patriots' 387 yards. He also threw his body in the way of Lorenzo Alexander to make a block on that Edelman third-down conversion run, and he scrambled and took off for an eight-yard gain on a third-and-7 in the first quarter, a run that ended with a headfirst dive.
Brady also set up the lone touchdown drive with a bullet to Edelman for a gain of 26, and a picture-perfect back shoulder throw to Chris Hogan for 20 yards to put the Patriots on the 1-yard line.
Brady has now beaten the Bills 29 times. No quarterback has ever beaten any team more times.
With only two active running backs, wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson assumed a bigger role in the running game. He rushed for 38 yards on 10 carries, including a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter. ... Trey Flowers made two huge plays on consecutive snaps early, tackling LeSean McCoy in the backfield on one play and then batting down a pass at the line on the next. ... Stephen Gostkowski did miss a 50-yard field goal, but he also accounted for 13 of the Patriots' 25 points with four field goals and a PAT. ... Rob Gronkowski made a tremendous catch, getting his arms above tight coverage and securing the football while tapping both feet down before going out of bounds to set up the Patriots with a red-zone opportunity.
It was not a banner showing for the offensive line. Brady was sacked twice and had to throw the ball away a number of times. The issues were most pronounced in the red zone. On the Patriots' first field goal drive, Trent Brown allowed a strip sack (David Andrews recovered) on a second-and-goal, and LaAdrian Waddle allowed a pressure that forced a throwaway on third-and-goal.
Right guard Shaq Mason suffered a calf injury that forced him out of the game, as well.
Red Zone Offense
The Patriots did score 25 points, but nine of those points came directly off turnovers. While the Bills' defense is good, the Patriots' execution in the red zone was just not good enough.
The had a first-and-goal at the Buffal 5 in the first quarter, and ended up kicking a field goal. They stalled out at the 23-yard line on their next drive, settling for a field goal. And after a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line in the third quarter, they again settled for a field goal after a run for no gain, a missed connection to White, and a throwaway on third down.
It wasn't a great evening for the punter, who's now turned in a number of somewhat questionable performances in recent weeks.
His first punt on Monday went just 34 yards, downed on the Buffalo 32-yard line. His second punt traveled 55 yards, but the line-drive trajectory made it difficult for the coverage unit to get downfield. Micah Hyde was able to turn in an easy 31-yard return.
On his next punt, kicking from near midfield, Allen's punt came down on the Buffalo 18-yard line. And his last punt, which came on a fourth down from the New England 39-yard line, traveled just 31 yards to the Buffalo 30-yard line.
It was a windy night in Buffalo, but with that punt through the end zone from the Chicago 33-yard line last week still fresh in mind, the punter may need to resharpen his tools moving forward.
Josh Gordon dropped a deep ball from Brady on the opening drive, and then dropped another pass (albeit on an underthrow) on the second drive. ... The Buffalo Bills. That organization has to really be kicking itself after having to start Derek Anderson in this game. He was playing golf a month ago, hoping to compete in some amateur events. Now he's trying to run an NFL offense on national TV. It's not working out.
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