The New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills 37-31 in a performance that could have easily gone the other way. As such, it is time to look at three players who helped guide the Pats to victory and two others who did not enjoy successful performances.
1. QB Tom Brady
Tom Brady was the MVP of the game, and he was one of the best quarterbacks this week. Two dropped passes in the end zone hurt his statistics, with the 34-yarder that bounced off of Wes Welker’s hands being the worst of the two. None of his wide receivers were truly good in this game, and Brady had to deal with a horrible game from WR Deion Branch (3.75 yards per attempt when throwing it at Branch).
In the end, Brady added 16.7 points to his team per the advanced statistic EPA, and he was extremely consistent in this game. Brady showed why he was clearly the best player on the field on Sunday, and it’s games like this that go overlooked by a national audience that show his value to this team. Brady has been the best quarterback in the AFC this season, and the gap between first and second (Ben Roethlisberger) this year has been pretty significant.
There are better ways to evaluate quarterbacks than by looking at completion percentage or passing yards.
2. RB Stevan Ridley
Maybe he could have done better against a usually poor Buffalo Bills run defense, but dealing with the word “maybe” is too tricky. Instead, let’s look at what Ridley actually did. He was a workhorse in this game and once again showed why he has become one of the feature backs in the NFL. Ridley was efficient in averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and his one-yard touchdown in the first quarter summarizes his performance; gritty.
The Patriots needed Ridley to consistently run the football well and help make things more manageable for Brady. The Pats were able to move the chains thanks to Ridley, and his 98 rushing yards were valuable in helping to combat the big rushing days from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
3. S Devin McCourty
Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to take a couple of shots deep in Devin McCourty’s direction, but he finished the game allowing just one reception. That means McCourty- the Patriots best DB even with Aqib Talib in the fold- had more turnovers than catches allowed. Terrific in coverage, McCourty’s fumble near the goal-line was one of the plays that saved the game for the Patriots. The other? His interception of Fitzpatrick to seal the deal near the end of regulation. Even though it came right at him, it was a result of good instincts and solid coverage.
The Patriots defense was poor in this game, but McCourty was one of the few players who wasn’t poor. He was excellent.
4. S Steve Gregory
It was a tale of two safeties for the New England Patriots, because Steve Gregory was as bad as I’ve ever seen a safety play for this team. He missed almost every tackle he attempted, and we all need to hope that it’s just a case of Gregory being rusty coming back from a hip injury. Otherwise, Patrick Chung had better return quickly and play at an effective level.
5. DE Rob Ninkovich
That was the worst performance of Rob Ninkovich’s young career, and he would like to forget it as quickly as possible. We’ve seen him get blanked as a pass rusher before, and that was disheartening in itself. However, the real disappointment for him was the fact that he got shoved around by the Buffalo Bills offensive line almost at will. He’s been one of the best 4-3 DEs against the run this season, but that effective play was nowhere to be seen on Sunday. It was likely an anomaly for him, but Ninkovich was graded -7.0 by the Pro Football Focus. I’ve never seen a grade that low for a DE.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.