The New England Patriots clinched a first round bye this past Sunday, after they dismantled the Buffalo Bills by a score of 34-20. It shouldn’t have been this close, as there were multiple times where the Pats should have closed it out, but eventually they got it done, and it resulted in them getting the second seed in the AFC.
Here are the game grades.
Passing Offense: B-
This group didn’t do much largely because they didn’t have to. The ground attack carried the offense throughout the contest, taking a lot of pressure off of Brady, and the rest of the passing offense. Julian Edelman was pretty much the only guy Brady threw to, as he hauled in nine catches for 65 yards. This performance pushed him over the 100 catch and 1,000 yard benchmark, as he capped off what was a terrific 2013 campaign. The offensive line actually played pretty well, giving up only one sack against a team that came into this game with the most sacks in the league.
Rushing Offense: A+
LeGarrette Blount stole the show in this game, as his performance was really something special. Blount carried the ball 24 times, gained 189 yards, and scored two touchdowns. Blount is a very powerful back, and when he runs hard, and hits the hole right, he is extremely tough to bring down. He has been running very well over the last couple of weeks, and the emergence of him in the backfield could help the Patriots make a deep playoff run. Overshadowed by Blount’s performance was a solid game put forth by Stevan Ridley, as he gained 74 yards on 12 carries. And on a day where a lot of different guys fumbled the football, Ridley stood strong, and didn’t cough it up once. This was definitely an encouraging sight for Pats fans, because if Ridley can hold onto the ball in conditions like that, then he should be able to do it just about anywhere.
Pass Defense: B-
The absence of Devin McCourty hurt this secondary, as they gave up quite a few big plays in this one. Duron Harmon is a quality backup safety, but he is no McCourty. T.J. Graham and Robert Woods beat the Pats deep a few times, and you have to wonder if that would have happened if McCourty was in the back end, manning the defense. But other than that, this was a solid overall game for this unit. The linebackers did struggle a little bit with Scott Chandler and the running backs, but the improved play of the pass rush helped negate their impact. Chandler Jones led the charge, as they sacked Thad Lewis four times, and got six quarterback hits. While the front four was inconsistent in getting after the quarterback this year, they did put together a solid season, as they finished fifth in the league in sacks. This will come in handy over the next few weeks, especially if they meet up with a guy named Manning, who loves to throw the football.
Run Defense: C+
The Bills came into this game boasting one of the best rushing attacks in the league, as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both received touches out of the backfield. Considering the injuries that they have been dealing with in the middle, I don’t think the Patriots run defense played too bad. Yes, they could have done better, and they definitely will have to in the playoffs, but it also could have been much worse. Buffalo 169 yards on 35 carries, which seems like a lot after New England played so well in middle over the last couple of games. Over the last few games, one huge positive has been the play of Sealver Siliga. After Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down, the Pats were looking for someone to replace their big bodies in the middle, and they may have found him in Siliga. He can take on a lot of blocks, which opens up opportunities for others to make the play, and he also has shown that he can get into the backfield, and bust up the play before it even begins. Look for Siliga’s snap count to continue its rise in the playoffs, because stopping the run in January is the number one key to getting to the Super Bowl.
Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski made all four field goals he attempted, as he finished off what should have been a Pro-Bowl worthy season. But LeGarrette Blount once again stole the show, as his two big kick returns helped New England close this game out. Blount first had an 83 yard return, and he followed that up with a nice 62 yard run back. An explosive kick returner is something that has been missing in New England for a long time, but they may have found one in Blount. He is a big guy, so it is tough to bring him down, but once he gets going, he is surprisingly fast. I hope to see Blount back returning kicks throughout the upcoming playoffs, as far too often we see a special teams play change the game, and maybe this year the Pats will be the team that gets a lift from its special teams.
And Tom Brady punted. What can’t this guy do?