Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton (18) throws a pass against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots started their bye week early as they faced the Buffalo Bills in week seventeen with nothing to play for having already secured a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They looked like a team not playing for anything as New England had a number of players such as Rob Gronkowski, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Browner, Sebastian Vollmer, and Julian Edelman not suiting up this week.
The Patriots struggled on both sides of the ball and had uncharacteristic penalties and big returns allowed on special teams. The Bills jumped out to any early lead against little defensive pressure from New England. The New England offense was lethargic and seemingly not interested in playing. It may be a bye week for the Patriots, but head coach Bill Belichick is going to have plenty of film to review and whip the team into fighting shape by the time the divisional round of the playoffs rolls around after the 19-7 loss.
Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass against the Buffalo Bills in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
With most of the defense active other than starting inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Brandon Browner the first drive of the game was an embarrassment as Darrelle Revis got beat for a 43-yard catch-and-run to rookie Sammy Watkins, Patriots cast-off back-up tight end Lee Smith grabbed an 18-yard catch, and then the defense forgot to cover wide receiver Robert Woods as the Bills went right down the field.
Kyle Orton continued to click on the Bills second drive of the game as he found tight end Scott Chandler for 19 yards. On third down and two at mid-field the Patriots moved Orton out of the pocket with pressure from Rob Ninkovich who was working against rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson and beat him but could not get Orton down. Fortunately, he made a bad pass to running back Fred Jackson when he had Sammy Watkins coming back wide open on the right sideline but did not look his way.
Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon started on the offensive line, Brandon Bolden started at running back, Danny Amendola at slot receiver, and Michael Hoomanawanui started at tight end. The offense was unable to convert on third-and-one and went three-and-out. On their next drive they attacked downfield getting their initial first down of the game on a completion to Brian Tyms. They got another third-down conversion to Brandon LaFell on a crossing route for 27 yards.
There were some bad plays such as Ryan Wendell being beat by Bills backup defensive end Jarius Wynn and allowing a clear run at Brady. He got rid of it to backup tight end Steve Manieri who reprised his stone hands from the preseason as the converted tackle simply dropped the pass. Fortunately, another Tyms reception converted the third-and-eight. Rather than third-and-three, a Nickell Robey unnecessary roughness penalty after a scuffle with Danny Amendola put the Patriots at first-and-goal.
The seventy-nine yard drive stalled as the Patriots missed Rob Gronkowski in the red zone as Brady had to throw the ball away under pressure after the Bills secondary did a good job bracketing the New England receivers. The Patriots settled for a 24-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods (10) reacts after a touchdown catch against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
After their initial success throwing the ball on their initial drive the Bills went to the ground game to get the New England defense back in their base defense and then opened the second quarter throwing the ball again. After four straight runs to open the drive, the Bills went to the air three straight times to get 36 yards and get into the red zone again. On third-and-goal from the two-yard line and the Bills weak offensive line continued to push the Patriots defense around and Anthony “Boobie” Dixon rammed the ball in to give the Bills a 14-3 lead in the first half.
The Bills came out motivated with long touchdown drives on two of their first three drives simply controlling the line of scrimmage against the New England defense which was packed full of regular starters. The Bills had 189 total yards on their first three drives including 137 through the air and ten first downs. In response to the Bills scoring drive, the Patriots went right out with a three-and-out with a holding penalty by Ryan Wendell backing them up and a declined offensive pass interference call on Tyms putting the Patriots in a third-and-long situation that saw Brady throwing the ball away again in the face of pressure.
The Patriots defense finally made a play and–no surprise–it was second-year linebacker Jamie Collins. Collins burst through an attempted block by running back C.J. Spiller and initially missed Orton. He came back around and stripped the ball and in the ensuing scrum he emerged with it as well giving the Patriots great field position. New England took advantage of it by seeing tight end Tim Wright drop a fifteen-yard pass on first down.
On third-and-one Shane Vereen could not beat cornerback Corey Graham one-on-one in space to get the first down. Vereen acquitted himself by catching the fourth down pass to pick up nine yards. Guard Josh Kline was beaten by backup defensive end Stefan Charles’ bull-rush and the seven yard loss on second-and-three forced yet another field goal attempt after an incompletion as Gostkowski booted through a 44-yard attempt to cut the Buffalo lead to 14-6.
The Bills came right back as Marcus Thigpen almost broke the kickoff all the way as Gostkowski had to push him out after he returned the kick 49 yards to the New England 47-yard line. The Bills converted another third-down as Fred Jackson was able to just get to the first down marker. On the next third-and-four Orton tested Revis who was all over Watkins and forced a 48-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter as Buffalo pushed their lead back up to 11 as they held a 17-6 lead with just over two minutes to play in the half.
The drops continued as a drop by Amendola was negated anyway by a holding penalty by Sebastian Vollmer who was called for holding as Jerry Hughes beat him around the edge. That killed the two-minute offense as the Patriots were content to head into the half down 17-6 and take their chances in the second half.
At the half it was all Bills as Orton was 11 of 15 for 143 yards and a touchdown and completing passes to 8 different receivers. The Bills rushed for 65 yards moving the ball just enough to be effective. For the Patriots, Brady was just 8 of 16 for 80 yards and they rushed for just 48 yards. Brady came out of the half without his helmet as it would be all Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. With just LaFell and Vereen as his regular receivers and another shuffled offensive line, the Patriots played much worse than expected on offense and defense.
Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (55) sacks New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Garoppolo took over in the third quarter and came out throwing finding Amendola on a crossing route before taking a sack on second down. On third-and-eight Garoppolo was flushed out of the pocket and had tight end Tim Wright running free coming off the line in protection but he threw it at his feet and the Patriots went three-and-out and punted again. Fortunately, a strong pass rush by Rob Ninkovich pushed Orton into a stunting Akeem Ayers for the Patriots second sack of the game and forcing a three-and-out by Buffalo.
Garoppolo engineered a drive behind some power running by LeGarrette Blount and a timely defensive holding penalty on cornerback Corey Graham on third down which negated a sack. Garoppolo did most of the damage with his feet on the drive as he struggled to set in the pocket and throw as the Bills brought pressure consistently. He did complete a nine yard pass on third-and-ten to LaFell to set up a fourth-and-one at the Buffalo 13-yard line.
New England ran Garoppolo around the left end to try and pick-up the first down but lost yardage and turned the ball over. The New England defense stepped up stopping running back Fred Jackson on a draw on third down to force a punt. A 26-yard return by Amendola set-up New England in Buffalo territory. Garoppolo started the drive with a 20-yard completion to LaFell but the drive stalled and Gostkowski tacked on three more points to make it 17-9 as the third quarter wound down to less than a minute.
Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
A strong defensive stand for the Patriots to start the fourth quarter as more backups stepped in on defense. On third-and-one from the New England 43-yard line the defense stood-up running back Anthony Dixon at the line of scrimmage to force a punt.
New England opened their initial drive of the fourth quarter with starting left tackle Nate Solder on the sidelines with a knee injury thrusting rookie Cameron Fleming into the lineup and pushing Marcus Cannon to left tackle. Garoppolo found LaFell while under heavy pressure for 14 yards. Garoppolo showed his elusiveness and patience in the pocket as he escaped pressure twice eluding Jerry Hughes and scrambling for a first down to extend the drive on his second scramble.
The Bills appeared to have stopped the Patriots as Garoppolo threw incomplete to tight end Tim Wright who took a big hit from Buffalo cornerback Ron Brooks. Brooks was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a hit on a defenseless receiver. The Bills defense stepped up with a big 15-yard sack on Garappolo and a holding penalty set-up a third-and-36 pushing them back to their own side of the field. Garoppolo got 14 back but the Patriots were forced to punt it away again with 5:35 left to play in the game.
The Bills were able to convert a first down and run the clock down inside the two-minute warning before punting, but Garoppolo threw incomplete on third down and fourth down to let Buffalo take the victory formation in Foxboro, MA for the first time in a decade and a half as the Bills won in New England 17-9.