Three things we learned in the Patriots' 23-3 victory over the Bills Sunday in Orchard Park, New York:
Ground delivery — While there was some talk in the days leading up to the Patriots’ annual visit to Buffalo that the Bills might be able to keep New England’s defensive line off guard with the threat of running back LeSean McCoy, it was, instead, the Patriots’ running game that took off on Sunday. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead combined for 170 of New England’s 191 rushing yards in a 23-3 demolition of the Bills. The win that keeps the Patriots undefeated in the AFC East this season and, at 10-2, atop the AFC playoff push, awaiting Monday night’s showdown between the 9-2 Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. While Burkhead scored a pair of touchdowns, with 75 yards to boot, this game was further proof just how valuable Lewis can be when healthy. Running for 92 yards on 15 carries, including a game-long of 44-yards, Lewis helped keep the Patriots on an even level as quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the offense struggled in the first half. The Patriots are now a staggering 27-2 when he’s in the lineup. Based on the performances in Buffalo, probably an easy guess that former Bills running back Mike Gillislee, who scored three touchdowns in his debut with the Patriots in the 2017 season-opener, will likely be another healthy scratch next Monday night in Miami.
Better and better and… — Remember when the Patriots’ defense stunk? It’s becoming harder and harder to remember those days earlier this season, particularly after yet another strong performance in Buffalo, where former Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore continued to shine in the second half of the season with a handful of stellar plays on his old turf. He wasn’t the only former Bill to haunt his former team, as Eric Lee, whom the Patriots plucked off the Bills’ practice squad just last week, had a key interception on the Bills’ first drive of the game, and added a sack along with three tackles on the day. It’s certainly been a steady, but dramatic improvement for Matt Patricia’s defense, which allowed an average of 461 yards per game in September, worst in the NFL. In November, the 301.3 the defense allowed was ninth in the league. On Sunday in Buffalo, the New England defense kicked off December by giving up only 268 yards to the challenged Bills.
The ugly — It wasn’t all pretty during the win. Rob Gronkowski might even be looking at a suspension for his stupid cheap shot on rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White after intercepting Brady in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski had 147 yards receiving, the most he’s had this season, and was a complete turnaround in the second half, as was the rest of the New England offense. Brady had a rough go of it in the first half, completing 8 of 14 passes for a mere 96 yards as his team went into the locker room with just a 9-3 lead. He was sacked three times by the Bills defense, and was visibly upset with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during the first quarter of the game, after failing to convert on a third-and-11. Brady threw for 258 yards on the day, without a touchdown and the interception. Not the strongest day for the player who should be NFL MVP, but it’s still all good enough for a 14th-consecutive road win for the Patriots nonetheless.