Report Cards: Patriots - Bills

Rob Gronkowski (Rick Stewart/Getty)

The New England Patriots did well on offense, the Bills just did better... or did they. Here's how each team fared, broken down unit-by-unit. Final: Bills 34 - Patriots 31

PATRIOTS REPORT CARD vs. BILLS

   PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- You can't ignore the 387 yards and four touchdowns, great numbers to be sure, but the four interceptions by Brady proved costly. Other than WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski, no one else got actively involved in the passing game. Deion Branch finished without a catch. Brady needs to get others involved and seemed to miss go-to TE Aaron Hernandez.

   RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The good news is the Patriots got their first real look at Stevan Ridley, and he impressed with 44 yards on seven carries. The problem is BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead appear to be getting exposed the more they carry the ball. This experiment might be running out of steam. The Patriots didn't run the ball well enough to make the Bills respect them up front, and that'll be a problem down the road if things don't change.

   PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Too many big plays allowed by the secondary; it's become a theme these past few weeks, and this time the Patriots paid the price. Even with Kyle Arrington's two interceptions, the Patriots could not stop the big plays. Ryan Fitzpatrick had his way with the secondary, especially in the second half.

   RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Bills relied heavily on the passing game, but Fred Jackson came up with two big plays down the stretch with the team needed it most. The Patriots really couldn't make a stop in any facet of the game, and their fear of getting beat deep opened up some opportunities for Jackson on the game's final two drives.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- This was actually a strength for the Patriots. Stephen Gostkowski boomed six kickoffs into the end zone for touchdowns and the Patriots limited the Bills in the return game. They also got a solid performance from punter Zoltan Mesko, including a long of 57 yards.

   COACHING: C -- This is a tough call because it's hard to say whether the Patriots are too conservative defensively or if Bill Belichick is playing to the strengths (or, in this case, weaknesses) of his personnel. Either way, something must change, and if Belichick is being honest when he says it must be "coached better" in the aftermath of losses, then now is the time to switch things up and come up with a new plan defensively.


BILLS REPORT CARD vs. PATRIOTS


   PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Ryan Fitzpatrick found himself in a shootout with Tom Brady, and he won. Yes, Brady had 387 yards to Fitzpatrick's 369, the most ever by a Bills QB against a Bill Belichick defense. And Fitzgerald had two fewer TD passes, but more important, he had two fewer interceptions, and that was the primary difference. Fitzgerald was never sacked thanks to an offensive line that continues to surprise, and the receiving corps - most of whom no one outside Buffalo has even heard of - came up with big plays. Donald Jones topped 100 yards for the first time in his career, Stevie Johnson had 94 yards, David Nelson 84 yards, and RB Fred Jackson had 87. It was a startling performance by the entire unit against a defense that simply isn't very good.

   RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Jackson rushed for 74 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt and that was pretty much it for the run game, but it didn't matter. This was a game that was going to be decided through the air, and everyone knew it. Jackson broke a 21-yard run, and he scored on a one-yard plunge to tie the score in the fourth quarter. His greatest contributions came as a receiver, and as a pass protector. C.J. Spiller was hardly on the field and he had one carry for three yards.

   PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- What an interesting day it was for the secondary. It made four interceptions, which matched the total that Brady threw all of 2010. Two of the picks were great reads by George Wilson and Leodis McKelvin who made plays on the ball, something that has been lacking for the Bills. The other two came when a ball went off Danny Woodhead and Bryan Scott made a diving, acrobatic catch, and then Drayton Florence caught a deflected pass at the line and brought it back 27 yards for a go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter. On the negative side, there was no semblance of a pass rush, and because of that Brady was able to throw for 387 yards, and 217 of those yards were Wes Welker's responsibility. The Bills couldn't cover him and he caught 16 passes, the most ever against a Buffalo defense, while his yardage total was a Patriots record. Another big problem was TE Rob Gronkowski who had 109 yards and 2 TDs.

   RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Patriots have become a pass-happy team, but they did give the ground game a try, rushing 26 times for 108 yards. The Bills were pretty strong up front, though rookie Steven Ridley gave them trouble as he averaged 6.3 yards per rush including a 16-yarded right up the gut. But overall, the Bills were fine, showing once again that the league-worst rush defense in 2010 is vastly improved. Last season, the Pats topped 200 yards rushing in both victories over the Bills. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a nonfactor with 16 yards on nine carries.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Rian Lindell made one of the most important kicks of his career, a last-play 28-yarder that ended New England's 15-game winning streak over the Bills. He also made a 42-yarder in the first half. Punter Brian Moorman had a nice day, averaging 44.4 net (50.6 gross) on five punts with two dropping inside the 20. The coverage units were fine, but C.J. Spiller returned two punts and one kickoff for a total of 36 yards, which has to improve.

   COACHING: A -- Chan Gailey got the best of Bill Belichick, and that's the bottom line. It was Belichick's team that looked unusually disorganized and undisciplined in the second half as the Pats blew a 21-0 lead. Gailey called a terrific offensive game, and he proved once again that he really has a nice feel for his players and what they can do. On defense, coordinator George Edwards played nickel almost the entire game, knowing Brady would be passing, and while Brady produced a huge yardage total and had four TDs, the Bills picked him off four times, and some of that was just good technique by the Bills' DBs.

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