PATRIOTS - BILLS: Report Cards

The win over the division rival Buffalo Bills has the New England Patriots feeling better about their chances to win the division. Tedy Bruschi proved to be the spark the defense needed, yet questions abound in all areas for this team. Will the players ever be truly healthy, or are the Patriots going to have to try to get back to the postseason missing a number of key players. Here are Scout's team grades unit-by-unit for both the Bills and the Patriots.

PHOTO: New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi (54) slaps hands with team owner Robert Kraft on the sidelines Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005, prior to his first game back after the stroke he suffered last February. The Patriots face the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

PATRIOTS - BILLS: Report Cards
By Site Staff


PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Tom Brady posted season lows in attempts (21), completions (14) and passing yards (199) and was sacked three times, tying his season high. One of the sacks caused a fumble that Buffalo turned into three points for a 16-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. Despite the negatives, Brady finished with his second-best passer rating (113.0) and was 7-of-8 for 118 yards in the second half. On the Patriots' two TD drives in the fourth quarter, he was a combined 4-of-4 for 69 yards. Overall, 10 of his completions went to just two players as David Givens (seven catches for 58 yards) and Deion Branch (3-92, TD) were pretty much the whole passing game.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Fullback Patrick Pass lost a fumble on a second-quarter play on which he suffered a leg injury that knocked him out for the rest of the game. Pass started at running back because Corey Dillon's ankle injury apparently hasn't healed completely. Dillon was forced into the game anyway when Pass went down, and he finished with solid numbers (18 carries for 72 yards). He was particularly effective in the red zone, scoring on a pair of 1-yard runs 1:34 apart in the fourth quarter. The Patriots averaged 4.2 yards per carry, the fourth straight game they have been over the 4.0 mark.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- Receiver Eric Moulds (nine catches for 125 yards) was a huge thorn in the Patriots' side, especially on his 55-yard TD in the third quarter. Big plays continue to plague the secondary. Moulds appeared to run away from cornerback Duane Starks down the middle, and free safety Eugene Wilson was late getting over. Thanks to Kelly Holcomb (20-of-33 for 263 yards, TD, INT), Buffalo cracked the 200-yard mark through the air for the first time this season. On the plus side, the Pats' secondary recorded its first INT (by Asante Samuel), LB Mike Vrabel made a key red zone save by knocking a sure TD out of the hands of TE Tim Euhus, and LB Rosevelt's Colvin's strip sack and fumble recovery in the fourth quarter set up the winning score.

RUN DEFENSE: C -- Willis McGahee rushed for 136 yards, averaged 4.4 yards per carry and had four runs of 10-plus yards, although the Patriots contained him well in the fourth quarter (8-21). Buffalo's running game (39-147) helped the Bills dominate in time of possession as they held the ball for 39 minutes, 20 seconds. Missing defensive end Richard Seymour hurt the Patriots' run defense, which has been spotty. New England has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the last four games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Terrence McGee came in leading the league in kickoff return average at 34.3 yards, but managed only a 22-yarder to start the game and a 0-yarder when he muffed the ball out of bounds in the third quarter. This was the fifth game in a row in which Patriots' opponents have failed to average more than 20 yards on kick returns. A foolish delay-of-game penalty cost the Patriots a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half when kicker Adam Vinatieri missed his second attempt, this one from 44 yards. Josh Miller had a fine night punting, putting three of his five kicks inside the 20. The Patriots' return game didn't do much.

COACHING: C -- Despite having two weeks to prepare, the Patriots were dominated for long stretches of the game and didn't get going offensively until the fourth quarter. The field-goal blunder at the end of the first half was inexcusable since they had a timeout remaining. They also had to burn two timeouts because they were late getting their third-down defense onto the field. The Patriots continue to display a never-say-die attitude, which reflects well on the coaches. But a lack of consistency remains a problem.


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The Bills, who had just four completions of 20 yards or longer entering the game, snapped out of their aerial slumber against a beaten up New England team missing numerous key players. QB Kelly Holcomb threw for a season-high 263 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown to WR Eric Moulds, one of three 20-plus yard plays for the game. Moulds (nine catches, 125 yards) had his first 100-yard game in 20 starts. However, it was the mistakes that occurred when Buffalo threw the ball that led to their 0-for-3 performance in the red zone and eventually fed New England's comeback from a 16-7 fourth-quarter hole. A sack and fumble by Holcomb when LB Rosevelt Colvin blew past OG Bennie Anderson helped spark the Patriots' rally when they scored 14 points in a 1:34 span of the fourth quarter. Later, while driving for the potential winning score, Moulds was flagged for offensive pass interference to negate a third-down conversion and Holcomb made a bad decision on fourth-and-eight at the Patriots 40-yard line to swing a pass out to Moulds when he was guarded by two men. He was tackled for no gain and New England was able to run off all but :03 of the final 1:56 to seal the victory. WR Lee Evans caught just one pass while being whistled for two penalties while TE Time Euhus dropped a touchdown pass.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Willis McGahee earned some Pro Bowl votes with 136 yards on 31 carries in the nationally televised game. After McGahee received just 16 carries in a road loss at Oakland, the coaches called his number all night long and it nearly produced a win as Buffalo controlled the clock for 39:20. Backup Shaud Williams chipped in some key plays in relief.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Patriots QB Tom Brady posted some modest numbers (14 of 21, 199 yards, 1 TD) but struck early and often with the big play to rally his team. CB Nate Clements was burned for a 33-yard TD from Brady to Deion Branch to open in the second half and Branch later hauled in catches of 37 yards and 22 yards to set up Dillon's two fourth-quarter touchdown dives. David Givens (seven catches, 58 yards) also had a productive night. The Bills had decent pressure on Brady, led by DE Aaron Schobel, who ate up rookie LT Nick Kaczur for two sacks. But it wasn't enough.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Patriots finished with just 93 yards rushing, but 62 came after halftime when Corey Dillon was pressed into more duty following a leg injury to Patrick Pass. Dillon responded with 18 carries for 72 yards and two short touchdown runs. Not enough big plays from linebackers London Fletcher, Jeff Posey and Angelo Crowell.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Rian Lindell was solid, making three out of four field goals including a 41-yarder. Terrence McGee, the NFL's leading kickoff return specialist, was held in check with just two returns for 22 yards. He also fumbled a kickoff out of bounds. Penalties were costly.

COACHING: C-plus -- Mike Mularkey and his staff did a good job of having their team ready for a game that would've giving Buffalo first place in the AFC East at their bye. They ran the ball, they controlled the clock, they threw the ball down field, they created pressure and came up with takeaways on defense. But opportunistic New England made them pay at crunch time, showing why they've won three of the past four Super Bowls and showing why Buffalo hasn't won the division since 1995 or made the playoffs since 1999.


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