Week 14: PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS.BUFFALO BILLS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Playing on a sore leg and in snowy conditions, Tom Brady posted his first 300-yard passing game (329 yards) since Week 5 in Atlanta. He threw two red-zone interceptions, but the second one clanged off the hands of RB Mike Cloud. Brady hit seven different receivers and even completed a left-handed shovel pass to RB Corey Dillon. Brady showed great touch (most notably on a 15-yard completion to RB Kevin Faulk that he dropped in over a defender) and had great zip on his passes. He hooked up with WR Troy Brown and TE Christian Fauria on his touchdowns.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- For the second straight week the Patriots established a season high in rushing yards, this time cranking out 159 on a season-high 41 attempts. Dillon (22 carries for 102 yards) went over the 100-yard mark for only the second time this year. (He had 106 yards against the Falcons in Week 5.) Dillon was stuffed for minus-1 and minus-4 yards on his first two attempts before heating up. The best sign was how hard he ran. On his 21-yard burst up the middle in the first quarter, he gained 9 yards after first contact.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Bills QB J.P. Losman threw a 58-yard pass to Lee Evans in the first quarter and gained 76 yards on his last two passes in garbage time. On his other attempts he was 7-of-24 for 47 yards. Losman, under pressure all day, was sacked twice and threw three interceptions. Entering the game, opposing quarterbacks had combined for only six interceptions against the Patriots all season. On third down, the Patriots limited Losman to 2-of-8 passing for 9 yards and an interception.
RUN DEFENSE: A-plus -- For the second straight game, the Patriots dismantled an opposing running back. One week after holding Curtis Martin of the Jets to 29 yards on 15 carries (1.9-yard average), the Patriots limited Buffalo's Willis McGahee to 3 yards on eight carries (0.4-yard average). McGahee had rushed for 136 yards in the last meeting. The Bills' 14 rushing yards were the second fewest ever allowed by the Patriots. Only the 1961 Chargers (2 yards in the season finale) had a worse day on the ground against the Pats.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- The Patriots allowed three long returns, but one of them (Terrence McGee's 63-yard kick return) was nullified by a penalty, and the other two (Roscoe Parrish's 43-yard punt return and McGee's 33-yard kick return) came in fourth-quarter garbage time. Adam Vinatieri did not attempt a field goal, and punter Josh Miller (36.0-yard average, 24.8-yard net) had his worst game of the season, albeit in bad conditions. Tim Dwight had a 14-yard punt return, and Bethel Johnson brought a kickoff back 29 yards.
COACHING: A -- Against another compromised offense (Buffalo suspended leading receiver Eric Moulds for the game), the Patriots' defensive play calling was as aggressive as it had been the previous week against the Chad Pennington-less Jets. Offensively, there was near-perfect balance (41 runs, 40 passes). Third downs -- a focal point of the week leading up to the game -- were executed flawlessly. Most important, the coaching staff coaxed a consistent effort out of the lineup for the second straight week.
BILLS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- California-born J.P. Losman, playing his first game in the snow, was no match for Mother Nature or New England's defense. Losman, struggling with his accuracy in a cold wind, started the game 1-for-9 and wound up 10-for-27 for 181 yards, one touchdown, a season-high three interceptions and a 33.6 rating. Taking away a 58-yard completion to Lee Evans and a 51-yard catch-and-run TD to Josh Reed during garbage time after Buffalo had fallen behind 35-0, Losman was 8-for-25 for 72 yards and three picks. The first was on a bad throw into the end zone, the second was an underthrown bomb, and the third came on a tipped ball that was returned 39 yards for a touchdown by FS James Sanders. Losman was sacked just twice but was hurried on nearly every throw against a variety of blitz packages cooked up by Bill Belichick. The Bills needed to move the ball through the air against New England's 31st-ranked secondary in order to get the Patriots to back the extra man out of the box so their running game could get on track, but they couldn't do it. Once again, there was no presence by the running backs or tight ends in Buffalo's passing game, and suspending WR Eric Moulds, who torched the Patriots for 125 yards and a touchdown in this year's first meeting, just made things easier on the visitors.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Sure the Bills couldn't pass the ball to get the Patriots from playing eight men in the box. But giving RB Willis McGahee just eight carries, a career-low for him as a starter in the NFL, is inexcusable. Buffalo gained just 14 yards overall on 12 attempts, some of the worst marks in club history. McGahee, who was often hit in the backfield by the Patriots' aggressive run blitzing, finished with just 3 yards, a 0.4-yards-per-carry average and played woozy after getting knocked in the head trying to block DE Richard Seymour. Backup Shaud Williams added 4 yards on three carries. The team's longest run was 7 yards on a Losman scramble, and Buffalo had just one rushing first down. Put it this way: New England QB Tom Brady, not known to be Michael Vick, had more yards rushing than Buffalo's entire team with 17.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Bills came up with two big interceptions, one by Nate Clements in the end zone, and another by LB London Fletcher on a tipped ball. But those takeaways merely prevented the score from being 49-0. Brady, who raised his record to 19-0 in games played under 40 degrees, was, well, Tom Brady. He completed 29 of 38 for 329 yards, two TDs and a 97.4 rating and is now 9-1 lifetime against Buffalo. Brady hit eight receivers, using wideouts, tight ends and running backs with great effectiveness. RB Kevin Faulk had six catches for 71 yards to help New England move the chains to a team-record 32 first downs. DE Aaron Schobel had the Bills' lone sack, giving him 10 on the year, but the team needed a lot more out of him working against third-string LT Tom Ashworth.
RUSH DEFENSE: D-plus -- Once again, a lot of Bills finished with double digits in tackles, but once again an opponent ran the ball down their throats. New England, paced by Corey Dillon's 102 yards and a 12-yard touchdown on 22 carries, finished with 41 attempts for 159 yards. The Bills could not muscle up in the red zone, as New England scored touchdowns on four out of five trips. Ten teams have topped the 100-yard mark on the Bills, and the other three topped 90 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kickoff return specialist Terrence McGee remained one of the few bright spots on the entire team as he returned five kickoffs for 126 yards, a 25.2 average with a long of 33. Roscoe Parrish chipped in a 43-yard punt return. PK Rian Lindell missed his only field-goal try.
COACHING: D -- There's no defense for a Buffalo coaching staff that runs the ball just 12 times in the snow and cold at home. The Patriots' Belichick has made a lot of Bills coaches look foolish, but Mike Mularkey was red-faced after this one. New England had the ball more than twice as long and ran off twice as many plays (82 to 41), meaning everything it was doing was working and everything Buffalo was doing wasn't. In asserting his authority in the Moulds situation, Mularkey may have lost his team. The clock is officially ticking on his job.
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