After each New England Patriots game, we take a look at the handful of plays that, added together, resulted in one team celebrating victory while the other pondered what went wrong. Below are the 11 plays that defined Sunday’s 37-16 win over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium.
First quarter, 6:21: Deatrich Wise’s sack
The Bills converted four consecutive third downs to march into the red zone on their opening drive, but Wise brought down Tyrod Taylor on third-and-11 to hold Buffalo to a field goal. This would become a trend.
Second quarter, 14:14: Thompson burns Butler, Part I
Malcolm Butler had a rough time covering Bills receiver Deonte Thompson, who beat the Patriots cornerback for two long completions. The first went for 46 yards early in the second quarter.
Second quarter, 11:30: Flowers on fourth
Six plays after Thompson’s big gain, Bills coach Sean McDermott got greedy, going for it on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ 6-yard line with the score tied 3-3. Taylor dropped back to pass but couldn’t find a receiver, and linebacker Marquis Flowers chased the elusive QB down for his first career sack. Flowers, who played just two defensive snaps for the Cincinnati Bengals last season, had a monster game for New England, finishing with a team-high 10 tackles to go along with 2 1/2 sacks, three QB hits and three tackles for loss.
Second quarter, 10:37: Poyer’s pick-six
The momentum from Flowers’ drive-ending sack did not last long. On the third play of the ensuing Patriots possession, Tom Brady tried to hit recently acquired wideout Kenny Britt on a slant but had his pass intercepted by safety Jordan Poyer, who ran it back 19 yards for a Bills touchdown.
It was Brady’s sixth interception in five games after he had thrown just two over New England’s first 10 contests. It also was the only touchdown Buffalo would score.
Second quarter, 7:13: Gronk’s wizardry
The Patriots quickly bounced back following the pick-six, staging a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in one of the most impressive touchdown catches of the season: a one-handed grab by tight end Rob Gronkowski just inside the pylon.
Second quarter, 0:06: Catch or no catch?
The game’s most controversial moment came in the final seconds of the first half. Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin appeared to make a highlight-reel touchdown catch around cornerback Stephon Gilmore — whom he owned for much of the game — but had it taken off the board after replay officials determined he had not possessed the ball with both feet in bounds.
Buffalo players and fans were livid at the reversal, as the replay didn’t seem to show the type of conclusive evidence that’s needed to overturn a call. The ruling was an important one, too. Rather than a touchdown that would have put them ahead 17-13 heading into halftime, the Bills had to settle for a game-tying field goal.
Third quarter, 11:31: Another red-zone failure
After LeSean McCoy broke Elandon Roberts’ ankles on a 39-yard catch-and-run down to the Patriots’ 10, the Bills called a screen pass to fullback Patrick DiMarco that went absolutely nowhere. Trey Flowers dropped DiMarco for an 8-yard loss, and Buffalo managed just 6 yards on second and third down before settling for another field goal. Those were the final points Buffalo would score, as the Patriots proceeded to put up 24 unanswered to break the game wide open. Buffalo finished the game 0-for-4 in red-zone opportunities.
Third quarter, 5:08: Brown brings Tyrod down
On the first play after a Stephen Gostkowski field goal tied the score at 16 apiece, Malcom Brown marauded into the Bills’ backfield and sacked Taylor for a 15-yard loss. The sack — one of six the Patriots racked up as a team — helped produce the first and only Buffalo three-and-out of the game.
Third quarter, 0:55: Welcome back, Mike Gillislee
After Gronkowski drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone, Gillislee powered his way into the end zone from 1 yard out to put New England ahead for good. Gillislee, who also had rushes of 7 and 12 yards earlier in the drive, finished with six carries for 28 yards and one catch for 15 yards in his first game action since Week 8.
Fourth quarter, 13:50: Bills’ last shot
The Patriots dominated the fourth quarter, allowing the Bills to cross midfield on just one of their final three possession. Buffalo came up empty on that drive, too, after Trey Flowers made a great play to stop McCoy short on third-and-2 and Stephen Hauschka didn’t come close on a 50-yard field-goal attempt.
Fourth quarter, 9:32: Dion Lewis finds paydirt
It’s a little crazy that we’ve gone this long without mentioning Dion Lewis, who was the best offensive player on either team Sunday. With Rex Burkhead and James White both sidelined, Lewis carried the ball a career-high 24 times and for a career-high 129 yards in the win. His first touchdown, however, came on a screen pass, with Nate Solder and Shaq Mason laying powerful blocks to pave the road for the diminutive ball-carrier.
The 12-yard score put the Patriots ahead 30-16 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Fourth quarter, 4:01: Dion with the dagger
The Patriots held the Bills to just two net yards on the drive after Lewis’ touchdown, which included a third-down sack and forced fumble by Butler. After that, a steady dose of Dion put the game out of reach. Lewis accumulated 46 rushing yards on New England’s next possession and capped it with a 4-yard touchdown trot. Ballgame.