Bills vs. Patriots: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 10
New England put up 37 points behind a diverse offensive attack in which no single player dominated the highlight reel. This was a total team effort.
Their defense was in classic "bend mode," giving up 31 frustrating points and getting slapped around until the very end of the game, when they finally came up with a huge stop to eek out the victory.
Still though, the closeness of this game remains troubling. The Bills overcame 148 yards' worth of penalties to put themselves in perfect position to steal this game down the stretch. Ultimately, it was a horrendous throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick which slid the game in New England's favor.
Nevertheless, that's how the cookie crumbled on Sunday. Details aside, the fact is that the Patriots won. That's all that matters.
Here are New England's biggest winners and losers from their 37-31 victory over the Bills.
Winner: Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead has a cool and calm demeanor, with a knack for making pressure-packed third-down runs. He may not be a superstar, but he certainly seems to land in the "winners" column every week.
Woodhead showed up in a big way on Sunday, displaying some fancy new moves. During one particular scoring drive in the second quarter, he racked up 37 of the 83 yards on the drive, including a pair of 15-yard pickups.
Woodhead ended up with 46 receiving yards and a touchdown, plus 15 rushing yards with another touchdown (his first career game with two scores).
Loser: Dont'a Hightower
The Bills made tons of mistakes in the first half of this game, essentially shooting themselves in the foot with countless penalties.
But the halftime score was extremely close. Despite all of Buffalo's woes, their touchdowns were notched with relative ease. That turned a potential blowout into a nail-biter.
During Buffalo's first-half scoring drives, Dont'a Hightower constantly looked out of step, out of place and out of sync. Partial blame also falls on Brandon Spikes and some of New England's other linebackers, but Hightower was repeatedly twisted in knots. He made it seem like Buffalo's points were inevitable.
Hightower is still a work in progress. If the Patriots can find a way to shape him quickly over the course of the second half of the season, it might make all the difference during the playoffs.
In any championship bid, Hightower would need to play some sort of role. He's too good, too skilled, too important to be anything less than integral.
Winner: Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty has the nine lives of a cat. Every time he's down for the count, he pops back up on his feet and lands an uppercut.
McCourty made two big plays late in this game.
The first was a forced fumble, which prevented Buffalo from marching to a certain touchdown. New England was unable to convert McCourty's big play into points, which gave the ball right back to the Bills.
It was McCourty's second big play which made all the difference.
Neck-deep in crunch time, with the final minute ticking away and the Bills only down by six points, Ryan Fitzpatrick had an opportunity to win this football game. He marched his team down in steady fashion, forcing extreme pressure on a defense which looked like it was held together with scotch tape.
But McCourty stepped up. He intercepted Fitzpatrick in the end zone, sealing the deal and giving the Patriots a crucial divisional victory.
More importantly, it breathed another life into the fast and furious life of Devin McCourty, who never seems quite satisfied with where he's at in his career, up or down, good or bad.
It can be frustrating to watch McCourty play. But sometimes, like today, it can be glorious.
Winner and Loser: New England's Defense
On one hand, credit must be given to New England's defense for making the game-saving stop. It's a testament to the their courage and grittiness in ultra stressful situations.
But on the other hand, it's concerning how beatable this team can look against a mediocre opponent.
Sunday was a perfect example. New England's defense tripped over themselves all day with multiple unnecessary roughness penalties, and they kept bleeding yards on third down.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was in a golden position to put up a game-winning 38 points on the Patriots. Buffalo's running backs plunked down 162 ground yards in addition to Fitzpatrick's 337 yards.
The Bills looked like a frisky and vivacious playoff team, which really isn't what they are. That reflects poorly on New England's defense.
Alfonzo Dennard might get the majority of the blame here, but the truth is that there's no specific person to blame. This is a team-wide problem, week to week. All of New England's defenders share stock in this guilt. Same goes for Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff.
Nevertheless, New England's defense came up with the game-winning stop. That counts for a lot. Also, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork and Jermaine Cunningham all registered sacks, which is fantastic.
All in all, plenty of good and bad to go around.
Loser: New England's Offense
Reputation aside, this offense can't be relied upon to deliver the knockout punch. More and more, the Patriots are becoming a team that hangs on to win games. They squeak it out. They do just enough to get the victory.
On one hand, that's exactly what you want from your football team.
On the other hand, you want your football team to really execute their game plans at a high level, especially against teams that probably won't make the playoffs. No game is easy, but some games shouldn't come down to the last play. This was one of them.
But it did come down to the last play.
Tom Brady's offense had an opportunity to blow the doors off the hinges in every single quarter. Still though, it took an end-zone pick put the nail in Buffalo's coffin.
Rob Gronkowski's lack of dominance is still an issue here. Despite his touchdown, his fingerprints really weren't on this game. This is the type of contest that he should've had total control over.
This is a great offense, but it's still far from where it needs to be.
One positive note: Stevan Ridley ended Sunday with 98 yards, only two yards shy of making it his fifth game this season with 100 yards or more. So close. This kid's unbelievable.
Winners: New England's Offensive Line
Heading into this season, the offensive line seemed poised to be New England's blind spot. But Nate Solder has taken drastic measures to keep that from happening. His evolution has been profound.
Now, after nine games, Solder has molded this unit into one of the team's brighter spots.
Against the Bills on Sunday, this unit stepped up in the face of tremendous adversity. Injuries to Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly left the line more short-staffed than usual, but everyone held tough.
Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald, especially, deserve a ton of credit for their guts and brawn.
Tom Brady was only sacked once all day. Amazing.
Even more amazing is the fact that Buffalo's theoretically earth-shattering acquisition of Mario Williams continues to fall on deaf ears in the real world, as Sebastian Vollmer continues to thwart Buffalo's best laid plans.