Patriots at Bills thumbs up, thumbs down: James White, J.C. Jackson key nail-biter win

Andy Hart
September 29, 2019 - 4:54 pm
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Two undefeated teams took the field in Buffalo Sunday afternoon and only one left with its perfect record intact. Not surprisingly that was the Patriots (4-0), following the 16-10 nail-bitter win over the Bills (3-1) to take control of first place in the AFC East.

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Thanks to contributions from all three phases – including a Devin McCourty interception and a J.C. Jackson blocked punt returned by Matthew Slater for a touchdown – New England took a 13-0 lead over the seemingly overwhelmed Bills in the first quarter, but for the second straight week things bogged down a bit from there for Bill Belichick’s team.

After missing a field goal to close out the first half, Buffalo pulled to within score early in their third quarter at 13-10 as New England’s defense allowed its first touchdown of the season on a Josh Allen QB sneak on fourth-and-goal.

In a dogfight for the first time this season, the Patriots made enough plays – mostly on defense -- on the road to send the Bills Mafia crowd home unhappy, aided by the fact that Allen was knocked out of the game on a hit to the head by Jonathan Jones in the fourth quarter. Still, there is no question that the Patriots offense struggled a bit, punting or turning the ball over on 10 of 13 possessions on the day.

Before moving on to next Sunday afternoon’s trip to Washington to take on the Redskins, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the hard-fought Patriots win in Buffalo.

Thumbs up

James White – A week after missing the Jets game due to the birth of his son, White was essentially the entirety of the Patriots passing game in the first half in Buffalo. He had a first down on his first catch and then set up a touchdown on a pretty grab on a 26-yard wheel route on third down. At halftime White had four receptions for 52 yards and 1 yard on his only rush to move the chains on third-and-short. White has been the most consistent player for the Patriots this season offensively, and the Bills keyed on him in the second half. He finished the win with a game-high eight catches on 10 targets for 57 yards.

Devin McCourty – New England’s defensive captain and safety has played four games this season and has recorded an interception in each game. McCourty also had five solo tackles in the back end.

J.C. Jackson – Jackson had a career day before the first quarter was even over in Buffalo. The second-year cornerback blocked Corey Bojorquez’s punt in the first quarter, allowing for Matthew Slater’s touchdown return. Jackson then did a nice job to high point an Allen deep ball for his first interception of the season. Not a bad quarter of work for one of New England’s depth defensive backs. But he wasn’t done, adding a second interception on an athletic sideline play in the third quarter.

Kyle Van Noy/Jamie Collins – With Dont’a Hightower out of action, the two other veteran linebackers stepped up. They also actually teamed up on the game-closing play, Van Noy hitting Bills backup quarterback Matt Barkley as he threw, leading to Collins’ game-clinching interception. Both guys were all over the field as they’ve been each week this season. Van Noy finished with a team-high eight tackles, a pair of sacks, three QB hits, two forced fumbles and a tackles for a loss. Collins added four tackles, a sack, an interception, a tackles for a loss and a pass defensed. The two versatile veterans continue to be key cogs in an elite defense.

Thumbs down

Tom Brady – Sure he’s dealing with a lack of tight end contributions, a work-in-progress offensive line and a running game that’s struggled at times, but Brady just couldn’t find any efficient rhythm against a very good Bills pass defense. Brady completed just 18 of 39 passes for a mere 150 yards with no touchdowns and an ugly goal line interception for a 45.9 passer rating. Brady was under pressure, maybe both literally and figuratively, all day. It wasn’t a good day. But it did end up in victory thanks to the defense and special teams.

Josh Gordon/Phillip Dorsett – On a day when Julian Edelman’s chest injury seemed to leave the slot receiver as little more than a decoy, Brady was never able to get much going to his other veteran targets. Brady targeted Gordon and Dorsett a combined 10 times in the first half for just two completions totaling 18 yards. New England punted the ball (4) or turned it over on five of six first-half possessions. With Edelman banged up and Antonio Brown now just a bad memory, the Patriots passing game to its outside receivers is sputtering these days. Dorsett who’s caught pretty much everything thrown his way over the last year-plus, caught just two passes on nine targets for 10 yards. Gordon finished with three catches on seven targets for 46 yards with a long of 31. The two just couldn’t step up against Buffalo’s solid pass defense.

Stephen Gostkowski – This is becoming annoyingly repetitive, but Gostkowski missed the PAT following the Patriots opening score for the second straight week, his fourth missed PAT overall this season. The veteran kicker is in the midst of an ugly slump in which he has missed a kick in three of the first four regular season games after missing an attempt in three of four preseason games. Bill Belichick emphasized last week that Gostkowski has been hitting the ball well in practice and has been impressive on kickoffs, but he needs to start getting the job done on PATs and field goals more consistently or it will eventually cost the Patriots.

Run defense – Though the Patriots defense was very good on the whole and part of the reason the Patriots left Buffalo with a win, the run defense was a little more porous than usual. With Hightower inactive with a shoulder injury, New England allowed Buffalo to run the ball 22 times for 135 yards and a touchdown, including 26 yards and a score from Allen. Aging legend Frank Gore led the way with 17 carries for 109 yards (6.4 avg.), including a 41-yard long. The front got pushed around a bit by the Bills line and the tackling at the second two levels was less than ideal.

Related: Patriots 16, Bills 10: 10 quick thoughts from ugly win