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Running backs (4 out of 5)
Woodhead was sensational again, and Stevan Ridley was very good outside of his false start penalty. Nice job by Shane Vereen showing some toughness by breaking two tackles on a screen before halftime. He hasn’t shown a lot of that. The coaches looked excited to see it. Dan Connolly was cheap-shotted from behind on the play by Kyle Moore. Early in the third quarter, Vereen was dropped for no gain when he hesitated as the back-side pursuit got him.
Offensive line (2.5 out of 5)
Connolly (46 percent of snaps) and Logan Mankins (62 percent) left with injuries, but Brady was pressured on 34.9 percent of his dropbacks, and there were six run stuffs allowed — that’s a lot, no matter the personnel. In order of performance: Sebastian Vollmer (1.5 hurries), Ryan Wendell (half-sack, hurry), Connolly and Mankins, Donald Thomas (2.5 pressures), Nick McDonald (two hurries, stuff), Nate Solder (5.5 pressures). On the final play of the first drive (drop by Deion Branch), Vollmer blocked two guys. The 15-yard untouched touchdown run by Woodhead is one of those that should be hung on the wall in the line’s meeting room. Mankins and Wendell doubled the nose tackle, Wendell turned him, Mankins took out the linebacker, Vollmer the end, and Wes Welker took care of the nickel.
Receivers (3.5 out of 5)
Three drops (two by Welker) and some shoddy run blocking by Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui marred an otherwise solid outing. Somebody needs to explain why Hoomanawanui (three negative run blocks in nine snaps) is playing more than Daniel Fells (three snaps), who wasn’t on the injury report. Just an outstanding diving touchdown grab by Gronkowski before halftime. Brady was so mad at Julian Edelman on the third-down sack early in the third quarter because Brady likely wanted Edelman to run a bubble screen against off coverage. That’s usually a non-verbal thing in his offense, which a guy like Welker would get. Costly mistake. Knocked them out of field goal range.
Defensive line (1.5 out of 5)
Every player had his share of very good plays, considering this group had eight of the defense’s 11 quarterback pressures. But there was a season’s worth of fundamental breakdowns that overshadowed it all from two of the more unlikely players: Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. Ninkovich had 2.5 pressures but also had two of the following: missed tackles, blown gaps, failed edge sets, and inadequate pass coverage. He probably hasn’t struggled that much since the Steelers game last season. And Jones had his first “rookie game.” His 3.6 pressure percentage was his lowest of the season and he blew two gaps and edges. Normally he’s terrific at that. Jones jumped into Jerod Mayo’s gap on C.J. Spiller’s 12-yard run in the second quarter, and that completely opened the left side. Jermaine Cunningham had 2.5 pressures to give him 6.5 in the past two games. He had three total in the first seven games. But he also had a missed tackle, a blown gap, and a penalty.
Linebackers (1.5 out of 5)
If it weren’t for Brandon Spikes, who had a knockdown, forced fumble, pass breakup, and two standout run tackles, this group would have been a total disaster. And Spikes was far from sterling with a missed tackle, some shoddy pass coverage, and a personal foul penalty. Between Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, we saw one standout play between them (hurry by Mayo). Mayo had two missed tackles, a few subpar coverages, and a personal foul penalty of his own. On Scott Chandler’s 23-yard reception in the second quarter, Hightower had a poor reroute and Mayo had cheated up against the run, making it an easy throw. On the next play, a 17-yarder to Chandler, Hightower had another weak reroute and was burned for 17 yards. Not sure what Hightower was doing in coverage for much of the game. On the 19-yard pass to Stevie Johnson in the third quarter, he likely should have dropped much deeper. A more experienced safety might have jumped the route when Johnson crossed the field, but Devin McCourty, through no fault of his own, obviously lacks that feel.
Secondary (1 out of 5)
Every time the Patriots play Buffalo, the secondary is terrible, especially the safeties. There were eight missed tackles, with four coming from Steve Gregory. Alfonzo Dennard (20-yard pass, touchdown, blown edge against the run) and McCourty added two each. McCourty did show up with two huge turnovers: the forced fumble at the 1, and the game-saving interception that was thrown right to him. The coverage sack (4.59 seconds) to end the Bills’ first drive of the second quarter was caused by McCourty jumping the crossing route by Johnson. If McCourty stayed with the vertical clearout route, Johnson would have scored a touchdown. There was no one else in the middle of the field. Great play by him. On Chandler’s touchdown before halftime, there was definitely a blown assignment, and if I had to guess, it would be on Gregory. Both he and Hightower followed the fullback out of the backfield. Probably didn’t help that Jones let Chandler have a free release. On the fourth-down conversion in the third quarter, Dennard jumped inside despite having help there and Johnson easily abused him for a 13-yard gain.Continued...