- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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Coaching: C There's a few decisions/lapses that stand out here: (1) Not burning more clock on their final offensive possession of the fourth quarter. Coach Doug Marrone said after the game that the Bills were more concerned with scoring points than anything else, and that the Patriots had three timeouts anyways. With a one-point lead and less than six minutes remaining, it's unlikely the Patriots would have used the timeouts to stop the clock, so why not burn some clock? (2) It was unclear as it happened, but if the Patriots recovered their own fumble on the opening drive, why challenge it? (3) Being called twice for having 12 men on the field does not reflect well on the coaching staff or the substitution operation.
Run Offense: C The Patriots clearly made it a priority to stop C.J. Spiller, and they were successful in doing so. When he was on the field, he drew the attention of the defense, whether he was carrying the ball out of the backfield or in a pass pattern. Spiller finished with a 2.4-yards-per-carry average and 2.8-yards-per-completion average. Mission accomplished for the Patriots. On the flip side, Fred Jackson provided a spark, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. It will be worth monitoring how teams treat Spiller going forward. Even if Jackson has a productive game, it's not a good sign for the Bills' offense if Spiller can't get things going.
Pass Offense: C- EJ Manuel was sharp when he needed to be: connecting with Robert Woods on an 18-yard touchdown pass after a turnover, and later driving 80 yards for another touchdown at the start of the second half. Otherwise, it was a lot of dink-and-dunk from Buffalo. There were times when Manuel had receivers open over the middle of the field but looked slow to find them and release the ball, limiting the yards after catch. The Bills need their passing offense to start clicking soon, and it starts at the top of the depth chart. Steve Johnson (six targets, three catches), T.J. Graham (one target, no catches) and Woods (two targets, one catch) will need to develop better chemistry with Manuel. The Bills will be looking for more than 150 passing yards.
Run Defense: D+ Three of the Patriots' six longest plays were on rushes. Marrone noted after the game that the Bills held the Patriots to 4.5 yards per carry (compared to 4 yards per carry by the Bills), but if you subtract the 15 yards on seven carries from LeGarrette Blount -- he was in the game because of Stevan Ridley's unforced fumble -- then the statistics aren't as rosy. Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for 147 yards on 23 carries, a 6.4-yard average that was worse than the 5 yards per carry the Bills allowed last season. Yes, the Bills were able to stop the Patriots' running game several times for short gains or no gain, but the results were hardly consistent.
Pass Defense: B- Tough to tell if this was more a result of Tom Brady not being on the same page with his new-look group of receivers. Brady was 29-for-52 passing for 288 yards, which for that volume of passing is not a terrible outcome for a defense. There were times when a combination of blitzing and strong coverage had Brady stymied. There were other times when receivers simply ran bad routes or dropped passes. Either way, the Bills will want Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd back as soon as possible.
Special Teams: B+ Returners had a quiet day, with five touchbacks on kickoffs limiting the Bills. On punts, Shawn Powell averaged 45.8 yards on nine punts, including three downed inside the 20. Without any notable miscues, it's hard to knock this unit.