- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Picked-up pieces from fourth-quarter review of the Patriots' 34-20 win over the Bills:
1. Shane Vereen's 5-yard touchdown catch on the first play appeared to be a good example of all 11 members of the offense being able to communicate via signals from the line of scrimmage. After breaking the huddle, quarterback Tom Brady was under center with an I-formation behind him, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on the right side of the line, and receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola aligned to the left side in a compact look. Brady, as he often does, pointed out the middle linebacker before turning behind him and touching his helmet with both hands, and then turning to the side and doing the same as he looked to his receivers. This action sparked motion in which Vereen came out of the backfield to the left, as all three pass routes were in that direction. The traffic was too much for the Bills to handle, with safety Jim Leonhard and linebacker Kiko Alonso unable to get over to Vereen's route to the sideline because Edelman's vertical route created a jam. It looked as if the Bills defensive backs were pleading with officials for a pick penalty on Edelman.
2. Patriots guard Logan Mankins, who went to the locker room after injuring his ankle in the second quarter but returned to the game after missing one series, was taken off the field-goal protection unit upon his return. Rookie Josh Kline filled in. There was noticeable limping from Mankins, particularly after a 1-yard Blount run with 8:44 remaining.
3. The Patriots gave up some big pass plays in the game and Fred Jackson's 37-yard catch-and-run (third-and-5, 12:12 remaining) looked to be a result of their creativity backfiring on them. Personnel-wise, the Patriots were in nickel, but with a different twist in that there was a lighter front with linemen Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones and Michael Buchanan, with Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher at linebacker. That was the first time all game the Patriots used that grouping of players. At the snap, the Patriots had both Joneses with their hand in the dirt, but everyone else in a two-point stance. The Bills had quarterback Thad Lewis (impressive overall performance) in the shotgun, with Jackson to his left, and the Patriots brought Fletcher and cornerback Logan Ryan with pressure, while backing Buchanan and Ninkovich out. Somehow, that left Buchanan alone on Jackson in coverage, which was an obvious mismatch. It's possible that Collins should have been there too, but he went to the side of tight end Scott Chandler, who had initially been jammed by Ninkovich. It's hard to pinpoint where the actual breakdown occurred, and credit also goes to the Bills, but just a hunch we won't see the Patriots try that again any time soon.
4. On LeGarrette Blount's 62-yard kickoff return, coach Bill Belichick cited a key block by Nate Ebner (on defensive back Jonathan Meeks), among others. We also saw solid blocks from tight end Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin closer to the start of the runback, with Blount breaking three tackles in total, the final one allowing him to pick up 25 extra yards. Impressive stuff.
5. The ups and downs of top draft choice Jamie Collins are a bit more volatile than others based on his growing on the job, but when you see an “up” like him exploding up the middle to drop Fred Jackson for no gain (6:19 remaining), it's the type of play that makes one think he could be an impact player for this defense in time as he gains more experience. He shot through the gap so quickly, and with such authority before powerfully bringing down Jackson, that it was one of the more impressive defensive plays of the day, setting up a fourth-and-2 (T.J. Graham drop).
6. The Patriots were among the NFL's least penalized teams this season, as they more often than not avoided infractions that were a result of a lack of focus. That's what made an illegal formation penalty on third-and-1 (5:22 remaining) so rare, as the Patriots weren't aligned correctly coming off a Bills timeout. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spotted it on the sidelines and was yelling to try to get the attention of someone, but it was too late. That set up a third-and-6, which forced the Patriots into more of a passing situation and an eventual interception.
7. Rob Ninkovich sets up plenty of sacks for teammates with a strong outside rush, so he need not apologize for getting his late fourth-quarter sack as a primary result of the work of veteran end Andre Carter. It was Carter's strong inside rush on right guard Kraig Urbik that forced quarterback Thad Lewis to step up and allowed Ninkovich, whose motor never seems to stop, to get the clean-up sack.
8. James Develin might be the most improved player on the team from a Week 1 to a Week 17 viewpoint. That thought is sparked because some of the blocks Develin delivered in this game, and last week against the Ravens, were Sam Gash-like. On Blount's 35-yard touchdown run (2:40 remaining), which was a terrific effort in and of itself, it was Develin leading the way with a solid seal block on linebacker Nigel Bradham. Having a lead-blocking fullback like Develin has brought an element of toughness to the offense.
9. While the players get all the credit, just a quick tip of the cap to the home crowd. Those aren't easy conditions to take in a game. Impressive showing.