1. On LeGarrette Blount’s 36-yard touchdown run, the Patriots called on their 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB package, with tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the left side of the line and Matthew Mulligan on the right. Right tackle Marcus Cannon pulled from right to left, once again showing his athleticism and Blount followed him into the hole, then made a sharp cut to his right before he saw daylight. Left tackle Nate Solder (on Corbin Bryant), left guard Logan Mankins (on Kiko Alonso) and center Ryan Wendell (on Alan Branch) had a few of the key blocks to get Blount started, and then Blount showed what makes him unique at 6-feet, 250-pounds: Speed to outrun safety Jim Leonhard (5-8, 188) for the final 25 yards. Leonhard took a bad angle on the play, which was also a factor.
2. Perhaps fine-tuning for the playoffs, the Patriots used a little bit of the quick-paced running game, and gained 23 yards over two plays (14:40 remaining, 14:19 remaining). This foiled CBS' plans to provide an in-game update of the 49ers-Cardinals game as the network had to quickly cut away from its highlight to show Blount’s 14-yard run. We haven't seen much of the quick-pace running game in recent weeks, but this was a reminder it's still part of what the Patriots can call on at any moment.
3. We touched on defensive end Chandler Jones failing to set the edge on C.J. Spiller’s 24-yard run in the first quarter, but he showed he’s not an error repeater by taking on left tackle Cordy Glenn, holding his ground, and then riding Spiller out of bounds for a loss of 2 yards with 11:43 remaining. It helped that blitzing cornerback Logan Ryan initially slowed Spiller up. Jones did it again four plays later, fighting off tight end Lee Smith to bring Spiller down from a 2-yard gain (9:51 remaining). In late November, when former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak talked about Jones playing the run well this year in addition to rushing the passer, these were the types of plays he was referencing.
4. One area the Patriots’ defense has struggled is against the screen on third-and-long (Fred Jackson for 13 yards, 11:07 remaining). This is where, from this viewpoint, the Patriots most miss Jerod Mayo. On this specific play, it looked like Dane Fletcher – the lone pure linebacker in the 4-1-6 dime (safety Tavon Wilson also aligned on the linebacker level) – had diagnosed the play. But he just couldn’t get there, as he was chipped by receiver Chris Hogan (borderline penalty because the ball didn’t appear to be out of Thad Lewis’ hand). Some credit to the Bills for their execution, no doubt, but this remains a trouble spot.
5. Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins has obvious physical gifts and upside and a big part of this year seems to be harnessing those with becoming a football player. As it often is with rookies, there are noticeable ups and downs, and one of the downs came when he overran the play on Fred Jackson’s 16-yard run (6:06 remaining). This is another trickle-down effect of Mayo’s injury. In the perfect Patriots world, Collins would have some more time to grow into the job, but he’s been thrown into the fire.
6. When considering what makes Sealver Siliga a bit different from the team’s other defensive tackles, the fourth-and-1 play in which quarterback Thad Lewis was stopped for no gain (8:33 remaining) is a good one to highlight. On the play before, on third-and-6, Siliga (6-2, 325) had been taken off the field in favor of Joe Vellano (6-2, 300), but the coaches quickly inserted Siliga back into the game for some more size in the short-yardage situation. Similar to last Sunday in Baltimore, when Siliga shifted into the A gap at the last moment for a big fourth-down stop, he got low on center Eric Wood at the snap and helped create push at the heart of the line of scrimmage. That initial push was crucial as end Rob Ninkovich eluded right tackle Erik Pears and came off the left edge to bring Lewis down. Siliga, simply put, is a big man and hard to move out of there.
7. Patriots receivers generally do a solid job blocking down the field in the running game, or short passing game, and that showed up on Julian Edelman’s 14-yard catch-and-run (2:27 remaining). Danny Amendola had a key block on cornerback Ron Brooks and Kenbrell Thompkins locked up cornerback Stephon Gilmore.