Eric Lee sparks Patriots' defense, earns praise from Bill Belichick

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Without the benefit of film review, a look at which New England Patriots are “up” and “down” from Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills:


Eric Lee -- Signed off the Bills' practice squad on Nov. 21, the 2016 undrafted free agent from South Florida played extensively with Trey Flowers sidelined (ribs) and finished with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and two passes defended. “He’s smart. He picks things up well,” coach Bill Belichick said, noting that Lee’s time with the Houston Texans in 2016 helped him because there was some carryover to the Patriots’ system. “He’s a sharp kid, he works hard and he’s got good skills. He’s long, has good power, and he can run.”

Dion Lewis/Rex Burkhead/Ivan Fears -- Lewis finished with 92 yards on 15 carries, while Burkhead added 78 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, which is a credit to them -- and also to running backs coach Ivan Fears for his work with them. (The Patriots finished with 191 yards on 35 carries for a 5.5-yard average.) This is the time of year teams want to get their rushing attack going, with Burkhead saying, “It’s huge, because you never know what the weather could be, especially moving forward.” When Lewis was asked how he feels, he said, “Same way I look. I feel good.”

Rob Gronkowski’s production -- With just two catches for 28 yards at the half, Gronkowski exploded in the second half and finished with nine receptions for 147 yards, with a 30-yard catch in the third quarter an example of how he is open even when he’s covered. Asked if there was an adjustment of some sort to get Gronkowski more involved in the second half, Belichick said, “I wouldn’t say it was an adjustment, it’s the way we went into the game. ... Rob’s a big target. He’s a hard guy to defend.”

Stephon Gilmore -- The former Bills cornerback had lockdown coverage in the end zone when it seemed like Buffalo was specifically targeting him late in the game, and he had a pass breakup earlier, as well. While the Bills’ passing game isn’t particularly lethal, Gilmore's performance was impressive nonetheless.


Rob Gronkowski’s late-game penalty -- Gronkowski apologized for losing his composure and jumping on top of defenseless cornerback Tre'Davious White late, a hit that now has White in the concussion protocol. It was unnecessary.

Joe Thuney -- The left guard had trouble with defensive tackle Kyle Williams on one third-down play during which Williams sacked Tom Brady to end one Patriots trip inside the red zone. And on the next drive, Thuney was power-rushed back on another sack of Brady. While it’s possible film review will show that Thuney executed on his other assignments, those two stood out while watching the game live.

Phillip Dorsett -- It was a quiet day overall for the Patriots’ receiving corps, with Dorsett not registering on the stat sheet and not even having a pass thrown in his direction. Danny Amendola (two catches, 34 yards) and Brandin Cooks (two catches, 17 yards) weren’t quite as quiet, but they also weren’t major factors.

Deatrich Wise/run defense -- The rookie defensive end appeared to lose containment on one Tyrod Taylor run on the left edge, which was reflective of some overall hiccups against the run, as the Bills were led by LeSean McCoy's 93 yards on 15 carries.