The Buffalo Bills couldn't overcome questionable officiating and an underrated New England Patriots rushing attack on Christmas Eve.
Jordan Poyer returned an interception for a touchdown, but Tom Brady bounced back with two touchdown passes and Dion Lewis ran for 129 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' 37-16 win Sunday over the Bills.
Poyer's touchdown gave the Bills a 10-3 lead in the first half. The Patriots answered with a touchdown drive and scored on the ensuing five possessions. The Bills didn't have an offensive touchdown. Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals in the loss.
A key play in the game was an apparent Tyrod Taylor touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with two seconds remaining in the first half. The call on the field was a touchdown, and replays showed that the call should stand. But NFL replay officials in New York overturned the call and the Bills settled for a field goal.
With the loss, the Bills fall to 8-7. The AFC East champion Patriots improve to 12-3.
The Bills are still in the playoff hunt. There are a few scenarios in which they can advance to the playoffs. They need to win next week against the Miami Dolphins and get some help from either the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers or Tennessee Titans.
Here is the Buffalo Bills Week 16 report card:
GRADING THE UNITS
Quarterbacks - C
The numbers are deceiving. Tyrod Taylor had 281 passing yards against the Patriots. But he missed some throws and was sacked six times. The lack of receiving depth hurts him. He had a good rapport with Kelvin Benjamin and Deonte Thompson against the Patriots, but that's not nearly enough. Zay Jones, a rookie, has been a nonfactor, and tight end Charles Clay has been inconsistent. It's tough to blame those players for the weak passing attack when Taylor misses as many throws as he does. The fact the Bills didn't score an offensive touchdown in this game is on Taylor. He is the leader of this offense. The passing attack needs to do more.
Running backs - C-
LeSean McCoy had 147 total yards — 71 rushing and 76 receiving — against the Patriots. His best play came on a 39-yard reception. He made one cut to beat a defender and then weaved his way up the field for the big gain. It was McCoy at his finest. But he didn't find a lot of room on the ground against the Patriots defense. The same is true for the other running backs. Mike Tolbert had three carries for minus-3 yards in the loss. The Bills will miss Travaris Cadet, who left the game with a leg injury.
Receivers - B-
Kelvin Benjamin put up some decent numbers on one good knee. He caught five passes for 70 yards. He should have had six receptions and a touchdown, but the NFL robbed him of a score. He made a few great catches along the sideline against the Patriots. Imagine a healthy Benjamin playing with a more consistent quarterback. He could be a major offensive threat. Deonte Thompson chipped in with four catches for 91 yards, including a 46-yard reception. Charles Clay had four catches for 37 yards. He had a bad drop on a would-be touchdown pass late in the first half. If he hauled that pass in, the throw to Benjamin wouldn't have been an issue.
Offensive line - C+
Not all of the sacks can be blamed on the offensive line, but it doesn't look good when your quarterback is sacked six times. They did give Taylor good protection for most of the game. He had one of the best yardage games of his career. The rushing game, though, wasn't as good. The Bills only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. That's not how this team wins games. They need to run the ball.
Defensive line - D+
Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams were credited with sacks, but the pass rush wasn't much of a factor against the Patriots. Brady had plenty of time to throw and didn't face a lot of pressure. It didn't help that the Bills wouldn't blitz against the Patriots.
Linebackers - C
For most of the game, the Bills' linebacking corps was solid. Preston Brown finished with a team-leading 14 tackles (nine solo) and two tackles for a loss. He made some good plays against the run. But the Patriots closed this out on the ground. Dion Lewis led the Patriots with 129 rushing yards. The team had 193 rushing yards. The Bills' run defense has faltered down the stretch, which needs to change.
Defensive backs - B-
Jordan Poyer made a Pro Bowl play early in the game. He returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown to give the Bills a 10-3 lead. It was a great read and a key play against the Tom Brady-led Patriots. But it was the only touchdown the Bills scored Sunday. You're not going to win too many games in the NFL when a defensive back produces your lone touchdown. It's difficult to critique the Bills secondary. Tom Brady threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Holding Brady to only 224 yards is good. The problem was the Swiss cheese run defense.
Kicking and punting - B
Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals and converted his only point-after attempt. He did miss a 50-yard field goal that shouldn't be on him. Yes, you would like to see him make that kick. But the Bills should have gone for it on fourth-and-one.
Punter Colton Schmidt had a good game with three punts for an average of 48 yards per punt. He had one kick land inside the 20.
Returns and coverage - C
Sean McDermott's inconsistency strikes again. In the first half, the Bills went for it on fourth-and-two. (The Bills had third-and-two, but didn't gain any yards.) In the second half, the Patriots led 23-16 when the Bills had a fourth-and-one in New England territory. Instead of going for the first down, McDermott opted to kick a field goal. Hauschka is excellent from long range, but even he will miss one once in a while. And that's exactly what happened. What made McDermott's decision a bad one wasn't the outcome of the play, but the situation. The Bills needed a touchdown and still would have needed a touchdown to close the gap. Why kick the field goal? That was a head-scratcher. This game also highlighted Rick Dennison's failures as an offensive coordinator. Tyrod Taylor is a capable quarterback. He's no Tom Brady or Russell Wilson, but he can get the job done. However, Dennison finds a way to put this offense in a bad position with his ridiculous play calls. A fullback screen? A tight end shovel pass? Runs with Mike Tolbert on second-and-25? Get Dennison out of here. The Bills need a new offensive coordinator.
OVERALL TEAM PERFORMANCE
The Bills hung with the Patriots for most of this game. The final score isn't a reflection of how close this game was for the first three quarters. The Patriots played a complete game. That was the difference.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
OFFENSE: Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin caught five passes for 70 yards in the loss to the Patriots. He should have had six catches and a touchdown, but again he was robbed by the NFL. He made some great catches, including a 35-yarder along the sideline.
DEFENSE: Jordan Poyer. Poyer's 19-yard interception return for a touchdown was a key play in the game. He has been one of the best defensive players for the Bills this season. That play highlighted his importance to this team.
Play calling. Rick Dennison has to go. He is not good at situational play calling. He frequently puts this offense in a bad position with silly play calls. Sean McDermott needs to take control of his team and lead this offensive in a different direction.
STAT OF THE GAME
281. Tyrod Taylor's 281 passing yards was one of his best yardage totals in a game. He must like playing on Christmas Eve. Last year on Christmas Eve against the Miami Dolphins, he threw for 329 yards. The Bills lost that game, too.
STAT OF THE GAME II
147. LeSean McCoy's total yards against the Patriots. He had 71 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards. He is the Bills' most valuable player this season. It's not even close.
The NFL needs to fix its officiating and replay system. What happened on the Benjamin catch was a joke. It's an embarrassment to the league and to the good officials who are respected.
The Bills (8-7) will play at 1 p.m. against the Miami Dolphins. The game will be televised on CBS.