The New England Patriots went 23 years without being shut out at home. That changed on Sunday.
For the second week in a row, the Buffalo Bills defense dominated an opponent, holding New England to only 277 yards of total offense and 13 first downs. This week it was the linebackers that led the way against the Patriots normally high-powered offense.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman used a different mix of packages to thwart Patriots rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett and the NFL's leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount.
"I thought we had a great plan," Rex Ryan said. "I thought our guys went out and did a great job of executing that plan."
"We knew it was going to be a dog fight," Nickel Robey-Coleman said. "But we knew we had to stay on top of our game and play Buffalo Bills defense. We couldn't make any mental errors. We knew this was a good team. We knew they played well on special teams. We had to make everything count and capitalize."
Blount came into the game with a league-leading 298 rushing yards, but the Bills held him to just 54 yards on 13 carries. Brissett went 17-for-27 with 205 yards, however a considerable chunk of those yards came with the game already decided. The longest play for the Patriots offense was a 58-yard reception by Martellus Bennett, but the Patriots had no other plays longer than 16 yards.
Inside linebacker Zach Brown continued his breakout season with 18 tackles on Sunday to bring his season total to 52. He now has recorded double-digit tackles in three consecutive games for the first time in his career and becomes the first Bills linebacker to put together that three-game streak since Kiko Alonso in 2013.
Brown's biggest contribution was in the second quarter when he delivered a massive hit to Brissett on a third-down play in the red zone to force a fumble that was recovered by Preston Brown.
"He's a quarterback and he's running with the ball," Brown said. "So I think he learned his lesson because the next time, he slid. The thing is, the quarterback is the worst ball-handler on the field. So if you hit him, the ball should come out 80 percent of the time."
That fumble put an end to one of the Patriots only successful drives into Bills territory for the game.
"He's a third string quarterback," Brown said. "We had to make him look like a third string quarterback. He's not Tom Brady."
On the next drive, Jerry Hughes sacked Brissett for a loss of 14 yards on first down and helped to send the Bills into halftime with a 13-0 lead.
Brown also added his first sack of the season on Sunday. The Bills finished with three total, including one from Lorenzo Alexander.
Alexander now has a sack in each of the Bills four games this season, and becomes the first Bills player to do that since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
The Bills defense was rarely on the field for any extended period of time. After forcing the Arizona Cardinals into five straight three-and-outs to begin the game last week, the Bills were even better on Sunday with the Patriots going 1-for-12 on third downs.
"Big emphasis on third down," said Preston Brown, who had eight tackles. "I looked up one time and it was like 0-for-8, so we definitely did a good job of getting off the field on third down. Up front and back-end guys playing hard and playing well."
The Bills defense next heads to Los Angeles to play the Rams, who have scored under 20 points in three of their four games this season.
The chemistry between the Bills linebackers, particularly Preston and Zach Brown, has helped the Bills secondary to excel along with the team's pass rush. The two players have also taken the pressure off of each other. "We know what the other one is going to do before they do it," Zach Brown said. "If somebody runs that way, we know he's going to go this way or that way. And we're real close. We know each other real well. We laugh, play when we get on the field, we just have fun. Because at the end of the day, it's a game."