FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sunday's trip to Buffalo to take on the Bills brought the New England Patriots another win, the team's eighth straight, as well as a less-expected short-term loss as tight end Rob Gronkowski earned a one-game suspension thanks to a fourth-quarter, post-play hit on a Buffalo defender.
New England (10-2) overcame a sluggish start and suspect run defense to pull away in the second half for a 23-3 win over a Bills (6-6) team that quarterback Tom Brady has now beaten 27 times, an NFL record for the most by any quarterback over a single foe.
While it's no surprise that head coach Bill Belichick's team -- which rushed for 191 yards and a pair of ground scores by Rex Burkhead, topping 190 yards rushing for the second time in as many weeks -- was able to turn a 9-3 halftime edge into a comfortable win, the day was far from all positive.
Gronkowski, who grew up not far from New Era Field rooting for the Bills, closed out another big day against Buffalo with nine catches for 147 yards and one ugly, post-interception hit on rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White. With White lying on the sideline out of bounds and the play long over, Gronkowski dived onto the young defensive back with an elbow to the back of his head.
Postgame cameras at midfield appeared to catch Belichick apologizing to Bills head coach Sean McDermott for the hit that drew an unnecessary roughness call and left White in the concussion protocol. Belichick was heard calling it, "bullsh--."
Gronkowski began his postgame comments to the media by apologizing for the hit, but then seemed to make excuses for it based on ongoing frustration over the way he's treated in terms of offensive and defensive pass interference calls by officials. There was no doubt that prior to the cheap shot on White after his interception, the rookie cornerback was holding Gronkowksi throughout his route downfield. The tight end also was nabbed for a questionable offensive pass interference call earlier in the game.
"I want to apologize to No. 27," Gronkowski said. "I'm not in the business of that. I mean, there was a lot of frustration and I was just really frustrated at that moment and it just happened naturally through emotions. ... I just want to apologize to Tre'Davious White."
A day later, while awaiting word on whether Gronkowski would be suspended for the hit, Belichick didn't have much to add to the story.
"I think Rob addressed it. I don't have anything else to add," Belichick said in a morning conference call that came a few hours before the league announced the one-game ban via press release.
NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan issued the suspension for multiple violations of NFL rules, including unnecessary roughness and unnecessary contact with a defenseless player. According to the release, Runyan's letter to Gronkowski included the following: "Your actions were not incidental, could have been avoided and placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury. The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of 'eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game.' Those hits include the play you were involved in yesterday."
Gronkowski can and will appeal the suspension.
But coming off another impressive win, New England will likely be without Gronkowksi, who leads the Patriots with 55 catches for 849 yards and seven touchdowns, for Monday night's trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins. He should, however, return for the Dec. 17 AFC showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
REPORT CARD VS. BILLS
--PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Tom Brady usually lights up the Bills, but that wasn't the case, with the quarterback completing 21 of 30 passes for 258 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for an 82.4 passer rating. Rob Gronkowski was the dominant target, catching nine of the 11 balls thrown his way for 147 yards. No other Patriot had more than four catches for 34 yards, and the offensive line allowed three sacks in the red zone to help force three field goals.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Going against a Bills team that's been allowing big days on the ground over the last month-plus, New England approached 200 yards rushing for the second straight week. The Patriots had 35 rushes for 191 yards as a team, led by Dion Lewis' 92 yards on 15 attempts, including a career-long 44-yarder. Rex Burkhead also had a solid day with 12 carries for 78 yards, including a career-long 31-yarder as well as New England's only two touchdowns in the win.
--PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- Buffalo's quarterbacks combined to complete just 15 of 34 throws for 115 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a 40.7 passer rating. Tyrod Taylor threw a costly pick right to Eric Lee near the goal line in the first quarter that ended an impressive opening drive and, in many ways, the game. New England's burgeoning secondary, including former Bill Stephon Gilmore, covered well all day while the front picked up four sacks and nine QB hits on the combination of Taylor and then rookie Nathan Peterman in a pretty dominant pass defense performance.
--RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Buffalo basically ran the ball whenever and wherever it wanted to on the New England defense, tallying 183 yards on 26 attempts with four different players notching runs of 12 yards or longer. LeSean McCoy led the Bills with 93 yards on his 15 rushes as a banged up and undermanned Patriots front continues to struggle mightily against the run, especially on the edges of the defense.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Stephen Gostkowski hit a 50-yard field goal in windy conditions to open the game's scoring, with his three first-half field goals (50, 31, 39) accounting for the Patriots 9-3 lead at halftime. Ryan Allen had just a 35-yard net on three punts, with one downed inside the 20. New England didn't get much out of the return game, though practice squad call-up Bernard Reedy had an 11-yard punt return in his Patriots debut. The coverage units continued their solid season.
--COACHING: B -- New England faced a new-look Bills team on the road, fighting through a slow start to take care of business. Head coach Bill Belichick's staff put together a solid game plan on offense, with only pass protection issues in the red zone keeping the scoring down. New England took advantage of a porous Buffalo run defense and an obvious mismatch with Rob Gronkowski. Defensively Matt Patricia's troops were undermanned up front and struggled to stop the run. But there were enough wrinkles in the pass rush and the red zone to keep Buffalo out of the end zone. Belichick and Co. have the team rolling toward another division title and postseason run.