FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – On my way to picking the New England Patriots to upset the Buffalo Bills, I overlooked one small but rather important detail: The Bills are definitely the better team and that was evident throughout their 24-10 victory at muted Gillette Stadium Thursday night.
Hey, no one’s perfect when it comes to trying to figure out how these NFL games are going to play out.
There were several things to point to leading into the AFC East showdown that could have been red flags for Buffalo, not the least of which this was its third game in 12 days, all of them away from Highmark Stadium. As far as I know, that’s rather unprecedented in the modern day NFL.
“We could have used every excuse in the book, but our guys, we work extremely hard,” Josh Allen said of the gantlet the Bills just ran through. “It wasn’t easy, I’ll say that.”
Here, think back to that internet meme last week of Allen’s exhausted, relieved face as he was hugging Stefon Diggs after the Lions game. That pretty much sums up the past two weeks.
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The revenge angle seemed very real for the Patriots after the Bills had so thoroughly embarrassed them in the AFC wild-card playoff game last January.
Apparently, Patriots QB Mac Jones has a picture of the Bills celebrating their 47-17 victory in that game hanging in his locker to provide some motivation for this season. Imagine that, the Bills are now living in the Patriots’ heads, quite a reversal from the Tom Brady days when it was the complete opposite.
“I didn’t do a good enough job of getting ahead early, making it work,” Jones said after throwing for just 195 yards. “Tough one, but hats off to the Bills for playing a good game.”
There was also the desperation the Patriots were feeling as they were sitting in last place in the AFC East knowing that their season is teetering on the brink a few months after team owner Robert Kraft essentially said there’s no excuses for his team to not make the playoffs.
“It’s not over yet. Right?” said Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon, trying to extract a fragment of hope. “We’re 6-6. We have more games to play. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to play. We have to put this one behind us.”
Lastly, bringing it back to the field, New England’s defense, one of the best in the league, would be facing a Buffalo offense that has been struggling a bit lately. An upset felt possible. You know, as they say, on any given Thursday …
Yet in the final analysis, none of that mattered. The Bills methodically moved the ball on offense, relying as much as their resurgent run game as they did Josh Allen’s arm, and then when Allen needed to make a play, naturally he made it, two of which were touchdown passes that ultimately decided the game.
And then defensively, the Bills dominated the feeble Patriots offense as Mac Jones couldn’t get anything working against a unit that may have been without Von Miller, but did have back on the field Tremaine Edmunds, Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, and, for most of the way, Tre’Davious White.
“I thought the guys did a really good job of playing complementary football,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “Impressed by the leadership, the character of our football team and the stretch that we had over the last three games here.”
Indeed, it was an impressive night all around for the Bills who now stand at 9-3, and are temporarily in first place in the AFC East, though Miami can reclaim the top spot if it can defeat San Francisco on the road Sunday.
The Bills could have put this game on ice in the first half, but a sloppy finish left them ahead just 17-7 at the break.
Things certainly started well enough as the defense forced a game-opening Patriots three-and-out and Allen drove Buffalo into position for a 38-yard Tyler Bass field goal.
Moments later, the Patriots made their only big offensive play of the first half, and it was one the Bills – or no one else – had seen on film. They lined up rookie return man/cornerback Marcus Jones in the left slot, Mac Jones threw a quick pass, and when Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin took a terrible angle, the speedy Jones raced untouched 48 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
After that play, the Patriots had the ball only five of the final 20 minutes in the half. Meanwhile, the Bills scored touchdowns on their next two possessions.
Allen drove them 82 yards in nine plays, capping it with a pretty eight-yard TD to Stefon Diggs who beat cornerback Jonathan Jones one-on-one in the left corner. The Bills caught a break when New England rookie Jack Jones was flagged for interfering with Gabe Davis on a third-and-9 to extend the possession.
After a New England punt, Allen marched the Bills 56 yards on 14 plays while chewing 7:46 off the clock. It ended with his eight-yard TD pass to Gabe Davis on a play that only Allen and a couple other QBs would try to make.
Flushed out of the pocket to his right, Allen broke free from a tackle and was nearly out of bounds but somehow threw across his body to Davis with two Patriot defenders dangerously close. It could have just as easily been a red zone pick, but it wasn’t because the pass was placed perfectly.
Later in the second, there was breaking news as the Patriots forced a Buffalo punt for the first time in 2 ½ games dating back to the wind game at Highmark Stadium.
Here, the Buffalo defense forced its fourth three-and-out of the half and Allen hit Diggs with a 41-yard TD pass, only to have it called back on a needless holding penalty on tight end Tommy Sweeney.
Two plays later, Allen was strip sacked by Josh Ushe and the Patriots were set up at their own 42 with a chance to change momentum. Instead, Nick Folk chunked a 48-yard field goal off the crossbar.
If there was any doubt about the end result, that was put to bed when the Bills took possession at their own 6-yard-line midway through the third quarter, and 94 yards, 15 plays and 8:55 later, with the game having moved into the fourth quarter, Devin Singletary plowed in for a one-yard touchdown on third down that made it 24-7.
“Anytime you can go (94) yards it’s a plus,” Allen said matter-of-factly. “But when you do it that way and it’s a long, sustaining drive, those ones feel really good. I thought we played really well tonight. Obviously only 24 points, but our defense played fantastic ball where we didn’t feel like we had to press and make any mistakes. These are good wins, in the division, away. It’s hard to win in this league.”
What’s next for the Bills
Finally, a chance to breathe. The Bills have the usual mini-bye after a Thursday game, something they didn’t get following the Thanksgiving Day game, and Allen admitted they really need it.
While the Bills are resting this weekend, their next opponent, the Jets, have a tough game in Minnesota Sunday before they come to Highmark Stadium on Dec. 11, the Bills second AFC East game in a stretch of three in a row.