Two weeks ago, the Bills got run over by the Patriots. Buffalo’s reaction? We beat ourselves.
Last week, the Patriots got caught flat-footed by the Colts. The Patriots reaction? We beat ourselves.
On Sunday, the Bills walked into Foxboro and – with the AFC East on the line – pushed the Patriots all over Gillette Stadium. There’s no confusion this week. There’s no hide-and-seek, "That wasn’t us…" excuse-making. It wasn’t the dropped picks or the dropped passes or the penalties called, waved off or not called.
It was the Bills. The Bills beat the Patriots. The Bills beat the Patriots because they had the best player on the field in quarter-billion-dollar quarterback Josh Allen.
In a second, we’ll get into what this means for the Patriots. Are they a pack of phonies, frauds and charlatans? Are we snake-oil salesmen for hyping them up and are you suckers for buying in? Hold that thought.
Before we do that, just roll through what Buffalo did on Sunday so there’s no mistaking how much they outplayed New England even if the final score wasn’t as ugly as it could have been.
The Bills had seven “real” possessions (they ran out the clock before halftime and at the end of the game). All seven drives were seven plays or more. They had one 10-play drive, two 13-play drives and a 14-play drive. The one time the Bills failed to score, they threw incomplete three times from the Patriots 1-yard line.
Not only did the Bills never punt, they never even faced a third down on their own side of the field until the final play of the third quarter. Of course, they converted that. For reference, here’s what the Bills did on each of their third and fourth downs.
First drive (Bills 0, Patriots 0. 13:34 left in first)
- Third-and-7, NE 36. Allen to Isaiah McKenzie for 7 yards
- Fourth-and-2, NE 3. Allen to McKenzie 3-yard TD
Second drive (Bills 7, Patriots 7. 14:28 left in half)
- Third-and-4, NE 7. Incomplete
- Fourth-and-4, NE 7. 25-yard field goal
Third drive (Bills 10, Patriots 7. 7:57 left in half following INT)
- Third-and-1, NE 1. Incomplete
- Fourth-and-1, NE 1 Incomplete
Fourth drive (Bills 10, Patriots 7. 3:10 left in half following short punt)
- Third-and-8, NE 40. Allen to Devin Singletary for 1 yard
- Fourth-and-7, NE 39. Christian Barmore encroachment
- Fourth-and-2, NE 34. Allen to Stefon Diggs for 23 yards
- Third-and-11, NE 12. Allen to Diggs for 12-yard TD
Fifth drive (Bills 17, Patriots 7. 15:00 left in third)
- Third-and-10, NE 23. Allen to Emmanuel Sanders for 11 yards
- Third-and-14, NE 16. Throwaway incomplete
- Fourth-and-14, NE 16. 34-yard field goal
Sixth drive (Bills 20, Patriots 13. 1:41 left in third)
- Third-and-2, BUF 42. Allen to McKenzie for 5 yards
Seventh drive (Bills 26, Patriots 21. 7:37 left in game)
- Third-and-10, BUF 25. Allen to McKenzie for 17 yards
- Third-and-1, NE 34. Allen rush for no gain
- Fourth-and-1, NE 34. Allen for 8 yards
- Third-and-10, NE 26. Allen to Diggs for 19 yards
The Patriots made the Bills settle for field goals a couple times and turned them away when Sanders dropped a fourth-and-goal pass from the 1. But they never really stopped Buffalo. And it’s hard to win when that happens.
Why did it happen? The Patriots had no answer for Allen. The one they tried – the safest one – didn’t work.
You noticed Allen had forever-and-a-day to throw? That’s because he’s a damn terror. You don’t treat him like Mike White, Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield. Not anymore. Now, four seasons in, you treat Allen like Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes. Both of them are more accurate passers and more polished decision-makers (Rodgers far more polished). But neither of them can run like Allen.
That meant a controlled pass rush so that Allen had no seams to step through. Better to make him process coverage and take checkdowns than have him take off like an overcaffeinated elk and run for 33 on a third-and-5 or have some playground play where everyone chases him for seven seconds and he throws it 74 yards downfield over everyone’s heads.
After the game, Allen grabbed teammate Harrison Phillips as the two made their way to the visitor’s locker room. According to Tim Graham of The Athletic, Allen yelled, “I don’t know who the f--- they thought I was, Harry!"
Whether Allen was referring to Patriots fans, Patriots players or the Patriots coaching staff is unclear. But if he meant the coaches, the scheme they played was a tipoff that they thought and think Allen is good. He would either make plays or he wouldn’t. And he did. He finished the day 30 for 47 for 314 and the three TDs. He ran 12 times for 64 yards.
He made brilliant but ill-advised throws (a third-and-10 cross-body lob to Sanders in the third), brilliantly placed touch passes (a 9-yard feather into the hands of Dawson Knox in the red zone in the third), bullets, shovel passes, improvisations and the key conversion of the game when he ran a naked bootleg for 8 yards. He got lucky twice with dropped picks by J.C. Jackson. But sometimes that’s part of the deal.
You can drop a pick against the Browns or Panthers and it won’t haunt you. You drop a pick or a would-be 15-yard reception (like N’Keal Harry) or jump offsides (like Barmore) and a good team will make you pay.
“In zones, (Allen) did a good job of just checking it down,” said Devin McCourty. “And it wasn’t like it was huge plays, but it was seven, it was eight (yards). And it made us harder in second-and-2s and things like that. So, I thought he did a good job, but I didn’t think we adjusted well to that. It was kind of like we were behind in each part of that, and he kept the chains moving, and it made them have the ability to really control the game.
“We let them kind of play it on their own terms,” McCourty added. “And when you do that to a good quarterback, I thought Allen got in a zone, and he was seeing things well. They were holding up in protection, and (he) was able to buy time scrambling or buy time throwing. And that puts a lot of pressure on a defense.”
The Bills are that. Are the Patriots – now at 9-6 – no longer a good team? Come on. They’re fine. But. BUT!
Consecutive losses out of the bye are distressing for three reasons. First, they’ve dropped the Patriots from having the inside track to the No. 1 seed to having to sweat a bit over a Wild Card bid. Second, the Colts loss showed just how quickly a consistent and disciplined team can come completely unglued and that this team is capable of a mental meltdown.
Third, the Bills loss shined a light on the fact the Patriots – while pretty good at everything – are not superb at anything. They’ll scheme you up and put their pieces in the right spots and execute as designed most of the time. But they can be overwhelmed by a unique talent who’s having a real good day.
The Bills have more really good players than the Patriots. Allen is better than Mac Jones, who seems to officially have slammed into the rookie wall. Stefon Diggs is better than any receiver the Patriots have and Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie were both faster than anything Jones had at his disposal Sunday. Dawson Knox may not be better than Hunter Henry but he’s got three years alongside Allen. Henry and Jones are just getting used to each other.
That’s the thing that may be a little overlooked. This iteration of the Patriots is in the first year of its reboot. The Bills have largely been together a while. They were in the AFC Championship last year. Whether that’s an explanation or an excuse, it doesn’t really matter. It is what it is.
The Patriots are on Buffalo’s ass a lot sooner than the table-smashers in Western New York figured they’d be. And the chest-stomping applied by the Patriots a couple weeks back had the whole region on the therapist’s couch. But, all things being equal – including the weather – the Bills have better players than the Patriots. And they played better Sunday.