For the second straight game, the New England Patriots couldn't overcome a poor start and lost 33-21 to the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's Week 16 matchup at Gillette Stadium.
The Bills jumped out to a 17-7 halftime lead and outscored the Patriots 14-7 in the fourth quarter. The victory moves the Bills ahead of the Patriots in the AFC East standings.
Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones played arguably the worst game of his career. He completed just 14 of 32 pass attempts for 145 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He didn't get much help from New England's defense, which also struggled throughout the game (more on that below).
Next up for the Patriots is a Week 17 home game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are four takeaways from Patriots-Bills.
1) Patriots unlikely to win AFC East
The Patriots remain a strong bet to make the playoffs (92 percent, via FiveThirtyEight), but doing so as AFC East champions looks quite unlikely after today.
New England now is the second-place team in the division with a 9-6 record. The Pats and Bills have identical records but Buffalo has the edge in the standings via the division record tiebreaker. The Bills are 4-1 in divisional games, while the Patriots are 3-2.
The Patriots have a just 12 percent chance of winning the division, per FiveThirtyEight. They need the Bills to lose at least one of their remaining two games against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets to have a chance at claiming the AFC East crown.
New England's final two regular season games are versus the Jaguars in Week 17 and at the Miami Dolphins in Week 18.
2) Damien Harris bounces back strong
Harris missed last week's loss to the Colts with a hamstring injury, but he returned Sunday and was the Patriots' best player. He ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries (5.7 yards per rush).
The third-year running back showed impressive toughness and determination on a 16-yard score early in the second quarter.
After a 31-yard run moved the Patriots into Bills territory, Harris finished a 14-play third-quarter drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
He found the end zone again in the fourth quarter with another tough run.
Harris' excellent performance was much-needed with rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson unable to play Sunday.
Harris, who has 12 touchdowns through 15 games, is one of seven running backs with 10 or more rushing touchdowns this season. He's the first Patriots running back with 10-plus touchdowns in a single season since LeGarrette Blount (18) in 2016.
3) Josh Allen gives MVP-caliber performance
Allen sure looked like a $258 million player Sunday.
The star quarterback completed 30 of 47 pass attempts for 314 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Allen's touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the second quarter was among his best throws of the day.
He also ran for a team-high 65 yards on 10 attempts, including a first-down run on a key fourth-quarter drive that ended in a touchdown to Buffalo up 27-14. Allen also essentially sealed the victory with a first-down run on 4th-and-1 with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Allen didn't play particularly well in the Bills' loss to the Patriots at home in Week 13. He responded with a much-improved performance Sunday to give the Bills a massive advantage in the AFC East race.
4) Patriots defense takes a step back
The Patriots entered Week 16 allowing the third-fewest yards (307.5) and fewest points (16.2) per game this season. They gave up 429 yards and 33 points to the Bills on Sunday.
The Bills scored on five of their first six possessions, and the lone possession over that span that didn't result in points ended at New England's 1-yard line. They didn't even punt once and went 6-of-12 on third down and 3-of-4 on fourth down.
Buffalo dominated the Patriots through the air with 314 passing yards, a 63.8 completion percentage and three touchdowns, as well as on the ground with 115 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and another touchdown. Slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie torched the Patriots secondary with a career-high 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, as well as a couple clutch catches on third down. Patriots cornerback Myles Bryant struggled mightily covering McKenzie.
Forcing turnovers has been a key part of the Patriots' success on defense this season, and they entered Sunday with 27 takeaways (tied for the third-most in the league). They forced zero turnovers Sunday, while Buffalo forced two interceptions of Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
Defense has been a major strength of the Patriots throughout the season, but this unit just didn't make enough plays in key spots to win this game.