The New England Patriots were able to hold off the Buffalo Bills in a wild and windy Monday night matchup at Orchard Park.
Temperatures in the low 30s and winds gusting from 25-30 mph made for an eventful four quarters of football. Head coaches Bill Belichick and Sean McDermott entered with opposite offensive gameplans for the harsh weather, and it was advantage Belichick as the Patriots escaped with a 14-10 victory.
Here are a few quick takeaways from New England's win, which brings its record to 9-4 and keeps it atop the AFC East. Next up is a bye week, followed by another road game vs. the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football.
Mac Jones takes a back seat
Mac Jones made history in this one. The rookie quarterback threw only three passes in the windy affair, marking the fewest pass attempts in a game in Patriots history. The previous low was five in the famous Snowplow Game in 1982. Steve Grogan was New England's signal-caller for that classic.
Jones' first pass was a 12-yard completion to tight end Jonnu Smith, who came up with a circus catch.
After that, the Patriots ran 32 consecutive running plays. Jones didn't throw another pass until there was 6:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. He finished 2 for 3 with 19 yards.
Rather than ask his 23-year-old QB to overcome the wind, Belichick stuck to the team's strengths: rushing and defense. That strategy turned out to be a brilliant one as Buffalo was incapable of stopping the run and Bills QB Josh Allen couldn't get much of anything going through the air. He ended up 15 of 30 for 145 yards and one TD.
Credit the Patriots running game and defense for executing, but this win came down to coaching. It was a masterclass from Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in what probably was the toughest game they'll have all season.
Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson carry the load
Jones handed the ball off 41 times. It was Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson doing most of the damage with a combined 189 yards on 34 carries.
It was all Harris to begin the game as he busted through the Bills defense to put the Patriots on the board with a 64-yard touchdown run.
Harris exited with a hamstring injury, returned for a big run in the third quarter, then was held out for the remainder of the game. His status will be worth monitoring throughout the bye week.
Stevenson stepped up in Harris' absence to carry the ball 24 times for 78 yards. Those are modest numbers on paper, but his 24 carries were enormous as New England needed to keep up its rushing attack in order to move the chains.
All in all, it was a major statement made by the Patriots' RB tandem as it overcame a usually-stout Buffalo run defense. It entered Monday night having given up only 3.9 yards per carry, the best mark in the AFC.
N'Keal Harry? Returning punts?
The lowlight of the game for the Patriots came late in the first quarter with wide receiver N'Keal Harry back to receive a punt. The 2019 first-round draft pick returned 14 punts at Arizona State and hadn't returned any in the NFL.
Well, he still hasn't returned a punt in the pros.
Despite the windy conditions, Harry attempted to field the punt and the result was not pretty. The ball clipped his facemask and was recovered by the Bills, who scored on their very next play.
Harry's miscue is inexcusable, but Belichick has to be questioned for putting him in the position to return punts in the first place. It was just a bizarre sequence all around, and the Patriots are fortunate it didn't come back to bite them in the end.
Nick Folk deserves more credit
Folk is the NFL's leading scorer with 128 points this season. His outstanding campaign continued Monday night as he overcame the wind with two fields goals, one of which went for 41 yards.
The last time Folk missed a field goal attempt inside of 50 yards was Week 1 of the 2020 season. You could seriously make the case that the 37-year-old has been one of the Patriots' MVPs this year, and his performance in this win was the latest example.