The New England Patriots faced a must-win situation with the Buffalo Bills coming to town on Saturday afternoon. It felt like a playoff game. From the buzz in the crowd, to the focus of the players on the field. They needed to come out and play great, and they did.
This was the best they have looked offensively, maybe all season. Brady was connecting with all his targets, including a nice touchdown thrown to Matt LaCosse and a few really strong late catches by Benjamin Watson, one of which was tipped at the line. It has been a struggle to get everyone involved, and yet, most players played a role in getting the Patriots the win over the Bills. Even Marshall Newhouse, who came in when Marcus Cannon went down, played pretty well.
The one guy who really cost the offense was Mohamed Sanu. He’s been close to useless since he got here, and really screwed them on back-to-back plays at the end of the first half. First, he would have had a first down on a third down pass if he had simply reached his arm out as he was getting tackled out of bounds, but, because he did not, the Patriots ended up with a fourth-and-one.
Then, on the ensuing play, where I believe the Patriots should have punted (I’ll explain after), he just never blocked his guy, and prevented N’Keal Harry from picking up the first on a jet sweep. The Bills would drive down and score a touchdown to tie it up right before the half, which could have been a huge turning point in the game, especially since Buffalo received the opening kickoff in the second half. Long story short, there seems to be at least one or two plays like this from Sanu every week. I just don’t see how he can be a guy they can rely on moving forward.
As for the fourth down. There were about 35 seconds left on the clock and the Bills had two timeouts left. The Patriots were at the Buffalo 40. All the Bills would have to do is pick up 25 yards and they are in field goal range. Or one long pass or pass interference, and they are in range to kick a field goal or even score a touchdown, as they did. If you punt in that situation, you’re probably pinning them fairly deep, even if it is a touchback, it’s still 20 yards further away than where they got the ball after the stop.
With less than 30 seconds left, it’s likely the Bills would have taken a knee, and the Patriots go into the half with a seven-point lead. I understand being aggressive and going for points, but it was likely, with such little time left and no timeouts, they were only trying to get into field goal range, which, to me, isn’t worth it at that point in the game. The Patriots were dominating the game up until that fourth down, and the Bills went into the half tied.
As for the defense, it did not force a turnover yesterday but still played pretty well. The unit contained Josh Allen for the most part, and outside of two long pass plays, the Bills didn’t have much offense to speak about. Allen didn’t even bother throwing at Stephon Gilmore when they were in man coverage, but he was hitting Cole Beasley quite a bit at the end. The Beasley development could be an issue if Jonathan Jones can’t find his way back onto the field. He is their slot corner, and although he has struggled as of late, he’s been pretty darn good all year, especially against the slot receivers like Beasley. With him out, New England doesn’t have many options to cover the slot guy.
The run defense, meanwhile, really stepped up and held Devin Singletary to just 46 yards on 15 carries. It got gashed a few times this season, but Lawrence Guy and the rest of the front-seven played very well on Saturday.
One last guy that I have to mention is Elandon Roberts. He has done a great job as the lead-blocker on running plays. Typically, when you see a defensive player playing fullback, it’s just at the goal line and doesn’t always work, but Roberts has been completely blowing people up, and brings some more attitude to the running game. Not sure if it came from him, but Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead both ran extremely hard yesterday. This is what helped the Patriots down the stretch last season, and you wonder if maybe they’re gelling together at the right time again this season.
The importance of this win cannot be overstated. This is a team that desperately needs a bye on wildcard weekend, and this win ensured that if it takes care of business next week against the Miami Dolphins. The Bills are no joke. Their defense is very good, and while Josh Allen isn’t a great quarterback, I do think he’s a very good football player. So the Patriots should be happy with their effort yesterday, but, as always this time of year, they’re going to have to play even better in the weeks to follow.
For now, though, we can take a day and celebrate the 11th straight AFC East championship.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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