The New England Patriots were just 13 yards away from shocking the Buffalo Bills and putting themselves right back into the mix in the AFC East. However, Justin Zimmer knocked the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands with 30 seconds to play as the Patriots were defeated 24-21 on a windy Sunday afternoon. The Patriots have now lost four straight for the first time since 2002 and fall to 2-5 for the first time since 2000.
It wasn’t all that bad from New England’s side of things, though, as the offense certainly moved the ball a lot more efficiently than it has in the last month and played 59 minutes of turnover free football. However, the defense was gashed in the second half and a questionable onside kick from Belichick after tying the game late in the third quarter makes this loss sting even more.
With that said, let’s dig into the winners and losers from Sunday’s game.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
The game plan was pretty obvious from the Patriots given their lack of experience on the outside and the Bills’ soft run defense. They came into the contest ranking 22nd in the league stopping it, and were allowing 4.6 yards per carry.
All week I had said it was trending towards a huge breakout game from Damien Harris and he gave the team just that. The second-year back, who led all rushers with 102 yards on just 16 carries with his longest run of the day coming on a 22-yard score up the middle to cut the Bills’ lead at the time to 14-12. Harris ran hard all day and consistently moved the chains while getting positive yards after contact. He has clearly taken the job as the Patriots’ lead back, and things should certainly stay that way whenever Sony Michel does come off of injured reserve.
Loser: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
Bentley has had a rough 2020 so far this season. After being elected a team captain prior to the season and a lot of turnover at the linebacker position, this was his year to break out and lead this Patriots front-seven. However, it was more of the same from the third-year linebacker as he was torched in coverage and missed several tackles that led to big plays for the Bills.
One in particular stands out: early on in the game, Bentley missed Zack Moss who bounced off him as he scampered into the end zone to put the Bills up 7-0. After he went down with an injury in the fourth quarter, he was replaced by rookie Josh Uche — more on him in a second — at inside linebacker. Bentley has looked slow at times, and he has been one of the liabilities on the defensive front seven.
Winner: WR Jakobi Meyers
I will be the first one to get on the Patriots and their lack of talent at wide receiver. However, following a strong rookie campaign after going undrafted, Meyers was primed to break out here in his second season. An injury early in camp and the emergence of Damiere Byrd and Gunner Olszewski at the time had Meyers looking up on the depth chart for the first half of this season. However, after a strong outing last week vs San Francisco when he was really the only one moving the chains through the air, he doubled it up with another big week in Buffalo.
Meyers racked up six catches for 58 yards and made several big plays down the stretch to continue moving the chains. He should be a go-to guy for Cam Newton and the Patriots going forward as he consistently gets open and competes extremely hard for the football.
Loser: QB Cam Newton
Listen, a lot of you will either agree or disagree with me and I tempted leaving him off considering that he was much better than he was in past weeks. Newton looked much more confident and comfortable in the pocket as the day went on, and certainly made a few nice throws over the middle of the field to keep some drives going. However, he also struggled for most of the first half before the Patriots finally snapped their six-quarter touchdown drought when Harris found the end zone in the third quarter.
Newton still has moments where he can’t process well and get rid of the football, while his mechanics remain sloppy. He turned in a big rushing touchdown to tie the game at 21 and threw a nice ball to Jakobi Meyers for a big two-point conversion following Harris’ score, but his fumble at the end of the game simply can’t happen. Newton needs to be a lot more cautious with the ball in that situation as the Patriots were inside the 20 and a chip shot away from sending the game to overtime.
Newton wasn’t the primary reason the Patriots lost on Sunday, but he did have a major turnover in a crucial moment down the stretch.
Winner: LB Josh Uche
Patriots fans have been dying waiting to see the 2020 second-round pick in action. But, after injuries throughout training camp, Uche made his NFL debut on Sunday and made some key plays for the Patriots in limited time.
One of his biggest moments of the day came on a third down when he tackled Bills quarterback Josh Allen in the open field; Allen had just Uche to beat for the first down. The play forced a punt and the Patriots ended up tying the game on the ensuing drive. Uche then replaced Bentley later in the game at middle linebacker. The Michigan product flashed athleticism and speed at the linebacker position which is something that position group has lacked the entire season.
Loser: S Adrian Phillips
Phillips has been in a rough spot this year as he’s being used as the Patriots’ extra defensive back in several packages and being asked to basically play linebacker because of the lack of speed at the position. He is a chess piece and has taken on that Patrick Chung role for the defense so far this season, but it has been evident all year long he’s just overmatched playing in the box. Phillips struggled against the run again on Sunday and was bullied off the ball all day long. With Josh Uche back, the Patriots may be able to get Phillips back into his normal spot at safety, because so far this season the linebacker experiment hasn’t worked.
Loser: TE Ryan Izzo
Izzo had two big third-down catches for the Patriots, but other than that he wasn’t great on Sunday. He missed several big blocks and was eaten alive by Jerry Hughes off the edge as he was consistently in New England’s backfield all day long.
Izzo’s job has been tough the last two years, helping “replace” future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski. With both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene being non-factors in their rookie seasons so far, Izzo’s job became that much more important. However, he can’t block well enough and certainly doesn’t fear defenses in the passing game to be a consistent option at the position going forward. Sunday’s game was more of the same.
Winner: K Nick Folk
Is it crazy to think Nick Folk may be the Patriots’ offensive MVP this year? That is certainly not a good thing. However, he’s been one of few consistent players for the Patriots so far this year. With wind gusts over 25 MPH on Sunday, Folk picked up right where he left off and hit a big kick before half as well as converting on his two lone extra points. Since his miss in Week 1, Folk has hit 11 in a row and has missed just one extra point all year long.
Loser: Bill Belichick
For the most part, the Patriots executed their game plan pretty efficiently. They had a chance to tie or win in the final minute, but before that Belichick’s defense was torched on the ground once again and a head-scratching onside kick after tying the game late in the third period had Patriots fans fuming. The decision to onside kick there was obviously to keep the momentum going and keep his defense off the field but at the time it didn’t make any sense.
New England had a big third down stop, scored, and converted a two-point conversion to tie the score. However, the failed onside kick allowed for great field position for the Bills who then scored on a nine-play, 45-yard drive to quickly regain the lead. Kicking it deep there puts the Bills on their heels and makes them go at least 75 yards to get six. Belichick is not the only person to blame for the loss, but he made a key mistake there that cost his team.