The Buffalo Bills visited the New England Patriots as champions of the AFC East for the first time since 1995.
And the visit ended in a 38-9 Bills victory Monday night at Gillette Stadium, where one game remains scheduled for a Patriots team that stands with a 6-9 record on the regular season.
Here’s a glance back as a new calendar nears.
Patriots captains missing from the middle of the defense
New England’s final injury report of the week included 20 questionable names.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley were among them due to shoulder ailments that left them limited in practice. And 90 minutes prior to kickoff Monday, the team captains with north of 1,000 combined snaps, 135 tackles and 3.5 sacks from September onward were inactive.
In the absence of Guy, Adam Butler got the start next to Byron Cowart on the interior line against Buffalo. In the absence of Bentley, rookie second-round draft pick Josh Uche got the start at the middle level next to Terez Hall. Foot and ankle injuries, respectively, would leave Uche and Hall questionable to return. Safety and captain Devin McCourty was later downgraded from questionable to out with a shoulder injury. The season sweep saw the Bills’ offense average 6.7 yards per play and hit 474 yards in all. No sacks were accrued.
Back-to-back starts bring sparks for Michel
Monday marked the second consecutive scratch for running back Damien Harris after 10 consecutive starts. And without the 2019 third-rounder out of Alabama, recently sidelined by an ankle issue, it was back to the 2018 first-rounder out of Georgia.
Sony Michel got the starting nod for New England a week after handling it to the tune of 7.4 rushing yards per carry despite facing a stacked box on an NFL-high 60 percent of his carries, according to Zebra Technologies.
Versus the Buffalo defensive front, Michel provided some semblance of a bright spot, gaining 69 yards on 10 opportunities. He took his second run from I-formation for 29 yards. He then broke loose outside the tackles for a spinning scamper of 21 in the second quarter. Veteran James White and undrafted signing J.J. Taylor rotated in behind him to account for 75 yards from scrimmage.
Digging in against Buffalo’s 1,400-yard wide receiver
Stefon Diggs did not get to face Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore in November. And the wideout, who collected six passes for 92 yards that afternoon in Orchard Park, also wouldn’t face the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in December.
With Gilmore placed on injured reserve with a partially torn quadriceps last week, Diggs crossed paths with fellow Maryland product J.C. Jackson early on.
Diggs entered the meeting tied for the league lead with 111 catches in his inaugural Bills campaign. With those catches, he’d amassed 1,314 yards and five touchdowns. Diggs exited it with an additional nine catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson had an end-zone interception nullified by an offsides penalty against New England. But a 50-yard, play-action TD across the middle and a tackle-shedding TD from 18 yards away were notched along the way for Diggs throughout his various defensive matchups. As was a diving score opposite corner Jason McCourty. His routes drew 11 targets from quarterback and fellow Pro Bowler Josh Allen.
With Buffalo’s gunners open, a fake punt leads to trouble
A week after the Miami Dolphins went with a fake punt, another divisional opponent did the same. There were no yellow flags this time.
It surfaced late in the first quarter as the Patriots left the Bills’ gunners unoccupied and went for the block. The result of the fourth-and-5 was a direct snap to Jaquan Johnson that became a catch for Siran Neal. The connection between the pair of Buffalo safeties picked up 13 yards and a fresh set of downs.
Former Utah Utes running back Zack Moss capped off the 12-play drive with a touchdown to make it a 10-3 score that swelled to 24-9 by intermission. That lapse was joined by others for New England’s special teams. Decorated Bills returner Andre Roberts cut through for a 49-yard sprint. And Patriots kicker Nick Folk, who hasn’t missed a field goal since midway through September, missed an extra point following the lone touchdown for his side.
2011 Patriots draft choice slips out to secure 10th career touchdown
Buffalo’s quarterback found himself completing passes to nine different teammates for 320 yards before resting in the final quarter.
Count 33-year-old tight end Lee Smith among those teammates.
A 2011 Patriots fifth-round selection out of Marshall, Smith leaked out of his blocking assignment for a touchdown catch from Allen in the second frame. Now 132 games into his NFL tenure, it stood as Smith’s 10th stop by the end zone and first against the organization that drafted him. No New England tight end, in contrast, turned a look into a reception on the evening.
Newton departs with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter
No. 1 remained behind center as Buffalo arrived. And in his 14th start as New England’s quarterback, Cam Newton remained there to go 5-of-10 through the air for 34 yards before Jarrett Stidham took field with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
Newton had a double-pass for a touchdown dropped by wide receiver Damiere Byrd on the opening drive. It wasn’t the only drop Newton would endure. He was sacked on third down by Bills defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson on the subsequent series and by blitzing safety Dean Marlowe before halftime. In between, Newton scrambled out of a takedown by defensive end Mario Addison as the second quarter got underway, powering over the goal line for his 12th ground score of the year. It tied him with Steve Grogan’s 1976 for the most in single-season franchise history at the position.
The position read 31-9 as Stidham stepped into the huddle. The sophomore QB by way of Baylor and Auburn finished Buffalo’s runaway 4-of-11 passing for 44 yards.