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Lessons learned from first matchup with Bills still valuable to the Patriots

Related: Patriots are facing questions at wide receiver. Enter practice squadders Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots’ first game against the Buffalo Bills this season was unique. With the conditions at Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium presenting a challenge for the passing and kicking games in particular, the Patriots decided to go old school.

New England called just three passes all game, compared to 44 run plays. The plan worked, and the Patriots were able to leave Western New York with a 14-10 victory in their bag.

Three weeks later the two AFC East rivals are now set to meet for a rematch — one that will likely not look like the Monday night game in Week 13. But while the circumstances will be considerably different, the Patriots still see some value in the lessons learned from the first game against the Bills.

“Certainly, [the conditions] affected the game. It’s still valuable,” said head coach Bill Belichick. “It’s the team we were playing two weeks ago. It affected the strategy in the kicking game. It affected some strategy in the passing game. I don’t know if it affected the running game matchups a lot. Probably not.”

Safety Devin McCourty, who was on the field for all 58 defensive snaps in Week 13, echoed Belichick’s remarks.

“There’s going to be some carryover from that game,” McCourty said earlier this week. “Third down was third down, and especially in the second half once they got going some of the passing plays and the routes that they had. But I would say we still have to be prepared for things to change.”

The conditions will likely be the biggest change when looking ahead to Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Bills. They will not be the only one, though: both teams will also have to make some personnel adjustments.

New England, for example, might be without two of its top three wide receivers. Kendrick Bourne was placed on the Coronavirus reserve list earlier this week, with Nelson Agholor missing back-to-back practices due to a head injury sustained last Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts.

Buffalo, meanwhile, will be without unvaccinated starting slot receiver Cole Beasley after he tested positive for Covid-19 himself. Starting offensive linemen Dion Dawkins and Jon Feliciano are also currently sidelined under the league’s Coronavirus protocols and no safe bets to line up this week.

“It’s two completely different games. Different people are going to be playing, they’re going to run different formations, different looks,” said linebacker Matthew Judon. “You don’t want to come out and just repeat the same things we did in the Monday night game. We have to come out here and we have to execute our game plan and stop what they’re going to show us.

“They’re not going to show us the exact same thing, the same looks, because obviously it didn’t work well enough to win the game. So, they’re going to come out with a different level of intensity and execution and we just have to match that.”

Despite acknowledging that there will be some carryover from Week 13, Judon’s head coach also shared the Pro Bowl linebacker’s thoughts on comparing the two games.

“Like every game, it’ll be a totally different game,” said Bill Belichick. “We’ll prepare and see how it plays out. I’m sure they’ll do some things differently. Regardless of what the weather conditions are, they would make some changes. I’m sure we would make some changes. Both teams have a game plan element to their style of play anyways.”

While the Patriots defense might look similar to the one used against Buffalo three weeks ago — focusing primarily on stopping the pass but not giving up any room on the ground as well — the offense will likely not be recognizable. Josh McDaniels calling only three pass plays all day should not be expected, with his unit probably using a more balanced approach.

The conditions being different will make this possible, and allow for both teams to stick to their respective game plans more closely.

“Going into the game with the wind, no one knew how bad the wind was going to be. I think they had a different kind of game plan, we had a different kind of game plan for how it would go. We had to see how it went. That will be a little different this week,” said McCourty.

“We do need to prepare for some different things, but it is what it is. You have to prepare for the next game. It’s never going to be the same type of game. We all have that new school, first day of school mentality of being prepared and ready to go.”