The New England Patriots were crushed in what was the biggest home game in the last few years. Make no mistake about it, the Buffalo Bills made the Patriots look foolish at times and ended up winning 33-21.
Let’s take a look at 10 takeaways from the game.
1. Has Mac Jones hit the rookie wall? Mac Jones has looked bad the last two games. Before the Week 14 bye, he had finished with a completion percentage under 60 percent only twice — something he has now done in back-to-back games against the Indianapolis Colts and now the Bills. Versus Buffalo, he finished with a completion rate of under 50 percent for the first time in his career.
As far as his actual performance, he was late on another throw, which was a tip that ended as an interception, giving the Bills the ball deep inside Patriots territory. He played a little better down the stretch, but this is the second week in a row where the rookie has played like, well, a rookie.
Obviously, his supporting cast did not do him any favors, but if the Patriots are going to make playoffs, and have any success when they get there, they are going to need a whole lot better from him.
2. Another slow start. The Patriots started the game by going three-and-out on the very first drive. They then punted to the Bills who proceeded to shove the football down the Patriots’ throat to take a 7-0 lead. New England actually followed that up with a touchdown drive, but then allowed a field goal, threw an interception, went three-and-out again, and allowed another touchdown drive.
The Patriots put themselves in a 17-7 hole at the end of the first half, and this team is simply not built to overcome those types of deficits.
3. New England’s defense fails to rise to the occasion. For the first time in Bill Belichick’s head coaching career, a team punted zero times against him. That puts what the Bills did today in perspective. They had seven real drives (i.e. those not ending a half), and all seven of them reached the red zone. The Patriots simply had no answer for the Bills offense.
Buffalo went 6-for-12 on third down, and 3-for-4 on fourth down, with the only miss being a dropped touchdown by a wide open Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots couldn’t stop the pass, and were willing to simply give up the underneath throw for 10ish yards all day. Josh Allen happily took it over and over again. When he did make a mistake, like overthrowing Stefon Diggs twice, J.C. Jackson dropped the interceptions.
Winning and losing comes down to not only playing well all game, but making the plays that are there for you. Not only did the Patriots play some bad defense, they also were not able to take the game back even when the Bills tried to hand it to them.
4. Myles Bryant struggles. Missing two of their favorite wide receivers — Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis — the Bills needed someone to step up, and Isaiah McKenzie was that guy. McKenzie had 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, with the majority of his production coming with Myles Bryant desperately trying to cover him. The second-year cornerback had a hard time staying with him, and it was a play that seemed to be wide open all day.
Was it all on Bryant? No. McKenzie is one of the fastest players on the team, and staying with him on a crossing route is next to impossible, but that was the task and Bryant was unable to get it done.
Bryant has had a good season thus far, but Sunday made it obvious that he is a downgrade from Jonathan Jones in the slot. Maybe the team should not have kept him in that position when it became clear he was outmatched, but you would still like to see him have more success than he did this week.
5. Damien Harris is a stud. Harris ran hard on Sunday, and scored all three touchdowns for the Patriots on Sunday. He finished with 103 yards rushing and those three scores.
New England has leaned heavily on Harris this season, and he has responded well. He is tough to bring down, and when he gets near the end zone, he is very determined to get in. The running game has gotten the Patriots this far, and Harris is going to have to continue to run well if they want to have a chance to win anything in January.
6. Josh Allen played very well. Josh Allen made the occasional bad throw, but he was nothing short of outstanding on Sunday. He was constantly moving around buying time for himself and his receivers, and delivered some great passes throughout the day.
The thing that impressed me the most, however, was his willingness to make the easy throw. So many times in his career, he has tried to go for the big play, but he was content to simply take what the Patriots gave him over and over. Allen is always going to be able to make those crazy throws that wow you a few times a game, but it is games like Sunday’s, when he keeps drives alive by making easy throws and smart decisions, that are going to catapult him to the top of the list of the best QBs in the league.
7. Jake Bailey struggles again: Jake Bailey was one of the best punters in the league the last few seasons. That has not been the case this season. I’m not sure if he is still dealing with his right knee injury, since he and Nick Folk have actually shared the kickoff duties, which is strange, but he has had an up and down year regardless of circumstance.
He had a booming kick at the end of the first half, but his first two punts were not great. The first one was a shank that ended up being OK because it bounced about 15 yards in New England’s favor, and the second was a low-line drive that allowed a 15-yard return into Patriots territory.
Bailey was a consistent player, and, at some point, felt like the Patriots’ best last season, but he’s had a tough year so far. Sunday was no exception.
8. Jakobi Meyers shows a ton of grit. Meyers was shaken up in the third quarter and in obvious pain after a third-down catch, but he stayed in and continued to play well. He was the only player on the Patriots with more than two catches, finishing with six receptions for 59 yards.
Meyers is far from perfect, and he’s had his struggles this season, but he gave the team everything he had today, and should be commended for it.
9. Officiating was terrible, again. The officials have been terrible all season across the NFL, but Sunday was especially bad. Picking a flag up on the late hit call against Mac Jones was completely inexcusable. It is clearly a penalty, and not getting that was brutal. To top that off, they gave Trent Brown a personal foul, costing the Patriots a total of 30 yards.
Then, later in the game, Matt Milano hit Mac Jones after he slid, which was called, but David Andrews was called for taunting when he got in Milano’s face. It was a ticky-tack penalty that wiped out a penalty that would have put New England inside the Buffalo 10. There was also a penalty against Buffalo where Jakobi Meyers wasn’t even touched and they called holding. There were multiple more instances of missed calls and bad calls on both sides.
The Patriots did not lose the game on Sunday because of the refs, far from it, but this has been a consistent problem all season that really needs to be cleaned up by the league.
10. The Patriots’ season is far from over. Just a few weeks ago, the Patriots had the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and held their fate in their own hands. After back-to-back losses, they are now a wild card team (since the Bills own the division-record tiebreaker), and need to win out to ensure they even make the playoffs.
Mac Jones is only a rookie, and they are ahead of where many people thought they would be at this stage in his development, but there were high hopes for this team in the middle of its seven-game winning streak. The AFC East race is almost certainly over, but the Patriots still have a good shot at making the playoffs.
They need to take care of business the next two weeks, and, although next week’s contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars should be fairly easy, it is never easy to win in Miami — and there will be a ton of pressure on New England to win that game. The Patriots aren’t where we want them to be, but the season is far from over. Keep the faith, and hope that they can make some noise to end the season.