The New England Patriots made it seven straight Monday night at Highmark Stadium, weathering the Buffalo Bills by a score of 14-10 to retain the top seed in the AFC East and the AFC.
Here’s a glance back on the battle in Orchard Park as New England moves further into December with a 9-4 record and an upcoming bye.
Jones attempts three passes in the elements
A high-wind warning was in effect leading up to the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. Quarterback Mac Jones, wearing a scuba suit and full hood underneath his helmet, went 2-of-3 passing from there against the Bills.
The rookie out of Alabama did so for 19 yards and no turnovers against a Buffalo defense ranking ahead of New England’s in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Jones connected with outstretched tight end Jonnu Smith in the flat for his first completion of the evening. It transpired with 1:22 left in the first quarter and picked up a dozen. And it stood as the lone pass attempt before halftime, the fewest by an offense dating back to at least 1978. Jones, who moved the sticks on a fourth-and-1 sneak in the third quarter, was under center as 46 ground plays were called. His next attempt came with 6:51 left to play on a rollout intended for wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
Allen’s sixth encounter with the Patriots
Through quarterback Josh Allen’s previous five divisional encounters with the Patriots, he’d completed 56.3 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and six interceptions while being held below 300 yards passing in all but last December’s Bills rout.
This time, in unique conditions, the reigning Pro Bowler, All-Pro and division champion completed 50 percent for 145 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Allen tacked on 39 yards with his feet, including a 21-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. He was sacked twice at the hands of defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale and outside linebacker Matt Judon.
“His improvement has just been tremendous,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during his Wednesday press conference. “Where it was three years ago, completion percentage, passer rating, decision making, production, it has just gone — it’s risen at a really remarkable rate. It’s just remarkable how good he has become.”
Injured Harris paces three-headed Patriots backfield with career long
Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson crossed paths with a defense that had allowed 3.9 yards per carry and 96.6 yards per game on the season.
But New England’s three-headed backfield fought through the 50 mph wind gusts. And through the lanes cleared by fullback Jakob Johnson, wide receiver N’Keal Harry and an offensive line featuring Mike Onwenu as an eligible tight end.
Harris totaled 111 rushing yards over the course of 10 handoffs against the Bills, recovering a pitch that lost seven before running away for a career-long touchdown of 64 yards. It went in the archives as the longest run by a Patriot since Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin in 1997. Harris would be announced as questionable to return for the second half due to a hamstring injury, and he briefly did. Behind the starter, Bolden took a toss in for a two-point conversion and Stevenson added 78 yards through 24 carries.
Two-man punt return leads to six
Harry, who returned a punt for a touchdown during his junior year at Arizona State, checked in as the deep man behind first-team All-Pro Gunner Olszewski with two minutes left in the opening quarter.
The punt grazed off his facemask and Buffalo’s Siran Neal recovered the muff 14 yards from the end zone. A touchdown pass to wide receiver Gabriel Davis was logged on the ensuing down. An 8-7 game it became as a result.
Olszewski was back deep the next time the Bills sent the punt unit on.
Digging in against Buffalo’s Diggs
Bills wideout Stefon Diggs amassed nine catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns during his previous meeting with the Patriots and cornerback J.C. Jackson. The 2020 NFL receiving leader would finish his next with four catches for 51 yards.
Diggs was targeted seven times as coverage mixed between man, zone and turbulence. The initial throw sent his direction went for eight yards as he sat down underneath in the first quarter. A pass breakup by Jackson crossed the wire after intermission. As did a slant-and-go ball that hit the turf and a pirouetting, toe-dragging pickup of 26 yards that did not.
“I mean, everybody knows Diggs, man,” Jackson had told reporters on Friday. “Diggs is one of the best receivers in the game, one of the toughest matchups that I’ve been against since I’ve been in the league.”
Patriots’ safety depth chart goes without Dugger
Patriots tackle leader Kyle Dugger remained on the Covid-19 reserve list for the visit to Orchard Park, resulting in the standard elevation of veteran safety Sean Davis from the practice squad.
But it would be Myles Bryant joining Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips as a starter in the secondary versus Buffalo and tight end Dawson Knox, who finished with two catches for 14 yards on six looks.
Phillips had a hand in deflecting two of those, including on third-and-14 at the two-minute warning before he limped to the sideline. A diving deflection by Bryant, peeling off his route assignment, followed on fourth down as New England went with an all-out blitz.
A week after witnessing two 100-yard rushers
Last week, Tennessee Titans running backs Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman both eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against New England’s defensive front, which got caught upfield on a third down that became a touchdown from 68 yards away.
Monday gave way to a different outcome.
Buffalo backs Devin Singletary, Matt Breida and Zack Moss handled a combined 19 carries and turned them into 60 yards. A fumble during an exchange with Breida would be recovered by Lawrence Guy midway through the opening quarter. Meetings with fellow Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who accounted for 10 tackles, continued through the final quarter.
Moving the goal posts
The uprights swung back and forth, left and right, with the consistency of an inflatable air dancer outside a car dealership. The kickers faced them when asked.
New England’s Nick Folk went 2-of-2 on field goals and without an extra point. Buffalo’s Tyler Bass went 1-of-2 on field goals and made his only extra point.
The deepest attempt arrived from the former with the wind at his back from 41 yards out. The latter saw an attempt from 33 yards out sail wide right.