Have you caught your breath yet?
The New England Patriots’ win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night solidified them as the top seed in both the AFC and the AFC East. It was a gutsy victory from a team that hasn’t been battle-tested quite like this since the AFC Championship game at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium in 2019. Monday’s game was arguably the biggest regular season win for the Patriots in quite some time.
The win itself was made possible by timely stops, dominating in the trenches, a whole lot of unselfishness from this group, and an offensive game plan that we have not seen in recent NFL history: Mac Jones threw just three passes while Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden combined for 39 touches and 224 yards to cement a W in one of the weirdest games in franchise history.
Let’s get into the winners and losers from the Patriots big win on Monday night.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
From the opening kickoff, there was no secret the Patriots’ success on offense was going to come on the ground. Before leaving the game with a hamstring injury, Harris rushed for 111 yards on just 10 carries and a score. His 64-yard touchdown run five minutes into the game — the Patriots’ longest run since a 73-yarder by LeGarrett Blount in 2014 — silenced Highmark Stadium and the Patriots never looked back, playing with the lead the entire game.
On Monday, Harris proved he can be a go-to player down the stretch when the weather gets colder. His powerful running completely wears down opposing defenses.
Winner: RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Rhamondre Stevenson continues to be an X-factor for this Patriots team going forward. Paired with Harris, the rookie possesses a running style that is a challenge for any defense trying to gain control of the game down the stretch.
After Harris went down late in the second quarter and again in the third, Stevenson took over the backfield rushing for 78 yards on 23 carries and picking up big first downs down the stretch. The 1-2 punch of Harris and Stevenson is going to be tough for opposing defenses to stop, especially when the Patriots are sitting on a lead.
Winner: Offensive Line
Whenever you rush the ball 98 percent of the game and win, your offensive line must be doing something right. The Patriots dominated in the trenches last night and despite the Bills knowing the Patriots were running every play, still got the push up front and averaged 5.2 yards per non-kneel-down carry as a team.
Big blocks from fullback Jakob Johnson, center David Andrews and left tackle Isaiah Wynn on some big runs highlight the unit’s best showing of the 2021 season.
Winner: FB Jakob Johnson
You hear the Patriots offensive line and running backs give Jakob Johnson all the credit in the world on a weekly basis, and it’s time for us to start giving it too.
Johnson was a big part in the Patriots’ rushing attack in Monday night’s win. He made an important block that freed up space for Harris on his touchdown and was constantly at the point of attack throughout the night. Johnson playing an unselfish role in the New England ground game has been huge for its power running game, and he was a main reason they were able to move the ball efficiently on Monday night as well.
Loser: WR N’Keal Harry
The only low point of the night came on N’Keal Harry’s mistake on a punt that gifted the Bills their lone touchdown. With the Patriots leading 8-0 and starting to gain control of the contest, Harry elected to try and field a bouncing punt that ended up grazing his helmet and was recovered by Buffalo. On the ensuing play, Bills quarterback Josh Allen hit Gabriel Davis for a 14-yard score to get the team back into the game.
It was a tough mistake for Harry after he made a key block on the Damien Harris 64-yard touchdown just the drive before. However, the former first-round draft pick did stay in the game after his gaffe, and was even back deep on the ensuing kickoff after Davis’ score.
Winner: CB J.C. Jackson
Going up against Bills number one wide receiver Stefon Diggs — a player who caught nine passes for 171 yards as well as two touchdowns against him last season — J.C. Jackson played a very good game. He did not constantly shadow Diggs one-on-one given that the Patriots mixed in plenty of zone coverage, but he generally got the better of the matchup when it presented itself.
Diggs’ outstanding 26-yard catch in the fourth quarter was really the only time he was able to find success against Jackson. The rest of the night was won by New England’s CB1.
Winner: DT Davon Godchaux
The Bills took a similar approach to the Patriots in the first half and elected to run it 24 times. They did not got anywhere, though, thanks in large part due to Davon Godchaux’s impact up front.
Godchaux expressed his frustration after the Patriots allowed 270 yards on the ground to the Titans last week, and made it a precedent that it would not happen again. The free agency addition led the Patriots with both 10 tackles and three tackles for loss and was a key factor in the defense’s ability to win in the trenches on Monday night.
Winner: K Nick Folk
Facing possibly the worst conditions of his career, Nick Folk still found a way to be perfect. The Patriots elected to go for two and converted after Harris’ 64-yard score, but after that — in a game where points were hard to come by — Folk took over. The veteran nailed two big kicks from 38 and 41 yards out that essentially gave the Patriots the much needed win.
Folk’s ability to stay consistent and hit big kicks has been the key to New England’s success during its seven-game win streak, even when the offense was unable to finish drives.
Winner: S Adrian Phillips
With Kyle Dugger out, the Patriots faced a huge challenge as far as shutting down Dawson Knox was concerned. Phillips took on the role and completely eliminated Allen’s favorite target down the middle of the field, limiting him to just two catches for 14 yards. Phillips made two big plays on third down to knock the ball out of Knox’s hands — huge momentum shifts in the game — before leaving the game with an apparent knee injury.
His ability to play all over the Patriots defense has been one of their keys to the unit becoming the best in the league the last two months. Now, the team has to hope that his injury is not serious.