The New England Patriots were curb-stomped by the Buffalo Bills in the wild card playoff round on Saturday night. Losing 47-17 to their division rivals in one of the worst games of the Bill Belichick, a season that once looked ended on a sour note.
Here are 10 takeaways from that game.
1. Bills pull the plug on the low-energy Patriots. The Patriots got absolutely man-handled in all three phases of the game by the Bills, and never really showed any fight. After rising to the top of the AFC standings in early December, they lost four of five games coming out of their bye and never really showed the same competitive spirit that was on display during their seven-game winning streak.
Maybe it was a mirage, maybe they simply weren’t as good as fans and analysts alike thought. No matter the reason, no one ever expected anything this bad. It is going to be a long offseason for this team, and it will have a lot of soul-searching to do.
2. Devin McCourty is right: It was an embarrassing performance. Just like the last time the Patriots played the Bills, the defense might as well have not even taken the field. Buffalo scored touchdowns on all of its seven possessions, while New England was never close to stopping its opponent.
It has been more than two full games since the Bills have punted the ball to the Patriots, something that simply cannot happen if the expectation is to be competitive. New England could not stop the run, could not stop the pass, and simply was, as Devin McCourty put it, embarrassed out there. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is fantastic, but you cannot allow a team to do that to you, no matter who is lining up under center.
3. Matthew Judon is quiet again. Matthew Judon has been a complete non-factor for over a month now. Some people were talking about him being in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but he disappeared towards the end of the year.
The Patriots are going to need a more consistent performance from him moving forward if he is going to live up to his massive contract. Judon had a strong season overall, but when the team needed him the most he failed to deliver.
4. The running game struggles to carry the offense. Going into the game, Josh McDaniels himself said that the running game was a key to successful playoff football. The expectation was that it would carry New England in Buffalo again, and it most certainly did not. The Patriots were unable to run the ball all day.
Damien Harris ended the game with 30 yards rushing, and Rhamondre Stevenson had 27. What had been the strong suit for the Patriots offense ended up being a major weakness on Saturday. Isaiah Wynn being out might have had something to do with it, and the game script did also not favor a run-heavy approach, but you still would have liked to see New England be able to run the ball more effectively.
5. Joejuan Williams is playing on burrowed time. Starting cornerback Jalen Mills was unavailable due to Covid-19 protocols, which meant that the Patriots needed a cornerback to step up and play in his place opposite Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson. That player was Williams, and he once again struggled mightily as he has his entire career.
There is no sugar-coating it: New England needs to find someone else that can do the job, because Williams is not that.
6. Mac Jones played well given the circumstances. Mac Jones played pretty well in his first ever playoff game. A few bad drops, and an unreal play by Micah Hyde could have made this game and his stat line — 24-for-38, 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions — look a little different.
As he has done all season, Jones never quit and made some really nice throws. His performance was not perfect, but there is definitely hope for the future with him at the helm. Before you hold this loss against him, remember that Tom Brady was on the field for just two of the six touchdowns the Patriots scored during their 2001 championship run. Young quarterbacks need help, and Jones had little to none on Saturday night.
7. J.C. Jackson picked the wrong time for an off-day. Jackson was named a second-team All-Pro earlier this week, and was ranked second in the NFL with eight interceptions during the regular season. Saturday night against Buffalo, however, he was no match for the Bills.
He was beat a few times by Stefon Diggs, and also gave up a long pass to Dawson Knox. With Jalen Mills out, this was the time for Jackson to step up, and he simply did not. He now heads into the offseason as a free agent, and he might have cost himself some money on Saturday.
8. Kendrick Bourne is one of the few bright spots. When Bourne was signed in the offseason, he was an overlooked addition to the Patriots offense. However, he has grown to become one of the best players on the Patriots offense. It has been encouraging to see him build a rapport with Mac Jones, and to know that the team has at least one reliable receiver under contract going into next season.
9. The defense needs to be the focus this offseason. The young players the Patriots have in Christian Barmore and Kyle Dugger are promising, but there are a lot of holes to fill elsewhere. Simply put, New England is too slow on this side of the ball, and needs some real playmakers to help out.
The Patriots’ draft should be filled with solid, athletic, defensive players. They certainly also need to add more pieces on offense, but they have their quarterback, which is huge. Adding another weapon or two for Mac will go a long way, but improving the defense is a must for this team because it simply does not have the ability to play with a high-level offense like Buffalo’s.
They showed it over and over again, with Saturday’s game just the latest example. Making the playoffs is great, but winning in the playoffs is better — something you cannot do with a defense that literally did not force get stops.
10. What comes next for the Patriots’ long-term leaders? Overall, it was a pretty good season for the Patriots. They added some good players, and found their quarterback of the future. There are a ton of questions heading into the offseason, though, starting with a lot of older players whose futures are uncertain. Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and Matthew Slater are all on the back-nine of their careers and there is no guarantee that they will be back.