When the calendar turned from November to December, the New England Patriots were one of the hottest teams in the NFL and a prime candidate to not just return to the playoffs but actually win the Super Bowl. Oh, how the times have changed.
New England did make it into the tournament, but after losing three of its last four regular season games had to travel to Buffalo to face the Bills on wild card weekend. Their opponent left the Patriots no chance, winning with a final score of 47-17 — one of the most lopsided losses in recent franchise history.
Neither the offense nor the defense were able to keep up with a red-hot opponent, which allowed the Bills to jump to a 27-point lead before the Patriots were even able to get onto the score board.
“That’s not the way we envisioned tonight going,” said special teamer Matthew Slater.” The thing about being in the playoffs, when it ends it’s kind of like a crash landing. Tough pill to swallow. Think about how the previous season went, and all the work we put in to get back to this point. I know we were excited about the opportunity.”
That opportunity came and it went again quite quickly. The Bills scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive and then forced a turnover on the Patriots’ first possession. They scored another TD off of it to go up 14-0 in the first quarter.
“From start to finish we were getting handled, and lost the game,” said linebacker Matthew Judon during his postgame press conference. “It’s disappointing, especially when there are no more games after this
So, what went wrong? According to Judon, everything was a problem.
“It wasn’t only one drive. It wasn’t only one play. It wasn’t one single player. It was everything. It was the whole game. Everything was kind of frustrating, honestly.”
Judon’s frustration was shared by offensive lineman David Andrews.
“As a leader you just try to figure out what you can do to be better, whatever it is. Look at the season as a whole and try to be better, try to get back to work.” he said. “But there’s nothing we can do now that’s going to change the outcome of what happened to night or I want to say last December. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. It’s a missed opportunity.”
While the Patriots offense yet again struggled to consistently move the ball against a quality opponent, the defense in particular was exposed by the Bills. The unit, which ended the regular season as the best in the league in points given up, surrendered seven touchdowns on seven drives.
It was a pure domination from start to finish. New England had no answer for Buffalo and its quarterback, Josh Allen.
“You practice all week, you shouldn’t really perform like that,” fellow team captain Devin McCourty said. “Embarrassing.”
The Patriots had shown some promise earlier during the year, even beating the Bills on the road in Week 13. By season’s end, however, the momentum the team had built had evaporated quickly and the Bills took full advantage.
As a result, New England is left looking for answers as it turns the page to 2022.
“You have to execute at a high level, and we just didn’t for whatever reason. We have a lot of time to think about it,” said McCourty.
“It sucks. We’ve all been here before, falling short in the playoffs. Obviously you don’t want to go out like this but we have a lot of time to think and see why it didn’t go the way we wanted to, really, after the bye week. We’ll have to process that all offseason.”
For Matthew Slater, however, not all was bad.
“This team should be proud of the strides that it made, the growth that we showed over the course of the season,” he said. “I know, for me, I’m just thankful to have been able to be a part of this group.”