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Instant analysis from Patriots’ 24-10 loss to Bills

Observations from Thursday night’s AFC East encounter at Gillette Stadium.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

January’s AFC wild card marked the last time the New England Patriots crossed paths with the Buffalo Bills.

That result at Highmark Stadium would remain 11 months later at Gillette Stadium, where Bill Belichick’s side fell to Sean McDermott’s side by a score of 24-10 on Thursday night.

Here’s a glance back on the divisional encounter as the Patriots move into December at 6-6 and the Bills do so at 9-3.

All eyes on Allen

There were no sacks, no interceptions nor punts when Josh Allen last met the New England defense. There were more touchdowns than incompletions, too, in what became a 47-17 playoff runaway.

Buffalo’s quarterback went 22-of-33 passing for 223 yards with two touchdowns this time around. And on the ground, he powered his way to an additional 23 yards before kneeldowns.

Allen, at a listed 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, found himself without starting left tackle Dion Dawkins in primetime. He found himself sacked twice courtesy of linebacker Josh Uche, as well, including for a strip that NFL sack leader Matthew Judon recovered. The third-down situations surfaced early for a Bills team that attempted one field goal and three punts. So did wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis on field-reversing strikes in the red zone against man coverage. The play never appeared over until the last blade of turf had been turned over.

Jones held to 195 passing yards, one TD against ball-hawking Bills

The Bills stood in a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most interceptions corralled around the NFL in 2022. Only the Philadelphia Eagles stood ahead.

Mac Jones did not add to that tally on Thursday night — upon review. New England’s sophomore quarterback completed 22-of-36 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers instead.

He hit all-purpose rookie cornerback Marcus Jones for a 48-yard connection that ended in the end zone. No. 10 did not have a throw reach the turf until the second quarter, and it was for intentional grounding with the uprights at his back. The three-and-outs began to mount for the Patriots from there. So did the stagnant play-calling and clock management. And going into intermission, a missed field goal off the crossbar by Nick Folk kept the deficit a distant 17-7. A red-zone offense ranked 31st in touchdown efficiency called upon the kicker once more with 1:53 left to tick.

Rhamondre’s run spans 78 yards from scrimmage without Harris

The Patriots ruled out Damien Harris on the final injury report after a thigh injury saw him depart on Thanksgiving versus the Minnesota Vikings. And in the absence of one starting running back, the ground game was in the hands of another.

Rhamondre Stevenson entered Thursday having led the offense in receptions this campaign. Last year’s fourth-round draft choice out also entered having eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards while tying his rookie total with five touchdowns.

He got the first touch. The next became a fumbled exchange and the next became a recovery by wide receiver Nelson Agholor. But Stevenson turned 10 carries into 54 yards against the Bills. Tacked on were six catches for 24 yards against a defense that had recently struggled to bring down opposing backfields. Rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr. rounded out the depth chart behind his work through contact.

Patriots captain returns to the middle of a depleted line

There were more changes to a New England offensive line in flux. But there was David Andrews.

The team captain and franchise All-Decade selection made his return to the center spot after being inactive due to a thigh injury of his own. He went wire-to-wire despite being questionable and had a holding penalty declined following a loss of four yards. Along the way, the Patriots conceded one sack to a Bills defensive front that had placed perennial Pro Bowler and All-Pro Von Miller on injured reserve in the hours prior.

Conor McDermott, who was signed off the New York Jets’ practice squad in November, started at right tackle with Yodny Cajuste scratched due to a calf injury. He drew a holding penalty. The same went for Trent Brown, a late addition to the injury report due to an illness, who started at left tackle and drew a hold along with first-round left guard Cole Strange.

Buffalo’s backs strike a balance

Not known for a traditional rushing attack, the Bills trusted the ground to get what the air couldn’t on Thursday night.

Rookie running back James Cook rushed for 64 yards on 14 handoffs, including a long of 28, and lent a hand with 41 receiving yards. Veteran running back Devin Singletary rushed for 51 yards on 13 handoffs, including a long of 11, and capped off a drive that spanned nine minutes with a touchdown plunge.

A 24-7 score was the byproduct in the fourth quarter. Nose tackle Carl Davis Jr. was a healthy scratch for New England in a gameplan tailored toward secondary speed more so than interior congestion.

Game No. 200 in McCourty’s Patriots tenure

“I don’t know exactly how many other players can say that or whatever,” New England’s head coach offered during his midweek press conference. “But he trains hard. He works very hard. It’s not by accident.”

It wasn’t on Thursday, either. Devin McCourty made his 200th career start in his 200th career game since arriving in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. The three-time Super Bowl champion out of Rutgers became just the sixth player in franchise history reach the milestone.

McCourty’s missed action in the regular season came in 2015. And at age 35, he remains atop the defense with 97 percent of the snaps played. The secondary was without starting cornerback Jalen Mills due to a groin injury, however. The aforementioned Marcus Jones got the nod on the outside across from Jonathan Jones with Myles Bryant in the slot of the three-safety package. Fellow rookie corner Jack Jones filed on. But there were few answers to questions that arose during prior AFC East visits. Buffalo’s wideouts collected 15 passes through 22 targets for 161 yards and two touchdowns.