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The Lane Breakdown: 10 things we learned from the Patriots’ loss to the Bills

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 24-10 loss to Bills

The New England Patriots got crushed by the Buffalo Bills yet again, losing with a final score of 24-10 on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. They may have only been beaten by 14 points when all was said and done, but it might has well have been 74 because the game was never really as close as the final score indicates.

With that said, here are 10 things we learned from the Patriots’ sixth loss of the season and third straight to its division rivals.

1. The gap between the Patriots and Bills is an ocean: Plain and simple, the Bills have way more talent than the Patriots do. Obviously they have a huge edge at the QB position, but that is far from the only spot. The talent gap across the board is notable, and it showed on Thursday night.

The Bills were able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. New England held them to only 24 points, but they had the ball for almost 40 minutes, and had multiple long drives where the defense simply couldn’t get off the field. The Patriots have done a nice job the last two years of brining in some talent, but they simply don’t have the firepower to match up with these Bills.

2. Marcus Jones is electric: The Patriots put their third-round pick on offense on Thursday, and it didn’t take long for that decision to pay off. Jones caught a quick screen on his first offensive snap of the season, and took it 48 yards to the house.

Getting the ball into his hands is a good idea, and, if teams aren’t going to allow him to return punts consistently, manufacturing touches on offense makes a lot of sense. Using him on that side of the ball could be a nice little wrinkle moving forward and provide a spark to a struggling unit.

3. Mac Jones is not as bad as people will tell you: Jones went 22-for-36 for 195 yards and a touchdown, but he wasn’t quite as bad as that stat-line makes it look. For starters, he had almost no blocking in front of him all game again.

He was running for his life back there a bit, but he did a nice job of buying time and taking what the defense gave him at times. It wasn’t always pretty, but without the ability to make big plays, it is awfully hard to play good football.

Additionally, drops hurt the sophomore QB as well. DeVante Parker dropped a touchdown that was perfectly placed into double coverage, and Kendrick Bourne dropped a pass on a scramble drill. Bourne had an awful lot of green in front of him, and just simply dropped the ball. If those plays get made, Jones’ stats and in fact the entire game might have looked very different.

There was also some discussion about the quarterback’s decision to throw the ball away at the end of the first half, but it was the correct decision, in my opinion. He had a bunch of green in front of him and could have picked up the first down running, but time almost certainly would have ran out, and they would not have had a chance to attempt a field goal. Instead, Jones decided to throw the ball away and let Nick Folk try a kick. It was a smart play by him to understand that they wouldn’t have the time, since they didn’t have a timeout.

Jones has not shown that he is an elite QB in the league, and he has a long way to go, but he was not the biggest problem offensively on Thursday night — far from it.

4. The offensive line continues to be a major liability: Trent Brown was questionable to play on Thursday with an illness, and he certainly looked like he was sick out there. He was constantly trying to cut guys, and couldn’t get out in front of multiple screen plays. Maybe it was because of the sickness, but he is going to have to play much better than that to give the Patriots a chance to compete.

The rest of line was fine but not great either. All of them got beat a few times, and there were multiple instances of Jones scrambling around to evade the pass rush. Connor McDermott actually seemed to hold his own at right tackle for the most part, which is good, but the Patriots need much better from their entire line moving forward.

5. Jonathan Jones is no shutdown cornerback: Jonathan Jones was being touted as the best cornerback on the Patriots, and there is a chance that he is right now, but he is clearly not elite. This is the second week in a row where he has been consistently torched by a great receiver; first it was the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and now the Buffalo Bills’ Stefon Diggs.

You are going to get beat by guys like these, but you would hope to see a little bit more fight from the No. 1 cornerback on your team. Jones is a good player, and a solid starter both on the outside and in the slot, but he is definitely not a shutdown corner. He has proven that the last few weeks.

6. Nick Folk struggles are becoming a thing: For the second straight home game, Nick Folk came up short on a kick of under 50 yards. Two weeks ago, he was short on a 44-yarder, but he was given the benefit of the doubt since it was to the open end of the stadium and the winds were whipping that day against the New York Jets.

The kick on Thursday was to the closed end, though, it ultimately was not too windy of a night. He still left it short from just 48 yards out, costing the Patriots an opportunity to make it a one-score game before the half.

Folk has been automatic from inside 50 the last few years, but if he is going to keep coming up short on these relatively makable kicks when compared to the league average, then the Patriots are going to have to start making some tough decisions. That is especially true with their inability to punch the ball in the end zone: they need a kicker that they can rely on to make those kicks, and that hasn’t been Folk as of late.

7. New England needs to give its fastest players more opportunities: Speed kills in the NFL, but the Patriots don’t seem to fully buy into that mantra. The majority of their offense is run with one or two tight ends on the field, and DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers at receiver. Tyquan Thornton played more at the end of the game against Buffalo, and showed some good flashes, but does not get regular opportunities.

New England might be best off taking a page out of the Miami Dolphins playbook and just getting the ball in the fastest players’ hands. Throw some quick screens to Thornton, Nelson Agholor, or even Marcus Jones. The impact plays like these can have was on full display on Thursday.

8. Josh Allen is incredible: We all know how good Bills QB Josh Allen is, because we have seen it for the past few years. His touchdown to Gabe Davis where he shrugged off Mack Wilson was sensational. What impressed the most on Thursday, however, was his willingness to be patient and take what the Patriots gave him.

The Patriots did a nice job of not allowing him to run, but they tried to bait him into stringing positive plays together instead of going for the home-run play. Allen refused to take the cheese: instead of trying deep shots he settled for the underneath pass time and time again, opting to pick up the 6-8 yards that the defense was giving instead of trying to fit one in for 20-25 yards.

He took care of the football, though he did have a questionable throw or two, and when he plays the way he did on Thursday, the Bills are almost impossible to beat. New England has now found that out three times in a row.

9. The Patriots have to capitalize on opportunities: Even when Allen made questionable decisions with the football, the Patriots were unable to make plays on the balls. Kyle Dugger dropped an interception when he collided with Jack Jones, but he still has to find a way to make that play. Then Josh Uche stripped Josh Allen, and the Patriots offense was unable to score any points off that turnover because of a missed field goal.

The Patriots simply are not good enough to squander chances like these. They now have dropped an interception in at least three straight games, and they really need to start making those plays if they are trying to make a push towards the playoffs this year.

Speaking of which...

10. There might not be any more margin for error left: If the Patriots want to make a push for the playoffs they are going to have to come close to winning out over the final five weeks of the season. The next two games are against the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders, which should help right the ship, but then they play the Cincinnati Bengals, the Dolphins, and the Bills a second time. They can probably lose one of the last five, but they cannot drop two and expect to get into the playoffs at 9-8 in a competitive AFC.

Winning either this week or last week against the Vikings would have given them some margin for error down the stretch. Now there is virtually none, however, and the Patriots are going to be finishing the season with three teams that are playing well and also fighting for playoff seeding — not to mention the Cardinals and Raiders, both of whom they will be playing on the road.

The Patriots have to beat both the Cardinals and Raiders to even have a chance, and maybe Buffalo will end up catching and passing the Dolphins, and won’t have anything to play for in Week 18, but that still leaves two tough home games against the Bengals and Dolphins. It is a tough stretch, and New England has left itself zero wiggle room.

Can they pull it off? Possibly, but they are going to have to play much better, and much smarter, if they expect to make the playoffs.