The good news for the New England Patriots defense is that it showed some progress after last year’s struggles against the Buffalo Bills. The bad news is that it was still not enough to result in a win in Week 13.
Meeting for the first time since a 47-17 blowout in the wild card playoffs, when every Bills possession turned into a touchdown, the two AFC East rivals were closer. As safety Devin McCourty pointed out after the 24-10 loss, however, none of it matters if the score still favors the opponent in the end.
“We played better than the last game we played them, but when it all breaks down it doesn’t matter. A loss is a loss,” the team captain told reporters after the game.
“If you’re betting on the game, you care about the score, but everything kind of turns into win or loss. We kind of feel like we’re in the same position as far as we lost last year to this team, two times at the end of the season and then starting off this year, we’ve got them one more time. But, another loss.”
The Patriots defense played a more competitive game, forcing three punts this time around and recovering a fumble by quarterback Josh Allen. However, the unit again struggled getting off the field early on: it allowed Buffalo to score on its first three possessions, taking a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
Third down in particular proved to be a problem, with the Bills going 6-for-7 (85.7%) in those three scoring drives. They eventually ended the game with a 9-for-15 mark (60%).
“We have to get stops and get the ball back to our offense,” said linebacker Matthew Judon. “Let them create momentum, sustain drives. But they had too many third downs that they converted to first downs. So, we have to get them stopped. Then in the red zone, we can’t let them go 3-for-3. We have to force field goals. We can’t let them run it in like that.”
McCourty added that the team’s inability to produce big plays was another factor in the loss.
“We got to make more plays,” he said. “I think in the first half, defensively, just third down killed us. Better in the second half, being able to hold them and get some stops, but I think defensively, we just needed a couple more big plays and we were close. [Kyle Dugger] almost gets an interception and plays like that we’ve got to kind of turn and make those plays positive for us.”
At the end of the day, however, the Patriots defense still came up short. As a result, New England is now 6-6 and facing an uphill climb to get back into the playoff picture.
Buffalo, meanwhile, continues to exorcize some demons: the team has now won three straight versus its long-time rivals, winning by an average score of 19 points.