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Patriots vs. Bills: Fan Notes from the Game

Related: 10 things we learned from the Patriots’ loss to the Bills

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

To paraphrase the late, great Captain Sam Quint:

Farewell and adieu to you, New England Patriots, Farewell and adieu, you ‘23 team. You’re out of the playoffs, so it’s back home to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.

The Patriots saw their season and playoff hopes come to an end yesterday afternoon at the hands of a Buffalo Bills team motivated to win for both the No. 2 seed and their brother Damar Hamlin, and so now it’s time for my last Fan Notes of the year.

Thank Tebow, to be honest. I’ve never had to flex my creative muscles as hard as I have these past 17 weeks, and I’m ready to shut it down for the year. So, to those of you still with me, I hope you enjoy.

1. On Monday, September 25, 2006, the Atlanta Falcons traveled to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the Superdome. New Orleans had played the entirety of their 2005 campaign on the road as the city struggled to recover from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, its fabled home stadium transformed into a trauma center and emergency shelter for the thousands of families displaced from their homes. That 2006 Monday Nighter was the Saints’ first home game in over a year, and New Orleans’s first return to some semblance of normalcy following the hurricane. And while the 23-3 final score may not seem like a total blowout, that game may as well have been 100-3. There was absolutely zero chance the Saints were losing that one; the emotion of the crowd, the passion of the players, what that particular game meant to everyone involved... it was inevitable. A blocked punt 90 seconds into the contest put the Saints up 7-0 and they never looked back. It was one of the most amazing and emotional games in all of sports, and the kind of thing that still gives me chills all these years later.

2. And compared to the way yesterday’s game, started, I thought that this one would make that Saints/Falcons game look like an early August preseason contest. I figured both of these teams were going to head into the locker rooms at halftime with the Bills up 42-0. Anybody with a brain knew that the Bills were going to win by a million yesterday, but even I didn’t expect it to unfold the way that it did.

3. Objectively, that Buffalo took the opening kickoff to the house after an emotional pregame ceremony honoring Damar Hamlin is in the running for greatest sports moment of all time. Saints/Falcons had the Steve Gleason blocked punt. Brett Favre threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns the day after he lost his father. Derek Redmond’s father helped him hobble across the finish line at the 1992 Olympics. And Nyheim Hines took the opening kick 96 yards for the score as the entire country outside of New England erupted. And to be honest, even in New England, the reaction was pretty positive. Just an amazing moment.

4. I really, really could have done without the repeat performance in the second half, though. New England held the lead for exactly 13 seconds of this game.

5. That New England basically lost this game because of poor special teams play is fairly fitting, if I’m being honest. It’s still not something I’m used to saying, even though I’ve been saying it all season long, but it’s the reality. How this team gave up two kickoff returns, to the point where they had to end up kicking it out of bounds and give one of the best offenses in the league the ball at the 40, is just something I’ve completely given up on trying to figure out.

6. I imagine that, like me, most of you went into this game expecting a loss, and in the wake of what happened with Damar Hamlin, expecting a loss by a million points. I would also imagine that most of you are all more or less numb to losing games at this point and so when this game wrapped up there wasn’t much of a grieving period for the game, or the 2023 season as a whole. And that likely would have been true even if the Patriots hadn’t played one of their best games of the season — but they did. That was a fun game to watch. I liked a lot of what I saw from the offense. Heavy playaction, layered concept routes, some deep shots, and hard running from the backs. A banged up offensive line held up well, and while Mac Jones threw three picks, two of them weren’t really on him. The Patriots took the best the Bills had to offer and hung in there.

7. The defense also only allowed one long drive for a score. Two Bills touchdowns came on absolute dime throws of 42 and 49 yards, and those return TDs aren’t on them. Devin McCourty had a red zone interception and recovered a fumble to give the offense the ball back at the Bills 11-yard line... which of course only netted a field goal. This was just a good overall performance by two of the three units.

8. I don’t know exactly why it took New England until Week 18 to realize that they have a strong running game and thus utilizing a lot of play-action is the way to go, but better late than never, I guess. I’ve been screaming for more slants and crossers all season, and we finally got them in what may have been Mac Jones’ best game of the season. He was decisive, (mostly) accurate, and in command of the offense. Called solid pre-snap protections and distributed the ball well. Only three three-and-outs for the offense yesterday, which is like a third of what they usually hit. So, good for them.

9. I’m also glad it took until Week 18 for us to see the kind of game we were hoping for from DeVante Parker. If he can just do that four or five times a season, I think he’ll be worth his contract.

10. 36 snaps for Kendrick Bourne, and he made the most out of all of his grabs. He feasts off of the flats and the curl routes, which seems to be a great tool to have in your toolkit when the offensive line is struggling. So of course New England uses that on the day where the O-line is playing very well.

11. I guess the theme of these notes so far is that the 2022 Patriots are Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute heading to New York for the Dunder Mifflin Infinity launch party. They spent a lot of time fumbling around the office, finally decided to take some initiative and show up, but by the time they got there, the party was over. So, they were left eating sushi in the parking lot on the hood of a Thunderbird.

12. Odds are very high that we all watched Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty play their last games yesterday. DMac finished the game with five tackles, a beautiful PBU, a fumble recovery, and a red zone pick. Slater pushed Taiwan Jones into the ball on a punt return to force a fumble and give the Patriots life. They have dedicated a combined two and a half decades to this team and never played for anywhere else. They each have three Super Bowl rings and a red jacket waiting for them at One Patriot Place. Matthew Slater is in the conversation for greatest special teamer of all time and has broken down the huddle after a big win for years now. We all have a little bit of David Andrews in us this morning. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you.

13. And in case Slater wants to hang around in a coaching capacity, I feel like the Pats could use a special teams coordinator.

14. Thanks for nothing, Nelson Agholor. Of your 31 catches for 362 yards and two touchdowns on the season, you also lost two fumbles and I can think of at least four passes intended for you that were intercepted instead off the top of my head. Six turnovers to 31 catches means that for every five times you caught a pass, the ball ended up going the other way once.

15. Congrats to Rhamondre Stevenson for eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing, and for being the team’s leading receiver on the year with 69 catches. You know that Gronk is chuckling pretty heartily this morning.

16. But when a between-the-tackles RB is your leading receiver on the year, you know that something ain’t workin’.

17. Which once again hammers home how much this team missed not having a true third-down back this year. Ty Montgomery never saw the field, James White couldn’t be coaxed out of retirement, and J.J. Taylor is just too little to really handle the duties. I’ll be very curious to see what both Montgomery and Pierre Strong Jr. do this offseason with another year in the system.

18. I just hope Matt Patricia didn’t do just enough to save his job for next year.

19. The most important thing I’m taking away from yesterday’s game — this team didn’t give up. At no point did they mail it in, even in a borderline impossible situation. They went blow for blow with one of the best teams in the league like Stephan Bonnar and Forest Griffin and didn’t stop until the final whistle.

20. This weekend’s slate of games makes a great argument for adopting professional soccer’s live standings system. Soccer games that are still in progress are treated as if whatever the results currently are will stand, with teams bouncing up and down spots as the games go on. Seeing teams bounce in and out of the playoffs in real time as they score points would be a lot of fun and add an extra layer to an already exciting weekend, I say. I don’t see why the NFL wouldn’t want to do something like that other than it would render maybe 60 percent of football Twitter completely obsolete.

21. Congrats to the Bills, and great job to the city of Buffalo as a whole, in regards to how... well... everything... has been handled this week. Buffalo should very likely be the No. 1 seed, getting ready to enjoy a well-deserved bye, but instead they’ll be playing Miami on Sunday while the team they beat gets the week off. Them’s the breaks, I guess. But I’ll be rooting hard for the Bills to come out of the AFC.

22. And with that, it’s at last time to take this team behind the shed and put them out of their misery. It was a long, grueling, disappointing season, but they can’t all be winners. There are a lot of questions to answer over the next few months, but the good news is that there are a lot of young studs on this team, the core of the talent is all under contract, the Patriots have a ton of cap space this year, they’re selecting at their highest spot in the draft since 2008, and Year 3 is typically when young QBs really come into their own. Lots to be optimistic about going forward.

23. But since it’s Patriots fans we’re talking about here, maybe I should end on a more on-brand note: I’m sick of giving Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt. He needs to stop playing favorites with his lackeys and totally clean house! Mac is a bust, Bill can’t draft, there’s no talent at all outside of Rhamondre and Judon, and the Patriots will be looking up at the Bills and Dolphins for years unless Robert Kraft puts his foot down and takes control! This season was a total embarrassment and IMO Belichick should be gone unless he adapts to the new NFL! We’ll be lucky to win five games next year!

24. Anything else I missed? Maybe something about what a fool Belichick was for letting Brady walk and how I’ll never forgive him for wasting McCourty and Slater’s last season? I haven’t listened to Felger in a very long time.

And with that, another Fan Notes in the books. As always, a massive, massive thank you to all of you out there who email me on occasion to let me know how much you enjoy reading these articles and how they make your Mondays a little more bearable. And to those who email me to tell me what a hack I am and how I’ve lost my fastball, thank you to you as well.

That anyone reads my stuff at all continues to baffle me, so I’ll take a hate read with as much joy as I’ll take someone who actually appreciates my writing. I’m extremely grateful for the community here at Pats Pulpit, from my fellow writers all the way to the casual readers. In an online (and actual) environment that is incredibly toxic and divisive, where disagreement and debate has been rebranded as hatred and ignorance, it’s such a privilege to be part of a group of folks who just want to unplug and watch some football every once in a while. I’m looking forward to taking some time away, recharging the battery, and coming back next season as inaccurate and hypocritical as ever. Thank you all.

We’re on to 2023. Go Patriots.