As AFC East teams crossed paths in the wind, their directions were subject to change.
The New England Patriots hung on to upset the Buffalo Bills by a score of 29-25 Sunday at Gillette Stadium, where a sneak at the goal line had given the visitors the lead with 1:58 remaining. It wouldn’t last.
Here’s a glance back as Bill Belichick’s side moves forward with a 2-5 record and the head coach’s 300th career win in the regular season.
As QB depth continues to shuffle, Jones goes 25-of-30 passing
The quarterback carousel continued in Foxborough, with rookie Malik Cunningham inactive, Will Grier the emergency option and Bailey Zappe once again the backup. It proved inconsequential.
Mac Jones started and stayed in to complete 25-of-30 passes for 272 yards. The Patriots captain, who had thrown no touchdowns and five interceptions since the calendar turned to October, found the end zone twice through the air after halftime. He wasn’t picked.
New England’s offense took the field in “11” personnel on Sunday, picking up a swing pass on the opening play of a diverse drive that ended in a field goal. The next possession ended in the end zone with a 10-0 lead. By game’s end, Jones had connected with nine different teammates. Count reserve tight end Pharaoh Brown among them on pickups of 25 and 26 yards. A 22-10 game it became midway through the fourth quarter. But it would take 1:46 of game clock to mount a go-ahead drive that began at the offense’s 25. It took eight plays and a TD strike to target Mike Gesicki at the doorstep.
Wide receiver room runs through Douglas and Bourne
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kayshon Boutte went from questionable on the final injury report to scratched 90 minutes prior to kickoff. And by 1 p.m. ET, three wide receivers were in the starting lineup for the Patriots.
Demario Douglas was one of them. He should be going forward. The rookie caught four passes for 54 yards, including a 19-yarder down the seam in the fourth quarter. No. 210 overall out of Liberty added a punt return of 25 yards and a rush around the left side for 20 yards.
And a week removed from catching a career high in passes for a season high in yards, Kendrick Bourne tightroped the sideline for a long of 33. The veteran in a contract year finished with 63 yards on six grabs as well as his quarterback’s first touchdown since September. A punch-out fumble gave Buffalo the ball back with 4:56 remaining in a 22-17 game, however. New England found themselves down 25-22 soon after. Fellow wideouts DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton took a backseat to standard elevation Jalen Reagor.
Picked off by Peppers, a flushed Allen battles back with three scores
Buffalo’s opening series ended one snap in. It did as a pass intended for tight end Dawson Knox landed in the hands of a peeling and leaping Jabrill Peppers in the flat. It marked the veteran safety’s first interception since 2020, but the third turnover of this season that he had a hand in.
Josh Allen would go 27-of-41 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns during the divisional visit. The Bills quarterback added a goal-line score on the ground and a two-point conversion. He did so for a 25-22 lead against a defense that frequently flushed him from the pocket. His perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, drew 12 targets and caught half of them for 58 yards and a tackle-shedding touchdown to put that in motion.
New England’s starting secondary included Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson at the cornerback spots with Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills joining the emerging Peppers at safety. Activated from injured reserve on the eve of the matchup was Jack Jones, who was called for roughing the passer in the third quarter. A 10-play, 81-yard drive with missed tackles followed for Buffalo before a turnover on downs did. More ebbs and flows ensued.
Onwenu in to bookend New England’s offensive line
Buffalo entered Sunday tied for the league lead with 24 sacks. That total would climb only to 25 via safety Jordan Poyer.
New England’s offensive line featured Trent Brown at left tackle with the questionable Cole Strange and David Andrews next to him. But there were changes on the other side of the center and captain. It was rookie Sidy Sow starting at right guard and Mike Onwenu kicked out to right tackle.
The Michigan product, who only dressed last week while managing an ankle injury, hadn’t taken snaps at the bookend spot since the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. It stood as the sixth different combination of the fall for the Patriots. And the best.
New England’s ground attack gets its windows
The Patriots’ running backs averaged 3.25 yards per rushing attempt against a Bills unit ranking 31st in that department this season. Yet there were lanes cleared on the interior.
Starter Rhamondre Stevenson turned nine carries into 34 yards, including a long of 14. In the complementary role alongside him, Ezekiel Elliott handled 11 carries for 31 yards and opportunities in tight space. His second touchdown in as many weeks arrived at the goal line in the first frame. A duo block then led to a gain of 10 in the final frame.
Facing a deficit of three points on the two-minute comeback drive, Stevenson soon slipped out of the backfield for a catch-and-run of 34 yards to flip the field.
Down Uche and White off the edges, the Patriots find pressure
Josh Uche and Keion White remained sidelined throughout the week before being ruled out. In the absence of the second-round draft picks from past and present, the Patriots started in the big nickel with Anfernee Jennings at outside linebacker.
The edge-setter out of Alabama closed for a loss of five yards against running back James Cook and tallied six tackles altogether.
Another Crimson Tide standout, Christian Barmore, left a mark up the middle in ways other than a penalty for roughing the passer. A sack surfaced before halftime in tandem with fellow defensive lineman Sam Roberts. It gave way to third-and-16, a quarterback hit by captain Deatrich Wise Jr. and a missed field goal. New England generated pressures on roughly half of the dropbacks.
Rookie specialists play an integral part
Drafted two rounds apart in April, New England’s rookie right legs made the most of the gusts on Sunday.
Former Eastern Michigan and Maryland kicker Chad Ryland went 3-for-3 on field goals from 24, 30 and 49 yards while converting both extra points. His holder, Bryce Baringer, punted twice for an average of 55 yards per.
The first was a 64-yard launch that netted 57 and put Buffalo’s offense on the field with the uprights in the shadows. It came in the second quarter after a false start on core special-teamer Brenden Schooler, who proceeded to make the tackle on returner Deonte Harty. And before intermission, the All-American transfer from Illinois to Michigan State delivered a 46-yard coffin corner that sailed out of bounds at opposing three.