The New England Patriots celebrated the best win of their season, and maybe the best one in the last few years, on Sunday. Hosting the heavily-favored Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium they were able to score a game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left on the clock to secure a 29-25 victory.
Let’s get into our takeaways from a huge win over the Bills.
1. Finally, a signature win for Mac Jones: Mac Jones hasn’t had many big wins in his three-year career in the NFL. He had never won a game where the opponent scored more than 24 points. He had only one fourth-quarter comeback in his career coming into this game, and it was to set up a field goal by Nick Folk in Houston back in 2021.
Jones has been much-maligned in his career for his — and his team’s — struggles in big moments, but he came through in the clutch on Sunday. He didn’t turn the ball over all day, and made big throw after big throw to lead the Patriots to an improbable victory.
“Going into this game, he showed a lot of poise, showed a lot of finish,” fellow team captain Deatrich Wise Jr. said. “He always has a passion and the drive, he executed plays well this game. He did a wonderful job from start to finish.”
This was the Mac Jones we saw in 2021, and if he plays like this every week, he is going to give the Patriots a chance to compete in every game moving forward.
2. The offensive line plays significantly better: The Patriots have had one of the worst offensive lines in football this year, but they also had not been fully healthy either. They were as healthy as they have been all season on Sunday, though, and it showed.
Michael Onwenu was back in full capacity and moved to right tackle with Sidy Sow at right guard. The two, and the rest of the men up front — Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews — opened holes for the running game, and kept Mac Jones upright all day as well.
Given the team’s season-long uncertainty at right tackle, Onwenu staying there is likely the move as it appears to give New England the best combination of players along the line. Maybe Riley Reiff returning from injured reserve after the Week 11 bye changes things, but for now the Brown-Strange-Andrews-Sow-Onwenu grouping seems like the way to go.
At the very least, Sunday was a good sign that the Patriots might be able to get some competent play out of their offensive line this year. That’s a huge deal for them.
3. Cole Strange making a difference in his return: The Cole Strange pick in the first round of last year’s draft was controversial, but labeling him a bust — as many people had already appeared to have done — was premature. Yes he has been hurt this year, and really did not have a chance to prove how much he has grown over the offseason. But he still was coming off a promising if a bit inconsistent rookie campaign.
On Sunday against a talented Bills front, Strange played very well and proved to be a massive upgrade at left guard over rookie Atonio Mafi. Whether he will ever live up to his draft stock remains to be seen, but if he can be an above average guard the rest of the season, that will be good enough to help the Patriots be decent up front. That should give them a chance to be competitive in most games.
4. Special teams comes up big: Football is a three-dimensional game, and Sunday’s game was proof of that: New England’s special teams came up big against Buffalo. Two very cool wrinkles that gave the Patriots an advantage, combined with excellent games from both their rookie kicker and punter, helped them win this game.
The first wrinkle was a punt return where they started with no one back deep. Demario Douglas came up to cover the gunner and Brenden Schooler lined up to rush the punter. The gunner was forced to come in and block, and not get a free release. The play ended up with a big return for Douglas, with the Patriots earning solid field position and eventually setting up a field goal.
The second wrinkle came on a Buffalo field goal attempt in the second quarter. We all remember when Schooler came flying off the defensive left side to block a kick against the Dolphins in week 2. The Patriots showed that same look versus the Bills, this time with Myles Bryant coming, but he pulled back at the last second. The line committing to Bryant allowed Schooler to sneak in from the other side, and the combination of Bryant’s fake and Schooler’s presence was enough for Tyler Bass to slice his kick wide right.
Those two plays alone might represent a six-point swing in a four-point game. Combine that with Chad Ryland going 3-of-3 on field goal attempts and Bryce Baringer pinning the Bills deep on both of his punts, and special teams was a huge reason the Patriots won the game on Sunday.
5. Christian Barmore balls out again: The Patriots were not just without Matthew Judon, they were also missing Josh Uche and Keion White for this game. They needed the rest of the defense to step up and pressure Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and they were able to do just that.
“We just did our jobs, that’s it,” said linebacker Jahlani Tavai. “We all knew what we had to do and we just wanted to make sure we executed on each rep and each play. I’m proud of all the other guys that played on defense today, and the team just in general. It was a good complementary game.”
A bunch of different guys made their presence felt, including Tavai. Anfernee Jennings, Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. consistently seemed to present problems for the Bills offensive line, but no one was more impactful than Christian Barmore.
The third-year man was consistently in the backfield to make Allen move off his spot, and he played pretty well in the run game as well. Barmore is finally healthy, and looks like he might be turning into the player everyone thought he would be when they were projecting him to come off the board as early as the mid-first round in the 2021 draft.
If he can string some more games like this together, he might be in line for a contract extension this offseason.
6. Demario Douglas is different: The Patriots’ lack of weapons has been a major topic of discussion among fans and media alike, but it appears that they may have found an impact player in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Demario “Pop” Douglas simply brings a level of athleticism and quickness that the other receivers on the team do not have.
Douglas finished with four receptions for 54 yards, added a 20 yard carry, and also had a 25-yard punt return. In addition, he drew three penalties.
He is a player that can transform the Patriots offense: he adds speed and explosiveness that is sorely missing otherwise. The hope is that he can stay healthy and they keep feeding him even after JuJu Smith-Schuster returns from his concussion. If they do, he might just be the key to New England continuing to have success on offense.
7. Jack Jones brings energy in his return: Jack Jones was injured before Week 1, and finally made his return to the field this week against the Bills. He made his presence felt, throwing his body around quite a few times and making some good plays on the ball as well. He shook off any rust rather quickly.
“Felt a little slow, maybe a couple of plays, but it was not too far off,” the sophomore defensive back said after the game. “The preparation leading up to this week helped me get to where I needed to be. So, it was not too bad.”
The Patriots’ secondary has had to deal with its fair share of injuries, but getting Jones back certainly helps. He looked to pick up right where he left off after a solid rookie season and if he can continue playing well, the Patriots secondary should be just fine moving forward — even with Christian Gonzalez likely out for the year.
8.Some tackling issues need to get cleaned up: There were a ton of positives to come out of Sunday’s win, but tackling was not one of them. There were several missed attempts, from a bunch of different players. The Patriots are usually a very good tackling team, so it was uncharacteristic of them to have that many breakdowns in this area.
NE’s tackling needs to improve dramatically before they travel to Miami next week— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 22, 2023
Too many big plays that never should’ve happened pic.twitter.com/cBAiQ3fePy
With the Dolphins up next week, the Patriots need to clean up their tackling fundamentals quickly.
9. Refereeing was hit-and-miss all day: There were some questionable calls on Sunday in Foxborough, including a roughing the passer penalty against Jack Jones. This has been a consistent problem all year long, and certainly not just in Patriots games. The inconsistency across the league by the refs hurts the product on the field, and brings Bill Belichick’s intention to make everything reviewable to mind again.
10. Bill Belichick earns 300th win in style: Speaking of Belichick, he became just the third coach in NFL history to record 300 career regular season wins. Doing so against a divisional opponent makes it even sweeter, especially in a game they were almost universally counted out of.
Getting his team to play so well with its collective back against the wall felt like an old-school Belichick victory. He still has a bit to go to catch Don Shula for the most wins all time, and there is some question whether or not he will get the chance to break that record in New England — one win to improve to 2-5 on the year does not change this.
At least for one Sunday, however, it felt like the good old days again. Looking back at the stats that Belichick has been able to compile is incredibly impressive. He will be the first to tell you that players play and win the game, but it is hard to argue against him putting his guys in a position to succeed week-in and week-out.
“He’s the GOAT,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said after the game. “It’s a pleasure to play here. It’s a pleasure to be here. When I had the option to go to another team in free agency, I knew I wanted to come here. Playing against these guys when I was in Miami, I knew I wanted to come to a winning organization, so it was a no-brainer to come play for a guy like Bill. He’s the GOAT for a reason.”
Who knows what the future holds for the greatest coach of all time, but the Patriots were in good hands on Sunday.