Wed, 25 May 2022

Game Observations: Patriots get the cold shoulder in Buffalo

New England Patriots
16 Jan 2022, 19:34 GMT+10

Erik Scalavino

The NFL Playoffs don't care how you got there or how pretty you play once you arrive. Just score more points than your opponent and you get to move on.

Problem is, over the past month, the Patriots have fallen into a disturbing pattern of falling behind their opponents by double digits early on and then clawing their way back, only to fall short.

Part of that trend continued in Buffalo Saturday night in the Wild Card round. They fell way, WAY behind, but couldn't mount any sort of legitimate comeback, mostly because they were facing a Bills offense that just refused to be denied the end zone, no matter where they started their drives.

Give a lot of credit, too, to the top-ranked Bills defense, which made a number of big plays to thwart the limited opportunities New England had to put points on the board. At one point, the Patriots were down 37 points.

When giving up this many 20 or more points in games this season, the Patriots have lost every time, with just two exceptions (they beat the Texans 25-22 and Chargers 27-24).

New England just had no answer for the Buffalo offense, nor could it move the ball consistently against the top-ranked Bills defense. Buffalo had 300 yards of total offense by intermission and close to 500 by game's end. The past two times they've played one another, the Bills haven't had to punt once. Not one punt in two full games. Saturday night in Orchard Park, the Bills offense scored touchdowns on every possession except the final one, when they chose to kneel down to end the game in victory formation.

This marked the third time in a month-and-a-half that the Bills and Patriots, longtime AFC East rivals, renewed acquaintances. The first of those 2021 season encounters was a Monday night game defined by outrageous wind conditions; this latest one, by arctic temperatures. Yet, only the Patriots seemed cold and stiff tonight, dropping catchable passes on offense and looking statuesque defensively as Bills QB Josh Allen and his band of skill position players ran circles around them.

Buffalo has won the AFC East the past two regular seasons. Now, with this convincing playoff victory, they've symbolically and emphatically wrestled the division crown away from the Patriots, who wore it - often at Buffalo's expense - the better part of the past two decades. They now get to move on in the playoffs, while New England gets started on its offseason.

Mac Jones on the day Incompletions vs. BUF

Incompletions in Playoffs

Incompletions in 2021 Regular Season

Rookie QB Mac Jones at least gained some valuable postseason experience. As noted, several of his incompletions tonight were the result of his teammates being unable to hold onto the frozen football. Two of Jones' most impressive throws came, ironically, on one of his TD tosses and one of his interceptions.

Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter and driving for what looked like a tying score, Jones fired a deep strike to WR Nelson Agholor, which looked like it was falling perfectly into Agholor's arms as he crossed the goal line. However, a brilliant play by Micah Hyde saw the Bills safety come flying into view from the middle of the field to snatch the ball away at the very last moment.

Much later, with the game out of reach, Jones floated a precise throw to Kendrick Bourne, who was tightly covered by a Bills defender, but held on for the score. Two fantastic throws on a night when they were few and far between for New England. It was a bittersweet ending for Jones, who's officially been named a finalist for NFL Rookie of the Year.

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New England has been committing sloppy penalties in recent weeks. Against Buffalo Saturday, fullback Jakob Johnson drew a false start, linebacker Dont'a Hightower an illegal contact, and practice squad call-up Daniel Ekuale a facemask. The offense as a team committed a delay of game and a 12 men in the huddle infraction.

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It didn't help matters that New England's secondary had been stretched so thin it had to activate two defensive backs from the practice squad. With starter Jalen Mills unavailable because of COVID, veteran Joejuan Williams stepped in, but was targeted several times for big plays.

Meanwhile, safety Kyle Dugger played with a huge club-like cast on his right hand, making it difficult for him to defend passes such as the first touchdown pass by Allen to his superb tight end, Dawson Knox.

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On the offensive line, second-year player Justin Herron served as fill-in for starter Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, as was the case a week ago in Miami. Wynn didn't play due to ankle and hip injuries. Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley sustained an arm injury in the 2nd quarter and wasn't much of a factor thereafter.

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Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

Kendrick Bourne. On a night when virtually nothing went right for New England, the veteran free agent wide receiver finished his first season as a Patriot by leading the team in receptions (7) and yards (77) and scoring the only two touchdowns New England could manage in this game.

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