The Patriots fell to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, as Buffalo roared out to an excellent start and never looked back, winning 47-17 and advancing to the Divisional Round, while the Patriots' season surprisingly ends in blowout fashion.
Josh Allen and the Bills offense dictated to the Patriots defense for the entirety of the game, as once again New England struggled to make any impact plays throughout the contest. Offensively, the Patriots were playing catch-up the entire night, and while Mac Jones threw two interceptions, the rookie did battle through some difficult circumstances to make some positive plays in his first career playoff game.
But it was a resounding Bills victory and an unfortunately appropriate loss for New England, who continued their trend of poor play down the stretch and capped it off with arguably their worst effort of the entire season.
Here are the key takeaways from the season-ending defeat.
Slow start again
The Patriots' slow starts over the last month of the season were a popular topic of discussion in the week leading up to the playoff game, but that increased attention did nothing to snap New England out of their funk, as they saw Buffalo pick up where they left off last game, moving the ball with ease down the field to post an early 7-0 lead.
Mac Jones and the offense would show some fight on the next drive, with Mac picking up two first downs thanks to his scrambling ability, but Jones couldn't avoid throwing an opening drive interception for the second-straight week, with Bills safety Micah Hyde making a spectacular play over Nelson Agholor to make the pick.
Again, Allen and the Bills would go right down the field and extend the lead to 14-0 in the first quarter, the third time in five games they'd fall into that specific deficit. This is not a Patriots team that can overcome those kinds of starts and once again, the game got out of reach.
One of the great questions to ponder this season is why the Patriots fell behind so consistently in the final games of the season and looked unprepared to play, failing to match the intensity of their best opponents. It was jarring when it happened earlier against the Colts, Bills and Dolphins, but in a playoff game, it was jaw-dropping, as was the final result that followed.
Defense gets rolled, again
The Patriots didn't force the Bills offense to punt in the last matchup and nothing changed in this game, as the Bills scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and only faced four third downs on those four drives, a trend that carried over into the second half, as they'd score touchdowns on every possession and put up almost 500 yards of offense.
Simply put, the Patriots defense had no answers for Allen and were thoroughly dominated from start to finish.
Aside from the windy win in Buffalo earlier this season, New England has been unable to even slow down Allen and the Bills offense in their last three meetings. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has essentially done whatever he wanted to against a veteran Patriots defense, spinning the dial and having success no matter what he called. They haven't even needed their punter against the Patriots.
If the Pats are to get back into the contender mix they must find a way to be competitive against the Buffalo offense.
Mac shows fight
It's hard to imagine a more difficult playoff debut for a rookie quarterback than going against the top-ranked Bills defense in arctic temperatures and then spotting them a double-digit lead but that's exactly what Mac Jones got.
Still, Jones showed some tenacity in trying to keep his team in the game, making some nice plays with his legs early on and some decisive throws, including his fourth-down touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne with the Patriots already down 30 points.
It wasn't the result that Jones and the Patriots wanted, and the team's demise down the stretch was certainly disappointing, but neither can change the fact that Jones had an excellent rookie season and is an important building block for the future. Building around Jones is the biggest goal of the offseason and there will be quite a few moving parts, but he is one that is definitely in place.
Patriots' season is over
With the loss, the Patriots are now on to the 2022 offseason having lost four of their final five games, including three against divisional rivals. The Bills reasserted their dominance over the Patriots in convincing fashion, as New England was once again on their heels defensively, and couldn't counterpunch on offense. They were thoroughly outplayed to a surprising degree.
When viewed from the perspective of the Patriots team that was 9-4 and sitting atop the AFC as they entered the bye week, it was a surprisingly catastrophic end to the season with a 1-5 finish, as a poor a stretch as we've seen the team play over the last 20 years. For a team that prides itself on not beating themselves and avoiding errors, this team did those things repeatedly and in the most critical moments of the season.
There are definitely some positives to take from the season, starting with a strong rookie class that stepped right in and played some significant roles. The offense will return most of their pieces, a good starting point for Mac Jones as he heads into his second season but on defense, there are a lot of veteran free agents who could depart or retire, and that could dramatically change what that side of the ball looks like next fall.
After the lackluster performances against the Bills, those kinds of big changes are probably necessary.