By: Ryan Croke
To put it simply, the New England Patriots were flat out embarrassed by a franchise that has been their metaphorical little brother for the last 2 decades in Saturday night’s wild-card round contest. Nobody except a few radical fans of the Buffalo Bills could have correctly predicted the massacre that would have taken place during this game. Buffalo flexed their might and firmly established their current stranglehold over the AFC East division as they cruised to a 47-17 victory over their divisional rival. In this article, I will examine what led to Buffalo’s success and what caused the Patriots’ downfall during this incredibly one-sided affair.
Let’s begin with what went right for the Bills: Everything. Coming into the game, many, including myself, expected a close game, despite the two teams’ week 16 affair resulting in Buffalo winning comfortably in New England. It was predicted the Patriots would turn up the energy after a disappointing close to the season, and Josh Allen’s dominant performance in week 16 would almost certainly not be replicated. The Patriots boast one of the best defenses in the league, and although not quite the defensive powerhouse that Buffalo’s number 1 ranked unit has been this year, they still have the talent to at the very least slow down the potent offensive attack that the Bills have. However, whatever competency the New England defense has wasn’t on display on Saturday, as the Bills scored 7 touchdowns and never punted while the Buffalo defense, powered by a deep front seven, did much more than was necessary to completely shut down the Patriots’ semblance of an offense. They slowed down the run game, something they failed to do back in week 13 when the two teams first met, and Mac Jones could get nothing going in the passing game. This was an easy win for Buffalo, although with the Patriots consistently shooting themselves in the foot, it is not as impressive as the scoreboard may suggest. Regardless, this team proved their legitimacy, and they will need to do what they did on Saturday and more if they are to beat their divisional-round opponent, the hated Chiefs, who knocked them off in last year’s AFC Championship game. It’s a good sign for Bills Mafia that their team was able to put down an opponent that has long been the bane of their existence in such a fashion, but the real challenges begin now.
Now onto the team who lost this contest, the New England Patriots. It is impossible to articulate just how painful this game was to watch for Patriots fans such as myself. I have never witnessed a game in which this team was embarrassed in such a fashion, and the only time reminiscent of what happened on Saturday night is the first three-quarters of Super Bowl LI, during which the Patriots went down 28-3 against the Atlanta Falcons in a game that would eventually be the greatest comeback in NFL history as the then Tom Brady-led Patriots stormed back to win the game 34-28 in overtime. It’s safe to say that magic is gone, and the new-era Patriots are far from the dynasty that preceded their existence. This was quite frankly the worst game the Patriots have ever played under Bill Belichick. The offense was expected to struggle, as they were running into a buzzsaw considering their lack of a passing game and the fact that Bills’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would be sure to make adjustments to slow down the run and force New England to trust their rookie quarterback in a high-pressure situation. The offense did more than struggle, as Leslie Frazier’s unit put on a clinic while no Patriots receiver other than Kendrick Bourne could catch the football and the running game could never get anything going either. Based on offensive play alone, the Patriots losing to Buffalo was inevitable. If the defense did their job, the game could have been somewhat close, but the true disappointment of Saturday night was the New England defense that had successfully bailed out the team’s mostly ineffective offense time and time again this year. Nobody on the defense looked like they wanted to be there. Josh Allen was able to tear up the secondary like they were cheese in a cheese grater, and the defensive line could get zero pressure on him all game long. The Buffalo receivers consistently torched the opposing Patriots’ defensive backs, and it seemed as if not one Patriots player could make a tackle in the open field if their life depended on it. Every single down, it seemed as if the Bills’ receivers were able to cause havoc for the Pats. Buffalo, whose run game has been atrocious, over-dependent on Josh Allen, and essentially non-existent all year long, would beat them on the ground, proving the game to be a true embarrassment for New England. Nobody put in any hustle the entire night, and the only player who looked to be legitimately trying was Mac Jones as he threw to receivers who dropped every pass of his. For Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all time, this game is a serious eyebrow-raiser. These scenarios are when his Patriots are typically at their best, but they were outclassed by a longshot in every single way against a team who shouldn’t be dominating them when you look at it on paper.
The Pats had this coming to them, too. This game is a culmination of a now 6-week slide that stems from week 14 when the team had a hard-earned bye week in the midst of a 7 game win streak. At the time, they were atop the AFC standings, and it seemed as if we were witnessing a return to form from the former dynasty, after year one without Tom Brady made it seem as if they wouldn’t be back contending for the Super Bowl for quite some time. Fans outside of New England groaned, wishing the team would just go away for a few years. The bye week would provide an opportunity for them to rest up, and come into week 15’s matchup against Indianapolis healthy, rejuvenated, and ready to dominate. Well, whatever the team did during their week off screwed them over for the rest of the year as the Patriots received a rude awakening against the Colts who easily steamrolled past them on the back of 170 rushing yards from Johnathan Taylor. It was a loss from which they would never recover. The next week was another matchup against the Bills, this time in Foxboro, and after the Pats showed they could beat their divisional rival in less-than-ideal weather with their quarterback throwing only 3 passes the entire game, fans were expecting another win now that the weather was more suitable. However, Mac Jones had the worst game of his rookie campaign, completing only 43.8% of his passes and posting a 31.4 quarterback rating, and the team looked flat yet again as Josh Allen tore up the defense en route to a 33-21 victory for Buffalo. The game was a major cause for concern, and the Patriots seemed to make up for it by trouncing the Jaguars 50-10 before returning to their flat, mistake-prone selves against Miami in another disappointing defeat.
They ended their season about as bad as a playoff team could, but they would get it together for the playoffs, right? Bill Belichick’s Patriots typically do. Not this year. This embarrassing playoff loss is nobody’s fault but their own. They failed to compete, they failed to execute, and they failed to show up. And this was the story for 4 of their final 5 games this year, the one exception being a game where they didn’t need to do any of these to win. There are several lessons to be learned from this loss and this season. The first? Don’t let the bye week get to you. After the week off, the team we once knew was nowhere to be found and they were consistently dominated by teams who a few weeks prior wouldn’t have been too difficult to defeat. The second? Don’t peak too early in the season. They had zero momentum coming in and it showed. The third? Failing to compete or show any will to be on the field loses football games. New England was sluggish and looked like they didn’t belong or want to be there. They allowed Buffalo’s one-dimensional offense to look like an unstoppable force, and sure, Josh Allen is an incredible quarterback, but the Bills’ top-heavy receiver core shouldn’t be dusting every corner on a top 5 passing defense in football. Their inconsistent running backs shouldn’t be easily getting chunk yardage against a front seven as talented as the Patriots’. And yet, they did both. The Bills showed up and then some on Saturday night in Buffalo. The game was over once the Patriots’ first offensive drive resulted in Bills’ safety Micah Hyde making a diving interception in the end zone on a Mac Jones deep ball. The game was over then, not because the Patriots don’t have the talent or ability necessary to recover, but because they simply didn’t even attempt to. Buffalo looked much better than they truly are and that is all the fault of the Patriots’ defense allowing Josh Allen to torch them and the Patriots’ offense lacking talent in its own right. The New England team we saw on Saturday is not the Patriots team that surprised many this year, the Patriots team who went on a 7-game win streak in the middle of the season, the Patriots team we saw take top contenders like Dallas and Tampa Bay down to the wire, or the Patriots team we saw look like the best team in the AFC for a good time. That team vanished into thin air after the bye. And this loss and the ones that led up to it is nobody’s fault but their own.
Congratulations to the Buffalo Bills on moving onto the divisional round. They earned this win off of not only their hard work but also the failure of their opponent to provide them with any trouble or competition whatsoever. I hope the Patriots return to the playoffs next year and learn from their mistakes. This is the worst loss they’ve ever suffered under Bill Belichick’s guidance, and they need to do everything in their power to make sure it remains the worst loss. But to be honest, with how this team failed to get it done when they needed to, I don’t know if they’ll be making a return to the playoffs next year. This is a loss that some teams would never recover from, and although I doubt that will happen with a coach like Belichick at the reins, this is an unremovable stain on his and this team’s legacy. This game was excruciatingly painful to watch. I can only hope history doesn’t repeat itself in the future.