Sunday 7: Gap between Patriots, Bills is bigger than many thought

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1. The Patriots and Bills split their regular-season series in two competitive games, but Saturday’s Wild Card game between the two teams was anything but that. Buffalo dominated New England in every area, rolling to a 47-17 win. It was the most points ever allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached team and the Bills scored seven touchdown on all seven of their possessions, kneel down at end of game aside. While the Patriots had a solid season and progress was certainly made, the fact of the matter is this defeat serves as a reminder of just how big of a gap there is between the Patriots and the Bills. The first game between the two teams can pretty much be thrown out given the extreme weather conditions and then while the Patriots hung with Buffalo at Gillette Stadium in Week 16, the Bills still controlled that game from start to finish and were missing two of their top receivers. Want evidence the gap is pretty big? Look no further than the Bills going 20 consecutive drives against the Patriots without punting and then 14 straight meaningful drives (excluding end of half/game kneel downs) of reaching the red zone. Josh Allen is a great quarterback, who has shredded the Patriots defense in the last two meetings. He is 51-for-72 (70.8%) passing for 622 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a QB rating of 134.14 against the supposed No. 2 ranked defense in defending the pass. And he’s not going anywhere, either. Allen signed a six-year extension last summer. The Patriots have plenty of reason to feel good about the 2021 season, it’s just when it comes to getting back to controlling the division again, that may take a little longer than expected.

2. While not much positive can be taken from a 30-point loss, the Patriots got even more evidence that Mac Jones is someone they should feel good about for the future. The rookie competed until the very end and made some pretty damn good plays. When evaluating Jones it’s worth noting what he’s working with in terms of pass-catchers. New England needs to take a page out of the Buffalo and Cincinnati playbook when it comes to getting its young quarterback a No. 1 wide receiver to play with. If that happens this offseason, look for Jones to take a huge Year 2 jump.

3. Another player the Patriots should feel good about is Kendrick Bourne. He too competed until the very end, and made a numbers of plays. Bourne finished with seven receptions for 77 yards and two touchdowns. He carved out a nice role in the offense as a No. 2/3 receiver, who also can make plays with the ball in his hands on jet-sweeps. With 800 receiving yards he had his best season as a professional and that could be even better next year with a full offseason with the team.

4. Some younger Patriots players selected high in the draft may have played their final games with the team. N’Keal Harry and Joejaun Williams, the top two picks in the 2019 draft, feel like potential players who could be cut this offseason. Harry was a healthy scratch in Week 16 and then did not have much of a role at all against the Bills. Meanwhile, Williams has been a healthy scratch for much of the year, but with Jalen Mills and Shaun Wade on the COVID list, the 2019 second-round pick was forced into extended action and it did not go well. Chase Winovich was also a healthy inactive, which doesn’t seem like a good thing as it relates to his future with the team.

5. When it comes to potential coaches leaving for head-coaching jobs, our gut says Jerod Mayo has a better chance of departing than Josh McDaniels. McDaniels may be better off sticking with Jones and continuing to see him develop rather than going to another organization with a lot of unknowns. Along the same lines, with all the uncharacteristic mistakes that could be traced back to coaching for the Patriots this season, don’t be surprised if a few coaches with experience around the league are brought aboard.

6. The Bills fan base deserves a lot of credit, as even though it took awhile to finally get all the tickets for the game sold, they stayed until the very end of the game Saturday night despite the blowout and frigid temperatures. The single-digit temperatures with wind chills below zero did not deter the tailgating scene before the game as the lots were still full four-plus hours before kickoff.

7. Besides coaches potentially interviewing for head-coaching jobs, it should be a relatively quiet couple of weeks for the Patriots. It’s likely players will take a few weeks before deciding on their futures and free agency doesn’t begin until March. While the playoffs still have several weeks left, the next big date for the Patriots will be the NFL combine, scheduled for the first week of March.

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