Patriots tight end Hunter Henry said that Monday night’s trip to Buffalo to take on the Bills would be a “defining” game for both teams and boy was he right.
After watching New England deal with the cold, windy conditions better than Sean McDermott’s home squad and literally run to the 14-10 victory it’s clear that Bill Belichick’s rebuilt team has redefined itself as a true Super Bowl contender.
One year after missing the postseason by stumbling to a 7-9 record, the Patriots have now won an NFL-best seven games in a row to improve to 9-4 as they hit their Week 14 bye. New England put distance between itself and Buffalo atop the AFC East and has taken over the No. 1 seed in the AFC with four games left on the schedule.
Simply put, the Patriots are playing as well as any team in football.
Monday night that included running the ball nearly 50 times in part due to 50 mph winds but also in part because they could! Playing like it was 1921 instead of 2021, Mac Jones threw just three passes, completing two of those for a mere 19 yards. Damien Harris had the play of the day with a 64-yard touchdown on New England’s third possession of the night.
At one point the visitors ran the ball 32 straight offensive plays, still finding a way to churn out 222 yards despite the predictability against a talented Bills defense. For that the left-to-right line of Isaiah Wynn, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Trent Brown – with plenty of Mike Onwenu as an extra blocker – should be commended.
Buffalo knew New England was going to run the ball and still could do nothing about it.
Meanwhile the Patriots defense held the Bills ground game in check, kept Josh Allen off balance just enough with some help from the wind and came away with the fourth-down stop in the red zone with less than two minutes to play to secure the win. And the only reason the game was that close was due to Buffalo getting a short-field, one-play touchdown pass following a N’Keal Harry punt return turnover in the second quarter.
For 60 minutes in Buffalo the Patriots asserted their will and simultaneously took away the Bills’.
After this performance there is nothing left to question.
Whether it was dealing with the hostile Bills Mafia crowd or the weather or Buffalo’s talented roster, there is no yeah-but that can be brought up anymore.
The Patriots are not just once again the team to beat in the AFC East, dethroning the defending division champions after just one year, but the team to beat in the AFC. And it’s starting to feel like they know it.
“It was just a football game,” Jones said, immediately chuckling to himself. “It was loud. And what we expected. And it was windy. And all of the above. So it was kinda one of those ultimate testers and we did a great job responding to the test.”
As they’ve done for the better part of two months now. It’s a team that’s gone from better than its 2-4 record to maybe not as good as its opportunistic winning streak against banged-up opponents to simply establishing itself as one of the best the NFL has to offer for 2021.
“Not finished. We’re not even close to being done,” running back Brandon Bolden said of the feeling heading into the bye week. “We haven’t even hit our ceiling, as coach would say.
“We don’t know how could we can really be just yet. We’re going to go back to work and the sky’s the limit.”
It’s certainly trending that way. Or at least the Super Bowl’s the limit.
“I think that’s why I love playing here,” Devin McCourty said of the unique 46 run, 3-pass win. “This team isn’t about one person. It isn’t about egos. It isn’t about ‘this is what we do so we’re going to do it.’ It’s about winning. We’re going to adjust and find a way to win.
“We should all be proud of the mental toughness and what we’re able to do as a team given weather conditions, score, anything that happens in a game we’ll try to find a way to win.”
And probably, it seems, find that way.
Will the Patriots be in Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium in February for Super Bowl LVI?
Who knows, there’s all kinds of things that can happen in a remaining month of regular season action and then a series of postseason games.
But New England is as worthy and likely to land in the big game as any other team in the AFC at this point.
After Monday night’s performance in Buffalo against both the Bills and the weather, that’s no longer up for debate.
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