Patriots vs. Bills thumbs up, thumbs down: Damien Harris and Co. run over Buffalo


The weather – cold, consistently windy conditions with gusts over 50 mph – was as much a part of the story as the Patriots and the Bills were on Monday Night Football. In the end, Bill Belichick’s team handled the situation well enough to come away from Buffalo with the impressive 14-10 win.

Mac Jones threw the ball just once in the first three quarters and three times total for just 19 yards, while New England ran the ball what felt like endlessly on the way to victory.

Coming up with a big red zone stop to turn Buffalo over on downs in the final minutes, New England improved to 9-4 on the season, solidifying it’s spot atop the AFC East as well as its hold on the No. 1 seed in the conference at this still-early point in the playoff picture.

Before turning the page to the mid-December bye week -- the latest the NFL has ever had -- here are some of the many highs and few lows from the Patriots seventh straight win:

Thumbs up

Damien Harris – Shaking off a dropped toss on the first third down of the game, New England’s lead back broke a big play with a nice cutback for a 64-yard touchdown on another third down on the third series with New England going into the wind. It was the longest regular season run by a Patriots running back since Curtis Martin in 1997. Harris not surprisingly found the going tough against a tough run D that knew the Patriots had to run, but he picked up another 17-yard run the second quarter before having to limp to the locker room with a hamstring injury early for halftime with 9 carries for 89 yards. Harris returned for one carry in the third quarter, picking up 22 more yards before leaving for good due to the hamstring. He finished with 111 yards on his 10 carries, his fourth 100-yard game of the season.

Rhamondre Stevenson – While Harris hit the big run to change the complexion of the game early, it was the rookie Stevenson whose hard-nosed running style more consistently found gains in Buffalo. Stevenson ran around, over and through Bills defenders to the tune of 24 carries for 77 yards, earning every inch he got on the night.

Nick Folk – The veteran kicker who’s been so good all season made his first attempt of the night in windy Buffalo look easy, hitting from 41 yards with the wind at his back in the second quarter. He split the uprights again with the wind from 34 yards in the fourth quarter. Folk has not missed a field goal inside of 50 yards since opening day of last season. He’s a key part of the team’s success this year, including in the tough conditions in Buffalo.

Offensive line – New England’s big men up front – starters Isaiah Wynn, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown and much of the time extra blocker Mike Onwenu – led the way for a run-first, run-often attack that ran it 32 straight plays at one point in the wind against the NFL’s No. 6 rush defense. Buffalo knew the Patriots were running, so it wasn’t always easy or productive. But it was more than good enough to win. New England ran for 226 yards on 45 attempts as a team while throwing the ball just three times with two completions.

Run defense – While the Patriots offense was piling up more than 200 yards rushing on the ground with no help from a passing game, Buffalo couldn’t find nearly the same rushing success. New England’s stout front held the home team to just 99 yards on 25 attempts, including a 21-yard scramble by quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo’s running backs ran the ball 19 times for a mere 60 yards thanks to a dominant performance by a Patriots front seven that had allowed 270 yards on the ground a week earlier against the Titans.

Thumbs down

N’Keal Harry – Back deep on a first quarter punt alongside Gunner Olszewski thanks to the conditions, Harry slipped and then allowed the bouncing Buffalo punt to hit him in the head leading to the turnover. The Bills made New England pay on the ensuing snap with a quick 14-yard touchdown. It’s worth questioning the coaching decision to put Harry – who’s never returned a punt in the NFL – back deep in those conditions. But still, the physical mistake after the bad coaching decision was all Harry’s.

Bill Belichick/Cam Achord – The coaches’ decision to put Harry back deep as an extra returner after having returned exactly zero punts previously in his first three NFL seasons was a terrible one. And the result was a turnover that set up the Bills only touchdown of the game on a very short field. It didn’t lose the game, but it could have. Both Belichick and special teams coach Achord should have known better.

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