Patriots at Bills thumbs up, thumbs down: Defense embarrassed in blowout loss

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When the Patriots beat the Bills by running the ball 46 times in the wind in Buffalo in early December, members of the home defense were asked if they were embarrassed by their performance.

Saturday night in the Super Wild Card Weekend rematch at Highmark Stadium it was the New England defense that got embarrassed this time, allowing Josh Allen and the home offense to churn out 300 yards and 27 points in the first half alone on the way to the easy 47-17 victory.

Allen led scoring drives on his first seven possessions of the night, refusing to punt once again much the way he did in a victory over Bill Belichick’s defense in late December at Gillette Stadium.

Allen and the Bills advance to another weekend of postseason play looking very much like a Super Bowl contender, while the Patriots hit the brick wall that is the sudden offseason.

Before turning the page to the many questions the come once the season ends for any team, here’s a look at the lows from the worst playoff loss of the Belichick era in New England:

Thumbs up

None – The Patriots simply got embarrassed in Buffalo. Not to sound like a Belichick post-loss press conference, but New England got outcoached and outplayed in all three phases of the game. In a way that we’ve never seen before, certainly not in the playoffs under Belichick's watch, no one on the Patriots travel party really showed up to compete.

Thumbs down

Dont’a Hightower/Devin McCourty – New England’s aged veteran leaders on defense were notable parts of the overall overmatched unit.
Though the longtime playmakers were far from the only problems, seeing them struggle to make plays and more often giving them up to Allen and his weapons was eye-opening for a defense that was supposed to be among the best in the NFL, finishing the year No. 2 in points allowed.

Run defense – The Patriots allowed Buffalo to be very much balanced on offense while building the big first-half lead. Allen scrambled for chunk yards and powerful third-down pickups, with 63 yards on the ground by halftime. Devin Singletary, who’d been running more successfully late in the year, added 58 yards and a pair of rushing scores at the break as the Bills had 100 yards on the ground midway through the second quarter. The Bills finished with nearly 200 yards on the ground and averaged nearly 7 yards a carry late in the fourth quarter.

Pass defense – New England was playing without Jalen Mills (COVID). But that was far from the only problem. Matt Judon once again couldn’t get much pass rush and found himself chasing. J.C. Jackson gave up a 45-yard bomb to Stefon Diggs. Dawson Knox had a pair of TD catches in the first quarter. Allen did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, throwing for more than 300 yards with more touchdowns (5) than incompletions (4) for a 157.6 passer rating as he continues to own the Patriots defense.

Rush offense – While the defense was getting run and thrown all over, the New England offense could do little with its chances with the ball, especially after Mac Jones’ interception to Micah Hyde on the opening possession.
The Patriots never really got the running game going and the scoreboard got out of hand. Damien Harris had nine rushes for 30 yards, and that included a 14-yard run. Rhamondre Stevenson had two carries for 3 yards prior to a late meaningless drive in garbage time. Any plan the Patriots had for winning had to include a productive run game and the Bills never let that happen.

Slow start/penalties/turnovers – The Patriots’ losing script from the final month of the regular season was on full display in frigid Buffalo. That included the defense giving up a long drive its first time on the field. The offense turning the ball over. Special teams making a bad play with Gunner Olszewski bringing the ball out of the end zone only to get to the 15-yard line for the opening possession. And some really bad penalties like a false start by the fullback, a delay of game following a sack and a call for too many men in the offensive huddle. Why did the Patriots fall behind and get blown out in Buffalo? It’s all pretty simple to figure out, actually.

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