Arrow Up/Arrow Down: Bills-Patriots

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

The Buffalo Bills dropped a heartbreaker in Foxboro on Saturday afternoon, 24-17 to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

They are locked into the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs starting in two weeks, and I’m locked into the arrows starting down: 

 

ARROW DOWN:

  • Run defense

The Bills gave up 143 yards on the ground. Sony Michel ran for 96 yards and 4.6 per-carry. The Patriots ran for 81 yards in the first half alone. Far too much. 

  • Tackling

Maybe it was a bad day. Maybe the defense was fatigued after playing two physical games against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, then having to play a Saturday afternoon game. Whatever it was, the Bills missed way too many tackles in this game, some of which came right in the hole and a defender seemed to have the running back wrapped up. 

  • Defending screen passes and Patriots running backs in passing game

The Patriots ran several screens for big yardage. Fortunately on the first one, they were able to knock the ball loose and cover a fumble, but multiple screen passes resulted in gains of at least 20 yards. The Bills didn’t do a good job of recognizing them or getting to the ball as soon as they did. It wasn’t just screens that hurt the Bills, either. Overall, Patriots running backs accounted for nine catches for 106 yards out of the backfield. 

  • Long drives given up

The Patriots dominated time of possession in the first half because the Bills couldn’t get them off the field. In the first 30 minutes, New England had an 11-play and a 17-play drive, and ran 40 plays to the Bills' 24. For the game, the Patriots had drives of 70, 91, 54, 77, and 58 yards and a 17-minute time of possession edge.   

  • Josh Allen’s first half

The Bills' quarterback's fist half numbers were poor, completing only 6-of-13 passes for just 62 yards.   

  • Taron Johnson on Julian Edelman

It’s a tough task for anyone, especially only a second-year cornerback, but Johnson just couldn’t hang with Edelman in key situations. The receiver finished with five catches for 72 yards, and made critical third down grabs to keep drives alive. 

  • Third down offense and defense 

The Bills converted only 2-of-11 third down chances (18%), but the Patriots converted 7-of-14 (50%) of theirs. 

  • First down play-calling to start drives

On the Bills' final four drives, every single one of them started with a run to Devin Singletary. The results: 1, 4, 1, 0-yard gains. So each one of those forced the Bills to be in 2nd-and-long right away. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll should have mixed in some passes on first down. 

  • Red zone offense

The Bills only converted one of three trips inside the Patriots red zone into touchdowns. They needed to get more than three points on a couple of drives, but didn’t.  

  • No sacks

After getting to the quarterback at a solid rate the last several weeks, the Bills didn’t put Tom Brady on the ground for a sack one time Saturday. Just one sack could’ve made a big difference as the game unfolded. They were also only credited with four quarterback hurries.

 

ARROW UP:

  • Josh Allen’s end of 1st half and overall second half

After a slow start, Allen did a great job of helping his team not only stay in the game, but eventually take the lead in the second half, by making some big-time throws and plays with his legs. From the last drive of the first half through the entire second half, Allen was 10-for-18 for 189 yards and two passing touchdowns, and added another 41 yards rushing. Allen's passer rating in the second half was 129.17. 

  • WR - Cole Beasley

We knew coming into the game that Beasley may have a big role since Patriots slot cornerback Johnathan Jones was out, and he delivered, catching seven passes for 108 yards, his second 100-yard receiving game in a Bills uniform. 

  • No turnovers

Against the Patriots in Week 4, Allen threw three interceptions, which was a big reason they lost. He also fumbled in that game and has too many times this season. Last week, Singletary put the ball on the ground twice, losing a fumble. They did a good job of taking care of the football on Saturday, with no interceptions and no fumbles at all, not giving the Patriots any free possessions or short fields. 

  • Dion Dawkins’ touchdown

A creative play call by Daboll, and called at the right time, and Dawkins caught his second touchdown pass in two seasons (he also caught one against the New York Jets last year). Allen did a great job on the play-fake and the touch pass, and Dawkins was sure-handed with the ball in the end zone.

 

THE BIG PICTURE:

Going into this game it was a weird dichotomy. The Bills were basically playing with house money, knowing they had already clinched a playoff spot, and even by winning it would be tough to win the AFC East because the Patriots would still have to lose to the Miami Dolphins next week. At the same time, the division was still in play (even with that slim chance) and after all, it’s the Patriots and beating them in a game that truly mattered to them would be a huge accomplishment and mean a ton to the organization. Some fans even questioned whether or not they should go all-out to win the game, due to the slim chance of winning the division versus the risk of getting players hurt or even showing too much to potential playoff opponents. Bills players and coaches certainly did not feel that way. They wanted to win this game and did everything they could to do it.

They almost pulled it off.

After the game, not one player was touting a moral victory, and they shouldn’t be. The standard has been raised enough, and they have a good enough team and coaching staff that this game was winnable and clearly meant something to everyone. With that said, the Bills gave the Patriots everything they could handle for a full 60 minutes and came 15 yards shy of knocking off the six-time Super Bowl champions on their own turf (well, at least tying them and having a chance to do that, but you get the point).

The Bills are ascending. There’s no debating that now. The Patriots, as we’ve known them for the last 19 years, appear to be declining. Those two lines are going to intersect soon. But Saturday wasn’t the day for it. Brady showed he can still be great at times, Bill Belichick showed he can still get his team prepared and come up with the right game plan in the most critical of contests, and the Patriots showed they’re not dead yet. In fact, they can still be really good and are quite alive. 

With all that said, this wasn’t a “got close to beating them” year that only comes along every few seasons. This game, and the one they played in Week 4, told a different statement: The Bills are here and not going away. Not only are they not going away in the AFC East for years to come, but they aren’t going away yet in 2019. That’s the best part about this game, that even though the Bills lost, it wasn’t fatal. They still get to play again next week, at home against the Jets.  

The best part: they still get to play in two more weeks, in the playoffs, somewhere. Saturday could be looked at, by some, as an ending to a hope and dream for 2019, but it’s really just the start of a lot more.

See you in the playoffs. 

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports