We have flat-lined this dynasty many times before today. We have announced that it is over for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And we have been premature. Wronger than wrong.
This time it’s an easy call. There is no coming back from this one. A guy named Zimmer (DeForest Buckner was occupied at a game in Detroit) punched the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands in Orchard Park, N.Y., sealing a 24-21 Bills win and drawing the curtain on a 19-year run that included 17 playoff appearances, nine Super Bowls, and six Lombardi Trophies.
The Patriots are not very good this year, but until now, they still had a chance. They still had a path to the playoffs. A win against the Bills Sunday would have enabled them to pull to within 1½ games of Buffalo with nine to play. A win against the Jets next Monday would have made New England 4-4 and positioned the Pats to win the AFC East for the 12th straight season.
But all that is gone now. The Bills handed the Patriots a 2-5 record and four straight losses for the first time since Belichick arrived at the beginning of the first year of the 21st century. The Bills are clear front-runners to win the Warhol for the first time since 1995. It’s good times for the Bills Mafia at Bada Bing.
There were a couple of clear tells in this game regarding the state of the 2020 Patriots. The first came at the end of the Leather Helmet Era first half when Belichick opted for a chip-shot field goal on third-and-1 with no timeouts left and 12 seconds remaining. The Patriots were only 15 yards from the end zone, but Hoodie no doubt had visions of Brian Hoyer taking a sack and leaving points on the field before halftime in Kansas City last month. This is how little faith Belichick has in Newton and the Patriot offense.
“It assured us 3 points,” explained Belichick. “… I felt like it [a shot at the end zone] was a low-percentage play.''
We saw Belichick’s lack of confidence in his team again at the end of the third quarter after the Pats tied it, 14-14, when he called for an onside kick. It didn’t work and the Bills took advantage of the short field for a fairly easy touchdown.
“We were trying to make a positive play,” reasoned Belichick when asked about the onside kick.
Despite all of this, the Pats were in position to tie, and possibly win the game in regulation when New England drove to Buffalo’s 19-yard line with 37 seconds left, trailing, 24-21. A game-tying field goal appeared to be a certainty. A potential game-winning touchdown was only 19 yards away. That’s when Newton ran with the rock and had it punched out of his hand by Justin Zimmer. Buffalo recovered.
Welcome to AFC East Bizarro World where New England is the team that makes the game-changing mistake and the opponents are the guys who take advantage. Up is down and down is up. Traditionally we wait for the other team to step on itself. Now the Patriots do it. Newton does it. The optics will only get more painful in the next few hours when the Tom Brady Revenge Tour plays at the Meadowlands vs. the Giants on “Monday Night Football.”
Belichick said Newton is still his quarterback (Jeff Garcia won’t be happy with Newton’s postgame outfit). When USA Today’s Henry McKenna asked Belichick how he was feeling after the Newton fumble, Belichick answered, “How do you think we felt, Henry?”
We know the answer.
When Newton fumbled and the Patriots lost in sudden fashion, Belichick and his players were thinking the same thing you and I were thinking. Season over. No coming back, not this year. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday (bye, Stephon Gilmore) and the Patriots might as well start planning for next season.
The 2020 season is over. On the day after Halloween, New England’s last path to the NFL playoffs was punched out of Cam Newton’s right hand by a guy named Zimmer.
We’re on to 2021.
More Patriots coverage
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- As it happened: Late Cam Newton fumble paves way for Bills to hand Patriots fourth straight loss
- For Damien Harris, his strong showing doesn’t make up for a Patriots loss
- Patriots' J.C. Jackson moved into the No. 1 cover spot and put his skills on display
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.