ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — In the end, it took a Buffalo stance. And in the ferocious winds blitzing off Lake Erie, the Patriots refused to waver.
New England ran its winning streak to seven games with an old fashioned, smash-mouth, 14-10 win over the Bills before a packed house of mouthy Bills Mafia on Monday night at Highmark Stadium.
After their offense dominated the Bills in trenches to the tune of 222 net rushing yards, it was the Patriots defense that sealed the affair when Myles Bryant batted down Josh Allen’s fourth-quarter heave toward the end zone with under two minutes remaining.
New England (9-4), which attempted just three passes in a consistent wind that gusted up to 40 miles per hour, maintained its hold on the top spot in the AFC East and the top seed in the AFC. Bill Belichick’s boys now get a week off before playing in another prime-time affair, this one on Dec. 18 in Indianapolis.
“Just a crazy game to be a part of, but we knew if we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d be good,” said Mac Jones, who became the fourth rookie quarterback to win seven straight games in the Super Bowl era, joining Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott, and Kyle Orton.
How crazy was the wind? New England’s Jake Bailey had punts of 15 yards and 71 yards. Nick Folk, who hit both his field goals (from 41 and 34 yards) with the wind at his back, said there was “a 20-yard difference” depending on which end of the field you were on.
Just hours after some lake-effect snow turned this place into a snow globe, things got off to inauspicious start for the visitors when Damien Harris fumbled a pitch from Jones on the third play of the game. He recovered the loose ball, but the 7-yard loss forced a Bailey punt. Likewise, the Bills (7-5) were also unable to do anything with their first series, as an Allen pass tipped off Dawson Knox’s fingers on third down.
Following another three-and-out, the wind blew Bailey’s punt wildly out of bounds; it went for just 15 yards, setting the Bills up in prime position at the New England 40. Buffalo could not take advantage of the prime opportunity, giving the ball back to the Patriots when Lawrence Guy pounced on a botched handoff between Allen and Matt Brieda.
The Patriots made that turnover hurt.
Using their side of beef on weck attack, with more than 1,000 pounds lined up on the right side of the line — guard Shaq Mason (310 pounds), tackle Trent Brown (380), and jumbo tight end Mike Onwenu (350) — Josh McDaniels pulled a fast one. With the Bills anticipating a run toward the overload, Jones pitched to Harris left. What the running back found was a path so wide, a herd of buffalo could have rumbled through.
One little juke back to the inside and Harris (10 rushes, 111 yards) ran 64 yards for a touchdown. Really, he could have scooted untouched to the Canadian border.
“That was a great hole and he just squirted through there and he was gone,” said Jones, who finished 2 of 3 for 19 yards. “Nobody was going to catch him.”
It was the longest TD run by a Patriots back since Curtis Martin’s 70-yarder in 1997.
Brandon Bolden followed suit on the two-point conversion, grabbing a pitch and chugging around the left end and past the pylon for an 8-0 lead.
“I was like, ‘Please I hope I make it,’ “ Bolden, a nine-year veteran, said with a laugh. “But you just have to kind of find another gear and get there, and then you see the joy and excitement on everybody’s faces when we got it. Made an old man happy.”
After holding the Bills deep and forcing a punt, N’Keal Harry made a big boo-boo on his first career punt return. Harry got too close to the bouncing ball and it hit him in the facemask. The muff, which was originally not called, was recovered by Siran Neal at the 14.
One play later, Allen fired a rocket into Gabriel Davis’s gut for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 8-7.
The Patriots continued their stampede attack with another round of right side beef propelling a nine-play, 52-yard drive that Folk capped with a 41-yard field goal and an 11-7 lead.
The Bills had something going on their next drive, but a delay-of-game penalty and a Daniel Ekuale sack of Allen resulted in a third-and-19, and Knox couldn’t snag Allen’s pass to keep it going. New England couldn’t get any traction either, as Harris was dropped for a loss on back-to-back carries. Bailey’s 46-yard punt — he had the wind at his back this time — put the Bills at their own 34.
The Bills couldn’t cut through the wind, and Matt Judon landed a heavy hit on Allen to punctuate a three-and-out. Harris ripped off a 17-yard to start the final drive before the half, though he tweaked his hamstring.
As the teams headed to the locker room, Jones was 1 for 1 for 12 yards — a floater tipped, then caught by Jonnu Smith on the penultimate play of the first quarter.
The Bills cut their deficit to 11-10 on a Tyler Bass 35-yard field goal in the third quarter. The drive was fueled by Allen’s legs and an unnecessary roughness call on Bryant, who shoved the Bills quarterback as he was headed out of bounds.
It was a close call as Allen was still in the field of play, but in a day when quarterbacks are protected, the flag was inevitable.
It was their last points, and the Patriots answered just as the fourth quarter started, capping a 14-play, 59-yard drive that drained 8:34 off the clock with a 34-yard field goal from Folk to make it 14-10.
The Bills drove deep on their final two possessions, but they ended with a Bass miss from 33 yards — guess which end he was kicking toward — and Bryant’s break up.
Jones marveled at McDaniels’s game plan.
“Josh has a plan for everything, every game. He thinks about [plan] A, B, C, D all the way through,” Jones said. “We just had to go out there and have a good operation.”
There’s a rematch on tap for Dec. 26 in Foxborough, and Bolden is expecting another memorable affair.
“It came down to us taking care of the ball. They were punching and swiping [at the ball],” said Bolden. “Every play was a challenge. The Buffalo Bills are a good defense — don’t get it twisted.”