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christopher l. gasper

In Buffalo, Bill Belichick again proved that he can morph the Patriots into whatever they need to be

It wasn't exactly a breeze, but Bill Belichick managed a smile at the conclusion of Monday night's win.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The final score of Monday night’s matchup was Patriots 14, Bills 10. It was also Bills Mafia 0, Mac Mafia 0. The biggest winner on this windswept evening was Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The other two cultlike constituencies had to swallow their pride and just take the L, as the kids say.

Taking advantage of a blustery night in Orchard Park, N.Y., the Patriots played retro football and turned back the clock to an adapt-to-thrive ethos that fueled their AFC East rule for two decades. We now know ­— and so do the Bills — that the Patriots’ primacy was merely in abeyance for a season; it was not a complete surrender of the throne.


This is what the Patriots are about. This is what Belichick is about, the ability to morph into whatever football team they need to be to win the game that week. It was a hallmark of their nine-Super Bowl, six-Super Bowl-title run of success, and it’s back in full roar.

I’ve always been a believer that championship-level teams can beat their opponents in a multitude of ways. These Patriots are one of those teams, which is why they’re winners of seven straight and in possession of the pole position in the AFC.

One week after summoning a career-high 310 yards and two touchdown passes out of their precocious rookie quarterback, Mac Jones, the Patriots grounded him and ground down the Bills in bad weather for another victory. The protean Patriots beat Buffalo with bully ball and their quarterback a decorative piece of the action, attempting just three passes, the fewest in an NFL game since 1974.

Devin McCourty has seen this adaptation before.

“This team isn’t about one person. It isn’t about ego. It isn’t about, ‘This is what we do, so we’re going to do it.’ It’s about winning,” he said. “We’re going to adjust and find a way to win.


“It’s a week-to-week thing, and this week our offense morphed into an offense that was going to run the football. It worked. Anything that happens in the game, we’ll try to find a way to win.”

Bill Belichick and the Patriots have now won seven straight.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

This was a triumph for Belichick. He did the seemingly impossible in the NFL of 2021. He rendered the quarterback position useless and extraneous in his team’s biggest game of the season. The Patriots put Jones out there only because someone had to take the snap and hand off.

In one stretch, the Patriots called 32 consecutive runs. Jones threw three passes, completing two for 19 — one of them a screen to running back Brandon Bolden that was a glorified handoff.

The Patriots finished the game with 46 rushes for 222 yards and their only touchdown. They could’ve won this game with Brian Hoyer, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, or 98.5′s Scott Zolak playing QB. This was “Weekend at Bernie’s” NFL Quarterback Edition. Sorry, Mac Mafia, the rookie was a total sidecar, and that’s the way Belichick wanted it. In the Hoodie’s unquestionable judgment, minimizing Mac was the way to win.

Proof that they’re winning with Jones, not because of him.

Belichick played the elements and the odds perfectly.

This was throwback football at its finest: Run the football, retain possession, and rely on your defense. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels devised a game plan straight out of a Thanksgiving high school football game; the Patriots lined up with six offensive linemen on 61 percent of their snaps. The sixth lineman, Mike Onwenu, played more snaps (31) than any wide receiver.


“Hats off to the offense — really everybody, besides Mac,” joked linebacker Matthew Judon. “He didn’t really do nothing besides hand the ball off. But everybody out there was just executing when their number was called.”

Matthew Judon celebrates as he runs off the field at the end of Monday's win.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

The game was reminiscent of another December wind-tunnel test contest the Patriots played at Buffalo. In the 2008 season finale, the wind was even worse and the goalposts bent.

Belichick let Matt Cassel throw the ball eight times in Orchard Park. The Patriots rushed 47 times for 168 yards and won, 13-0. The wind was so hellacious that after the game, kicker Stephen Gostkowski professed he wasn’t eager for the plane ride home.

Belichick said the conditions in that game were “way, way worse” than Monday night’s. For the record, Cassel completed 6 of 8 passes for 78 yards.

Jones has drawn comparisons to the wrong former Patriots quarterback in his maiden season. Cassel is an ideal analogue. Cassel was nurtured by Belichick and McDaniels in the same fashion. Like Mac, he produced like a top-10 quarterback but wasn’t asked to be the centerpiece of the team’s success. Like Mac, he progressed as the season went along, going from caretaker QB to potent playoff-caliber passer.

The divergence in the roads of Cassel and Jones is that Cassel’s 11-win team didn’t make the playoffs. The Jones Boys certainly will, and if they can win out in their final four regular-season games after Sunday’s bye, they won’t have to leave Fort Foxborough to chase a Super Bowl berth.


Of course, another key component of the Patriots’ reign has been good fortune. Like the wind, that also was blowing at full blast for Team Belichick.

Matt Breida’s game-changing first-quarter fumble for the Bills on first and 10 from the New England 29 was an unforced error. Three plays later, Damien Harris ripped off a 64-yard TD run.

Buffalo QB Josh Allen tripped over the leg of tight end Tommy Sweeney, who was being walked back into the pocket, for Judon’s big 9-yard “sack” on second and goal from the Patriots’ 6 with 8:18 left. Normally, Tyler Bass’s 33-yard field goal attempt at the end of that drive would’ve been a gimme, but the wind whipped it wide right. That meant on the final drive when the Bills reached the Patriots’ 13, they needed a touchdown instead of just attempting the game-winning field goal.

Mac Jones and the Patriots are in the drivers' seat when it comes to the AFC playoff chase.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

But the Patriots made all of those breaks count, also a trademark of a vintage Patriots contender.

After a one-year reprieve, the NFL is on notice: The protean Patriots are back in business, and so is Belichick.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at christopher.gasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.