The Patriots didn’t just beat the Bills Monday night to grab a commanding lead in the AFC East and for the No. 1 playoff seed. They made their workload a lot lighter during Christmas week.
The Patriots will face the Bills in a rematch on Dec. 26 at Gillette Stadium, and already have their game plan for throwing the ball on offense. They didn’t show their hand Monday night, attempting just three passes and rushing 46 times in their 14-10 win.
“We were talking about that last night. We can use our whole passing game,” coach Bill Belichick quipped Tuesday morning on WEEI. “All the pass plays that we have, they haven’t seen. We can use all of them next time we play them. That game plan’s already been made.”
The rematch will be played in December in Foxborough, so it’s not out of the question that it also will feature snow flurries and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour. But chances are we won’t see another Patriots game, or another NFL game, like Monday night’s any time soon.
The Patriots’ three pass attempts were the fewest in an NFL game since 1974. The previous low this season was 15 by the Cardinals this past Sunday in a driving rainstorm in Chicago.
The Patriots ran the ball over . . . and over . . . and over, with just one pass in the first quarter and two in the fourth. Mac Jones completed 2 of 3 for 19 yards, while the run game had 222 yards on 46 carries. Mike Onwenu came on as an extra lineman on 31 of 51 snaps.
“Bill running the Navy offense tonight,” quipped Julian Edelman, a reference to Navy’s triple-option rushing attack.
It was a good but quirky win, and Belichick knows that it probably won’t factor much into the rematch.
“You just have to be careful and realize that even though it’s the same two teams, it’s not the same game,” Belichick said on WEEI. “There will be players that play in the next game that didn’t play in this one, and probably vice versa.
“The game will take a different course and the conditions may be a lot different too, so that will probably have something to do with it.”
Monday’s leather-helmet offensive attack came just a few days after Josh McDaniels told reporters that a big focus of Jones’s development isn’t about making big plays, but how to minimize negative plays. McDaniels didn’t call a pass for Jones even when he had the wind at his back in the second quarter.
“Sometimes you have to understand what could’ve been, in terms of worst-case scenarios, to appreciate how a possession ended the right way,” McDaniels said last week. “The bad’s not too bad, and that’s what we want to try to minimize.”
That certainly was the case Monday, when the plan was to sit back and let the Bills make more mistakes. The Patriots scored only 14 points, gained 10 first downs, and went 2 of 12 on third down, but they didn’t commit a turnover or miss a kick (their one fumble came on a punt return).
The Bills played into the Patriots’ hands with a fumble, two sacks, a missed field goal, and several missed opportunities in the red zone.
“Just a crazy game to be a part of, but we knew if we didn’t turn the ball over we’d be good,” Jones said Monday night. “We just had to go out there and have a good operation and be super definitive in where I was putting the ‘Mike’ and all that stuff.”
The Patriots also sent a powerful message to the Bills: No matter the conditions, no matter the location, they are going to line up and kick the Bills in the teeth.
“It was kind of one of those ‘ultimate testers,’ and we did a great job responding to the test,” Jones said. “Just to come in here, in a hostile environment, it was just incredible to see the team effort. It’s something that we’ll never forget for many years for now.”
Everyone in Highmark Stadium, and millions of people watching at home, knew that Jones was going to hand off on every play. Yet the Patriots’ offense still bullied the Bills’ defense to the tune of 222 rushing yards and a 4.8-yard average.
It was a gritty performance from the offensive line and blockers like Jakob Johnson, Jonnu Smith, and N’Keal Harry. Despite the Bills stacking the line all night, the Patriots still broke runs of 10, 10, 10, 11, 16, 17, 22, and 64 yards. That last run came on third and 5, usually a passing down, but Damien Harris and his blockers created a 64-yard touchdown.
“For the offensive line to do what they did was incredible,” Jones said. “Just putting their nose in there every play and making it happen was incredible. I’ve never been a part of something like that, so that was really cool.”
It had to be a demoralizing loss for the Bills, who were supposed to be head and shoulders above the Patriots this year and one of the top Super Bowl contenders. They are now a disappointing 7-5, and just lost a game — at home — to a team that threw three passes all night.
“There’s no reason a run should go for 64 yards,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said in exasperation after the game. “I can see how you hand it off  times, occasionally you’re going to hit an 8-yarder or a 10-yarder. That’s going to happen. This is the NFL. But 64 yards? No way.”
The weather conditions for the Dec. 26 rematch probably won’t be as crazy as they were Monday night in Buffalo. And if the conditions are easier for throwing the ball, that could give an advantage to Josh Allen and the Bills.
But the rematch will be another chance for the Patriots to prove that they can beat the Bills in any kind of weather.
“We do get to play these guys again, and they’re a great team,” Jones said. “We’ve got to move on and get healthy. And just be ready to go.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.