FOXBOROUGH ― The Bills were not going to get bullied this time around.
Just a few weeks after they were pushed around in their own backyard by the Patriots, the boys from Buffalo flipped the script on their AFC East brethren Sunday, punching the hosts in the mouth — and on boxing day, no less, and landing a 33-21 win before 66,878 at Gillette Stadium.
Josh Allen and the Bills served notice that they’re not about to just dry up and blow away the way they did in Orchard Park, N.Y., Dec. 6, when the Patriots ran roughshod over them in prime time.
In the rematch, the Bills landed the early blows, absorbed a couple of New England haymakers, then punched right back to send the suddenly skidding Patriots to the canvas with a fourth-quarter knockout blow.
Both clubs stand at 9-6 and are tied atop the division, although the Bills hold a tiebreaker with the better division record. The Patriots, who have lost twice after their seven-game win streak, will now welcome the 2-13 Jaguars with open arms next week before finishing the season in Miami. Buffalo hosts the Falcons and Jets to close its slate.
“Well, kind of a little bit like last week, not much to say here,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Obviously, Buffalo made more plays than we did, played better than we did, coached better than we did. We just didn’t perform well enough to really have a chance to win the game. We have to find a way to do better.”
Buffalo wasn’t forced to punt once, though the Bills went for it on fourth down four times, converting three times.
The Patriots came out flat, going three and out on their first possession and then watching monster truck quarterback Allen (30-of-47 passing, 314 yards, 3 TDs) drive the ball down their throats and the Bills into the end zone for 7-0 lead.
Buffalo coach Sean McDermott set the tone when he decided to go for it on fourth and 2 at the New England 3. Allen had oodles of time on the play, and he whipped a fastball to Isaiah McKenzie for the touchdown.
The Patriots are going to have visions in their heads of McKenzie dancing through their secondary for the next few days.
McKenzie came into the game with seven catches for a paltry 38 yards on the season. Working out of the slot, he collected a career-high 11 grabs for 125 yards against the New England’s mixed man/zone defense.
The Patriots showed some fight and aggressiveness on the ensuing drive, going 75 yards and converting a pair of fourth downs. Damien Harris capped the march, taking a pitch left from Mac Jones and snaking through the Bills and into the end zone to tie it at 7.
On the ensuing series, Adrian Phillips’s clutch goal line deflection of an Allen pass negated a pass interference call, and a possible TD, and forced the Bills to settle for Tyler Bass’s 25-yard field goal as the Bills took a 10-7 lead.
The Bills’ offense was quickly back in business when Jones threw the first of his two picks — a toss to N’Keal Harry that was deflected by A.J. Klein and corralled by Micah Hyde.
As they consistently did all day, the Bills drove to the red zone but this time they came up empty on back-to-back plays from the 1. First Devin McCourty batted a pass down and then Emmanuel Sanders could not snag Allen’s pass in the back of the end zone.
New England’s best defensive stand came with cornerback J.C. Jackson in the medical tent with a right arm issue. It was the only series of plays he missed.
After another three and out by the Patriots, the Bills were back in the end zone, this time on Allen’s 12-yard slant to Stefon Diggs for a 17-7 lead.
One of the wackiest drives of the season followed, with three straight personal fouls called, or so it seemed.
After a roughing-the-passer call on Efe Obada, Jones scrambled for 7 yards and was shoved out of bounds by the Bills’ Jerry Hughes. Officials threw a flag, then reversed course, picking up the laundry. It also reversed the momentum.
Before the next play, New England’s Trent Brown was whistled for chirping at the Bills. So, instead of having a first down just on the outskirts of the red zone, New England was back in their own territory.
The Bills extended the lead to 20-7 with a 34-yard Bass field goal to start the second half.
The Patriots got it to a one-score game, converting two fourth downs before Harris scored his second of the game to make it 20-14.
Allen and the Bills answered quickly. This time going 66 yards on nine plays as Devin Singletary scored from 2 yards. The 2-point conversion failed, however, so it was 26-14.
Harris scored his third TD of the game (8-yard run) to cut it to 26-21 as the crowd finally started showing signs of shaking off its Christmas hangover.
Allen played the Grinch again, however, leading another impressive 13-play journey and capping it with a 2-yard toss to Dawson Knox for 33-21 final.
McCourty was at a loss to explain why his team has come out flat following its bye week.
“Wish I knew,” said the captain. “It’s too late in the season not to play your best football. We’ve got to play better. We need to make a play. We are not making those plays. It hasn’t been good. It’s up to us as a team.”