ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 47-17 loss to the Bills:
▪ Saturday’s loss was an eye-opener. The Bills, not the Patriots, are now the measuring stick in the AFC East. And the blowout loss, combined with the Patriots’ 33-21 loss to the Bills three weeks ago, demonstrated that the Patriots are miles —many, many miles — behind.
It’s hard to be upset because the Bills are simply the better team in every facet. The Patriots couldn’t get anything going on offense. They couldn’t protect their rookie quarterback. They had no answers for Josh Allen. And they couldn’t slow the Bills’ offensive playmakers.
The record books will show that the Patriots finished the 2021 season with a 10-8 record and a spot in the playoffs, but it’s a mirage. Mac Jones hit a wall in December and January, the defense got slow and old seemingly overnight, and Bill Belichick couldn’t prevent his team from falling apart.
The Patriots spent all that money in free agency this year, yet it resulted in just three more wins (from 7-9 to 10-8), and a quick, embarrassing exit from the playoffs. Robert Kraft probably isn’t thrilled with the return on investment.
The Patriots better plan on upgrading the defense and upgrading Jones’s weapons this offseason, because if Saturday’s game proved anything, it’s that the Patriots are nowhere close to being able to compete with the top teams in the AFC.
▪ It was a little surprising that Belichick didn’t take the ball to open the game, because the Patriots know how important it is to get out to a fast start and not play from behind. But it wouldn’t have mattered, because the Patriots were completely incapable of stopping Allen.
For the second consecutive game against the Patriots, the Bills did not punt a single time. Repeat: For the second consecutive game against the Patriots, the Bills did not punt a single time.
In 22 years as a coach, Belichick had never had a game where he didn’t force a punt. The Bills now have done it twice this season.
At least in the December game, the Patriots forced a few field goals. Saturday night, the Bills scored a touchdown on all seven of their real possessions. Allen completed 21 of 25 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns. The Bills went 6 for 6 on third down. And the Patriots couldn’t corral Allen, who on his first touchdown pass held the ball for eight seconds — eight! — before finding Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone.
This offseason, the Patriots need to get younger and more athletic on defense, because they’re going to be facing Allen twice a year for a very long time. It might be time to say goodbye to some veterans such as Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Devin McCourty, and Kyle Van Noy.
▪ The Patriots finished the season by losing four of their last five games, and the games were essentially over in the first quarter. Take out the win over the Jaguars, and the Patriots were outscored, 49-0, in the first quarter of losses to the Colts, Bills, Dolphins, and Bills.
It’s not just that the Patriots’ offense can’t start hot and match teams score-for-score. And it’s not that the Patriots’ defense can’t get off the field. It’s both, which is a poisonous combination.
▪ Another sign that the offense lacked pop and the defense was too slow: Take out the Jaguars game, and the Patriots lost the turnover battle 9-1 in their four losses since the bye week.
Belichick was looking like a genius when the Patriots were winning seven games in a row to get to 9-4. But the Patriots’ horrible closing stretch will once again raise questions as to how good of a coach Belichick is now that he doesn’t have Tom Brady.
▪ Another way in which this team didn’t resemble a typical Belichick team: the Patriots beat themselves too often. When the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 1 with penalties, sloppy play ,and a fumble inside the red zone, it just looked like an uncharacteristically bad day. But all season long they have allowed blocked punts, committed boneheaded penalties, and turned the ball over at the most inopportune times.
And the mistakes continued Saturday. Brandon Bolden dropped a wide-open pass in the first quarter that will probably keep him awake at night. Down 20-0 in the second quarter, the Patriots drove to midfield but allowed a sack and were busted for a delay-of-game penalty on consecutive snaps to kill the drive. In the third quarter, the Patriots were flagged for 12 men in the huddle on offense. And in the fourth quarter, they allowed a 52-yard punt return and Hunter Henry dropped a wide-open touchdown.
▪ This loss was a total team effort, and was hardly Jones’s fault. He actually showed some guts and toughness in breaking off a few runs and completing a few nice throws down the field. And neither of his interceptions were really his fault.
But the Bills were hardly afraid of Jones beating them with his arm. While the Bills were ripping off huge chunks of yards, the Patriots were slowly inching down the field. Watching their offense felt like a trip to the dentist.
Jones deserves some slack for being a rookie, but the idea that the Patriots have solved their long-term questions at quarterback is premature. The Patriots need more pop on offense, and it starts with the quarterback.
▪ Allen laid waste to the narrative that he can’t play well in the cold. But his numbers this year in the cold haven’t been good at all, so perhaps it should be changed to, “Allen can’t play well in the cold — except against the Patriots.”
In his six games in cold weather, his only two good performances came against New England.
▪ Goodness gracious, can anyone cover Isaiah McKenzie? The little-used punt returner had just nine catches for 53 yards in 14 games this season against teams not named the Patriots. But in two games against New England, he was Jerry Rice reincarnated.
McKenzie had three catches for 45 yards Saturday night, and in two games against the Patriots he had 14 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown.
▪ Pretty embarrassing performances by the Patriots’ defense on Devin Singletary’s 16-yard touchdown run and Emmanuel Sanders’s 34-yard touchdown catch. You got the distinct feeling that the Patriots just wanted to run out the clock and get back home.
▪ Not exactly the classiest ending by the Bills, who were still throwing deep while up 40-10 in the fourth quarter, and finished the game with a tackle-eligible touchdown. We have seen many teams, like this year’s Colts, fall apart after treating the Patriots’ game like a Super Bowl and expending all of their energy. Let’s see how the Bills respond next week.
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Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.