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christopher l. gasper

We’ll find out Thursday against the Bills whether the Patriots defense is for real

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is 3-1 in his last four games against the Patriots, and the one loss was somewhat of a fluke.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

So this is what it feels like to be Zach Wilson or Sam Ehlinger, completely fooled and made a fool of by the Patriots defense. I sympathize.

I’ll admit it; I took the cheese, believing wholeheartedly that this year’s version of the Patriots defense was more dominant than 2021 redux.

Then Thanksgiving in Minnesota unfolded. After not surrendering a touchdown in their prior two games against the aforementioned and alleged NFL QBs, the Patriots collapsed faster than an ironing board. They allowed 26 points to the Vikings. They allowed Kirk Cousins to complete 81 percent of his passes while effectively throwing for 300 yards — he was at 303 before his final completion went for a 4-yard loss — and three touchdowns. They allowed Justin Jefferson to do whatever he wanted at wide receiver.

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A disturbing defensive pattern has emerged. The Patriots beat and beat up on bad quarterbacks and borderline starters. Then suffer from exposure when confronted with quality QB play. They need to reverse that trend in their red retread threads Thursday. New England nemesis Josh Allen and the two-time defending AFC East champion Buffalo Bills are coming to town for a pivotal game for the wobbly 6-5 Patriots.

Allen represents both a crucial crucible and the ultimate opportunity for the Patriots defense to change the narrative, earn some validation, and, maybe, force a punt. Here’s hoping the Patriots prove me right — or is it wrong at this point?

Either way, beating the Bills would go a long way to legitimizing the defense’s impressive numbers, which ring hollow when the QBs you’ve terrorized are Mitch Trubisky (benched), Jared Goff, Jacoby Brissett, Wilson (benched twice), and Ehlinger (back to backup duty). That’s not exactly Murderers Row.

Allen, meanwhile, is about as good as it gets in today’s NFL. He’s a bona fide franchise quarterback. (Remember when the Patriots possessed one of those?)

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He’s the signal-caller seigneur of the division and his team hasn’t been forced to punt against the Patriots in his last 21 drives across three games, including zero punts in the last two. In those two games, including a 47-17 playoff pasting, the Bills have averaged 40 points.

“Allen makes it all go,” said Bill Belichick. “[Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis] are open. They make big plays. Sometimes they’re not open, or something happens, and he makes big plays on his own. So they’re hard to defend.”

Allen had plenty of reasons to smile during last year's playoff blowout of the Patriots.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

That’s the understatement of the century from our resident saturnine sideline sage. Belichick has gotten a little defensive about not forcing Allen and the Bills, a QB he once owned and a team he once toyed with, to punt.

But it’s his team that needs to be on the defensive Thursday. Otherwise, its going to be drawing unfavorable comparisons with the paper-tiger defenses of 2019 and 2021.

This is the Patriots’ best chance to knock off Allen. They get him at home. He’s dealing with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain in his throwing elbow. The Bills have averaged 18 points in two division games, both losses.

Buffalo ranks second in the NFL in total offense and points per game (28.1), yet its offense isn’t quite clicking on all cylinders. Some of the old careless cowboy Allen has leaked back in. He leads the NFL in turnovers with 14, including 11 interceptions, tied for most in the league.

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Buffalo barely eked past Detroit on Thanksgiving, lost premium pass-rusher Von Miller in the process, and looks more susceptible than expected.

It’s now or never for this talented defense. Back up your stats against an elite QB or be labeled as the latest Foxborough Frauds if Allen shreds you again in a key contest where your best defense wasn’t drawn up via the Weather Channel.

“We know what we did last year,” said defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr.. “This year we’re looking like we want to play more as a unit. We want to stop the run, stop the pass, and allow the offense to score points.”

Just as the Patriots are going to turn back the clock with their uniforms, they need to turn back the clock on Allen.

There was a time when Allen was the archetype of the young QB in over his head against a Belichick defense. (That honor now belongs to Wilson.) In his first four games against the Patriots, Allen was 1-3 with a 50.4 percent completion percentage, a 57.8 passer rating, and three touchdowns vs. six interceptions. He averaged just 183 yards passing.

Since then, it has been ugly for the Hoodie. In his last four, Allen is 3-1 with a 67.4 percent completion percentage, 13 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, and a gaudy 122.5 rating while averaging 271.8 yards.

The lone loss was the Patriots’ windswept win in Orchard Park, N.Y., last December, when Mac Jones threw the ball just thrice, a result that Allen proved was a frigid fluke 20 days later.

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Belichick and the Patriots got the better of Allen in Buffalo last December.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

That 14-10 Patriots victory is the only time in the last four games that New England held Allen and the Bills below 33 points.

Of great concern is that Allen also is a dynamic running threat. He actually leads the NFL in yards per rush (6.9). Right behind him at 6.8 are two quarterbacks the Patriots struggled to contain, Justin Fields and Lamar Jackson. (They registered 33 and 37 points at Gillette Stadium this season.)

Another trend the Patriots will have to reverse is mobile quarterbacks dissolving their defense at will. In the previous two meetings, Allen has rushed 18 times for 110 yards and eight first downs.

None of this adds up to optimism that the Patriots defense will justify the belief espoused by those who labeled them legit. But for more than two decades, the Patriots have majored in making conventional wisdom look foolish and about as effective as Wilson and Ehlinger.

If ever the Patriots needed to make a defensive statement and a defensive stand, it’s now.


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