FOXBOROUGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 24-10 loss to the Bills:
▪ It has been nearly 11 months since the Patriots last faced the Bills, and Thursday night’s game offered the first opportunity to see if they had closed the gap.
The answer: Nope.
The Patriots forced a couple of punts this time, and weren’t totally embarrassed like they were in the playoffs last January. But Thursday’s loss demonstrated how much the Patriots wasted their offseason.
They didn’t add any elite receivers to help Mac Jones keep up with Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. They didn’t add any speedy edge rushers or someone who can corral Allen. They used their first-round draft pick on a guard.
They essentially brought back the same team as last year’s, and the result was, unsurprisingly, the same — the Bills shredded the Patriots’ defense and toyed with the Patriots’ offense.
The Patriots lost this game in the spring when they failed to address any of the issues exploited by the Bills (and several other teams) late last season. The Patriots said they expected a “second-year jump” from Jones and his receivers, but that was either wishful thinking, spin, or delusion. It didn’t take Vince Lombardi to see that the Patriots didn’t improve their roster last offseason. The Patriots are now 6-6, but 0-6 when the opposing team scores at least 18 points. That’s pathetic in today’s NFL.
Thursday night’s loss was a “Dennis Green” loss for the Patriots. They are exactly who we thought they are — a flawed team that is nowhere close to keeping up with the Bills and the NFL’s elite.
▪ Well, it looks as if Jones and the offense didn’t really figure out much despite scoring 26 points in last Thursday’s loss to the Vikings. The Patriots looked broken and non-functional again, gaining just 242 yards and holding the ball for only 21:52.
Other than a dynamic 48-yard touchdown on a bubble screen from rookie Marcus Jones, the Patriots did nothing. They didn’t complete another pass over 20 yards all night. Jones did a nice job of escaping a few sacks, but threw for just 195 yards. In the first half, with the Bills racing out to 17 points, Jones and the Patriots went three-and-out on four of their first five drives.
It was yet another example of Jones and the offense not being able to meet the moment. There have been a lot of those this season.
▪ The boo birds were out in full force, letting Jones and the offense know how much they disapprove of the current state of affairs. Jones made it four straight games without throwing an interception, but he floated one to Jordan Poyer and got lucky Poyer didn’t survive the ground.
Jones doesn’t have great receivers or protection, but nothing about his play is very inspiring. It’s probably too late to turn to Bailey Zappe, but it’s hard not to wonder how this season would have turned out had the Patriots stuck with him.
▪ One positive for the Patriots’ offense, if you can call it that, is that the makeshift offensive line held up relatively well despite left tackle Trent Brown playing with an illness and newcomer Conor McDermott replacing Isaiah Wynn (foot) at right tackle. Jones didn’t take a sack until garbage time, though Brown and Cole Strange were flagged for penalties. And the Patriots did average 4.3 yards per carry, but that was almost all from Rhamondre Stevenson breaking tackles and making yards on his own.
It would be easier if we could just blame all of the Patriots’ issues on mediocre offensive line play. Unfortunately, it’s just one of many problems for the offense.
▪ The biggest problem is the lack of playmakers on offense. It’s great they used Marcus Jones for a couple of snaps, but it’s also a sign that the Patriots don’t have breakaway speed in the wide receiver room. It’s especially troubling that Jones was the team’s leading receiver, going for 51 yards on two catches. No one else on the Patriots’ offense had more than 31 receiving yards.
Jones, by the way, had a touchdown catch, pass breakup, and special teams tackle. He’s a keeper.
▪ The end of the first half was the Patriots’ season in a nutshell. There was questionable playcalling with a draw play on second and 1 that got stuffed. There was a bad use of timeouts, with even Al Michaels calling out the Patriots for wasting them. And then Nick Folk doinked a 48-yard kick off the crossbar, while kicking with the wind.
The Patriots had a chance to make it 17-10 and a competitive game at halftime. Instead they tripped over their own feet.
▪ Enough on the offense — the defense was plenty bad, too. The Patriots finally forced three punts and created a turnover, but Allen and the Bills did whatever they wanted:
- The Bills jumped out to a 17-7 lead after just three possessions, including one touchdown drive that took 7:46 off the clock.
- In the second half, the Bills put the game away with a 15-play, 94-yard drive that took 8:55 off the clock.
- The Bills went 9 for 15 on third down, and held the ball for 38:08.
Allen completed 22 of 33 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns, and ran circles around the Patriots’ pass rushers. Allen has been inconsistent over the last few weeks and has forced several bad interceptions, but the Patriots made him look like Superman.
It wasn’t a total beatdown like the playoff game in January, but the Patriots still didn’t come close to stopping Allen.
▪ Another big deficiency that didn’t really get addressed in the offseason — the Patriots don’t have a No. 1 cornerback after letting Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson leave in the past year.
The Patriots allowed a big game to Justin Jefferson last week, and had no one to stop Diggs. The Bills receiver had seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, consistently beating Jonathan Jones and Jack Jones and coming down with the ball in tight coverage.
Perhaps the absence of Jalen Mills was a big factor. More likely, the Patriots don’t have anyone that can keep up with the NFL’s top receivers.
Read more about the Patriots-Bills game:
• McBride: A closer look at how the Bills completely overwhelmed the Patriots
• Sullivan: The Patriots couldn’t hang with the new beasts of the AFC East
• Mac Jones explains his sideline rant
• The Patriots turned to defensive back Marcus Jones to score their only TD
• Finn: In the ultimate compliment, the Bills put on a Patriot-like performance
• Gasper: The Marcus Jones touchdown was a neat trick, but it also showed the Patriots’ offense is a disaster
• How it happened: Bills dominate Patriots once again, roll to convincing victory
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.