FOXBOROUGH — It was very appropriate that there was a toy drive at Gillette Stadium Thursday night because that’s exactly what the Bills did to the Patriots.
Buffalo beat down New England by being better at football, and at keepaway, registering a 24-10 victory that felt much worse.
Holding a ridiculous edge in time of possession — 38:08 to 21:52 and running 21 more plays (72-51) — Josh Allen and the Bills moved the ball at will against a Patriots defense that will have visions of Stefon Diggs dancing in their heads during the upcoming mini bye.
The Patriots (6-6) now have little room for error as they make a final playoff push that begins with back-to-back games out west against the Cardinals and Raiders before a three-game stretch against some of the AFC’s armor — the Bengals, Dolphins, and these Bills.
Diggs was immense, converting third down after third down against any and all Patriots defenders, including Jonathan Jones and Jack Jones.
He finished with seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.
It was a tough look for a secondary that gave up nine catches for 139 yards and a score to Justin Jefferson last week and has D’Andre Hopkins (Arizona) and Davante Adams (Las Vegas) on the itinerary.
“I mean, stop him,” Jack Jones said bluntly, when asked if there was anything more the cornerbacks could have done against Diggs. “I mean, you could throw more double [teams] at him, but at the end of the day you expect your corners to make those plays against big-time players. So, I put the blame on us.”
Allen’s uncanny ability to extend plays with his feet continually frustrated the Patriots defense.
“It goes from a three-second play to about a 7-to-10 second play,” said Jack Jones. “So, you know, it’s hard to stick with anybody for that long of a time. So, you know, you just got to go out there and do your best until the [defensive] line gets home.”
With Allen (22 of 32, 223 yards, 2 TDs) pulling the strings, Buffalo (9-3) converted 9 of 15 third downs, including 5 of 8 in the first half.
The Patriots, meanwhile, were only 3 of 12.
“We’re just not sustaining drives. Not getting that first first down, getting things going, possessing the ball,” said tight end Hunter Henry. “We were beating ourselves. Not blocking the right guy or not communicating well, whatever it is … We’re just not playing clean football. We need to be better.”
It was a bumbling start for the Patriots as Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson botched a handoff on third and 1, killing an initial possession before lots of the folks had settled into their seats.
The Bills cashed in right away, taking their first possession into Patriots territory, where they eventually settled for Tyler Bass’s 48-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
It could have been worse, but penalties on Diggs (pass interference) and Spencer Brown (false start) derailed the drive.
The Patriots fumbled again on their second possession, but the ball that popped out of Stevenson’s hands took a fortuitous bounce into Nelson Agholor’s arms.
The next play was the offense’s most electrifying of the season.
Marcus Jones, playing his first offensive snap of the season, lined up in slot to Mac Jones’s left. The quarterback hit him with a quickie, DeVante Parker threw a nifty post-up block, and Jones showed off his quicks, outracing the defense 48 yards to the end zone and a 7-3 lead.
The play temporarily warmed up the chilly crowd, but it hardly fazed the steely Bills, who responded with an 82-yard scoring journey.
With a chance to force a punt, Jack Jones was called for a 22-yard pass interference penalty and James Cook ran for 28 yards to fuel the march. Allen capped it with an 8-yard scoring strike to Diggs for a 10-7 advantage.
New England’s offense couldn’t build off the momentum Marcus Jones created on the ensuing possession. In fact, the Patriots couldn’t get out of their own way.
The home team was called for holding (declined), intentional grounding, and delay of game (on a punt), setting up the Bills with great field position at their 44.
Allen then led a methodical, crushing 14-play drive on which the Bills went 4 for 4 on third down, and the final one would have made Houdini proud.
Rolling to his right with Mack Wilson breathing down his neck, Allen headed for the safety of the sideline before leaping and throwing an 8-yard crossbody pass to Gabe Davis to up the advantage to 17-7.
Mac Jones and the Patriots offense continued to spin their wheels, going three-and-out with three abysmal plays — a 0-yard completion to Jonnu Smith, a 0-yard rush by Stevenson, and an incompletion to Henry.
The New England defense kept it competitive, forcing a three-and-out of its own on the next possession. It snapped the Bills’ streak of drives against the Patriots without a punt at 23.
New England followed with its fourth three-and-out in five drives, though Jakobi Meyers had a case for pass interference on third down.
Josh Uche gave the Patriots some life when he dipped under left tackle Quessenberry with a speed rush and crunched Allen, who fumbled into Matthew Judon’s arms.
The Patriots went into hurry-up mode and moved it to the Bills’ 29, but couldn’t dent the lead when Nick Folk’s 48-yard field goal attempt bounced off the crossbar and fell into the end zone, and it stayed 17-7 at the break.
New England forced another Buffalo punt on the first possession of the second half, narrowly escaping a roughing the punter call — Sam Martin’s sell job was not bought by the zebras.
The Patriots showed some life with Stevenson running for 24 yards on three tackle-busting runs, but their opening drive of the half ended with a Jones incompletion (that was originally ruled a pick but overturned) and a completion short of the sticks.
Devin Singletary’s 1-yard plunge to open the fourth quarter capped a 15-play drive for the 24-7 lead, and the Patriots never were able to recover.
“Look, I want to win. We want to win,” said center David Andrews, when asked about the offense’s frustration level. “And we’re not doing that. And we’ve got to find ways to win. Doesn’t always have to be pretty, but we’ve got to find ways to win.”
Read more about the Patriots-Bills game:
• Sullivan: The Patriots couldn’t hang with the new beasts of the AFC East
• Volin: A lame loss to the Bills exposed the Patriots’ flawed offseason
• 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
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.