The Patriots’ season is done.
A pair of kick returns for touchdowns delivered a spark for an emotional Bills team Sunday, as Buffalo beat New England, 35-23, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The loss leaves the Patriots (8-9) on the outside of the playoff picture for the second time in three seasons. Meanwhile, the Bills (13-3) are headed to the postseason as the second seed in the AFC.
Mac Jones finished 26-for-40 for 243 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Rhamondre Stevenson added six carries for 54 yards, DeVante Parker had six catches on seven targets for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And Devin McCourty had a pair of takeaways — an interception and fumble recovery — for the Patriots.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen completed 19 of 31 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bills, rallying in the recent good news regarding defensive back Damar Hamlin, got things started with a bang when Nyheim Hines returned the opening kick 96 yards for a touchdown, giving Buffalo and its fans an emotional release after a roller-coaster week.
But New England was able to rebound, eventually tying the game on its second offensive possession of the afternoon when Jones and Jakobi Meyers connected on a two-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-7 with 5:45 to go in the first quarter.
The teams traded second-quarter touchdowns, with New England knotting the game at 14 on a two-yard pass play to Parker. The Bills were driving for what looked like a go-ahead score right before the half but McCourty picked off Allen to secure the tie going into the break.
McCourty set up New England for another score when he picked off Allen deep in Buffalo territory early in the third quarter; Nick Folk booted a 24-yard field goal to make it 17-14.
Then, Hines struck again with a 101-yard kick return for a touchdown, becoming just the 11th player in NFL history to post two kickoff return touchdowns in the same game, giving Buffalo a 21-17 lead late in the third. Allen then found John Brown for the longest play of the day, a 42-yard scoring strike that gave Buffalo an 11-point lead after three.
Early in the fourth, Parker caught his second touchdown of the day, a magnificent 26-yard reception from Jones, to make it 28-23 with 11:31 to go.
But the Bills’ finishing kick was too strong. After the Patriots did well to limit Stefon Diggs over the first three quarters, he broke them midway through the fourth when he hauled in a 49-yarder to make it 35-23.
Jones tossed a pair of interceptions with just under five minutes to go that ended any hopes of a New England comeback.
The Patriots’ loss opened the door for Miami, which clinched its first postseason berth since 2016 on a 50-yard field goal in the final minute to defeat the Jets, 11-6.
Patriots’ season ends with a mind-numbing breakdown on special teams — 6:50 p.m.
For a franchise known for its special teams’ excellence over the past two decades, Sunday’s loss was particularly jarring.
Patriots were’t going to beat inspired Bills on this day — 6:05 p.m.
Bill Belichick’s uneven, oft-dysfunctional 2022 squad put up a good fight in their regular-season finale, but in the end, the Patriots were vanquished by an inspired and talented group, playing to honor and celebrate teammate Damar Hamlin, who almost died on the football field just six days earlier.
Belichick keeps it brief on “breakdowns” that led to loss — 5:08 p.m.
Bill Belichick was in no mood to talk about the two touchdowns the Patriots yielded on kickoffs in Sunday’s loss to the Bills.
Belichick was asked about potential “breakdowns” on what happened on the 96-yard kick return from Nyheim Hines to open the game and the 101-yard return from Hines in the second half.
”[There were] two breakdowns,” he said.
Asked to specify, Belichick responded.
”Two breakdowns,” he said. “We’ll just leave it at that.”
Belichick did laud his team for its performance in the wake of an emotional week for Buffalo.
”Proud of the way our guys competed and prepared,” he said. “Today we missed some opportunities.
“In the end, collectively — players, coaches — it wasn’t good enough today.”
McCourty noncommittal with regard to 2023 season — 4:58 p.m.
After Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Bills, Devin McCourty was noncommittal on what 2023 will bring.
The 35-year-old, who was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2010, was asked about his future.
”I think just figuring out what makes me happy what God has planned for my life going forward,” said McCourty.
”I just have to decide what’s best, not just for me but the whole family unit,” he added. “Right now, I’m just going to enjoy the plane ride back with the guys.”
McCourty, who came away with a pair of takeaways against Buffalo — an interception and a fumble recovery — was asked about what it was like getting a chance to play with Matthew Slater, who could also end up calling it a career.
”Matt’s been phenomenal for me,” he said.
”It’s hard to put into words, the fight of this team,” he added. “Going forward, there are a lot of guys in that locker room I would play with on any given day.
”I’m proud to be a part of this team this year.”
Slater addresses media, but does not comment on his future — 4:46 p.m.
In the moments after Sunday’s loss to Buffalo, veteran Patriots special teamer Mathew Slater wouldn’t comment on his future.
”I’m not sure,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the guys in that locker room to all about my personal situation.
”We didn’t give our team a chance to win the game and that’s pretty disappointing,” he added. “That’s what’s on my mind right now.”
Slater referenced the Patriots’ allowing a pair of touchdowns on kick returns.
”It’s hard to process — I’ve been playing this game a lot time and I’ve never been a part of something like that,” he said as he wiped away tears. “I’ve given it everything I had.”
Season-long problems haunt Patriots in loss — 4:37 p.m.
The Patriots entered the season looking like a mediocre team with a questionable coaching setup, and that’s exactly how the season played out.
AFC playoff picture — 4:29 p.m.
No. 1: Chiefs (bye)
No. 5 Chargers at No. 4 Jaguars: TBD
No. 6 Ravens at No. 3 Bengals: TBD
No. 7 Dolphins at No. 2 Bills: TBD
Patriots on the brink of elimination — 4:00 p.m.
Bad news for Patriots’ fans:
Miami leads 9-6 with 23 seconds left.
Pittsburgh leads 28-14 with 1:23 remaining in regulation.
Bills take over after Mac Jones throws an interception in the end zone — 3:55 p.m.
Another missed opportunity for the Patriots.
Mac Jones was picked off in the end zone by Matt Milano. The linebacker rumbled back out to Buffalo 39. The Bills have the ball, the lead, and there’s 4:52 remaining.
Patriots recover muffed punt in Bills territory — 3:50 p.m.
The Patriots are hanging around.
New England recovered a muffed punt, and will have the ball at the Buffalo 35 yard-line with 8:22 remaining in regulation. The Patriots’ offense has to display some urgency.
Bills 35, Patriots 23 | 8:51, fourth quarter — 3:43 p.m.
Allen-to-Diggs makes it 35-23 with 8:51 to go in the fourth.
Earlier in the day, we said Diggs, a home-run hitter, was connecting for singles and doubles against the New England defense. That was a home run, a 49-yarder to really put some distance between Buffalo and New England.
Can the Patriots respond? Right now, their season depends on it.
Another special teams miscue gives Bills great field position — 3:39 p.m.
The Patriots have kicked it out of bounds to Buffalo, giving the Bills the ball at the 40.The special teams play has been awful today.
Bills 28, Patriots 23 | 11:37, fourth quarter — 3:34 p.m.
Mac Jones hits DeVante Parker on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 11:37 to go in regulation, making it 28-23 — the two-pointer was off the mark.
Big drive there for the Patriots, as Jones delivered a great deep ball for Parker, who won the jump ball for the touchdown. Great effort by the veteran receiver. The other highlight of the drive came when Jones hit Meyers on a 10-yard pass play on fourth-and-1 — New England is 2-for-2 on fourth-down attempts today.
This is becoming a must-win for the Patriots — 3:26 p.m.
If the Patriots don’t win, they need the Jets and Browns to win their games.
▪ The Jets and Dolphins are tied at six early in the fourth quarter.
▪ The Steelers lead the Browns 20-7 early in the fourth quarter.
Patriots trail through three quarters — 3:24 p.m.
The third quarter is done. Buffalo leads, 28-17.
Mac Jones: 19-27, 177 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rhamondre Stevenson: 5 carries, 44 yards
DeVante Parker: 5 catches, 5 targets, 54 yards, 1 TD
Bills 28, Patriots 17 | 1:35, third quarter — 3:20 p.m.
A 42-yard pass play from Josh Allen to John Brown has given the Bills a 28-17 lead. It was the end of a seven-play, 81-yard drive that was capped by the play to Brown, the longest of the day for the Bills.
We’ve reached another critical phase of this one. The Patriots have to respond with points here, or they risk this one getting away from them.
Bills 21, Patriots 17 | 6:53, third quarter — 3:02 p.m.
It’s another special teams letdown for New England.
Nyheim Hines just delivered his second kick return for a touchdown, taking this one 101 yards to make it 21-17 with 6:53 to go in the third quarter.
An awful breakdown for the Patriots’ special teamers at the worst possible time.
Wow.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 8, 2023
Bills RB/KR Nyheim Hines just became the 11th player in NFL history with 2 kickoff return touchdowns in the same game.
Patriots 17, Bills 14 | 7:06, third quarter — 2:58 p.m.
If Sunday is Devin McCourty’s last go-round in New England, the veteran is making it a memorable one.
The veteran defensive back came away with his second takeaway of the afternoon — this one coming on a fumble recovery — that gave the Patriots possession at the Buffalo 11-yard line. That set up a 24-yard field goal from Nick Folk to make it 17-14 with 7:06 to go in the third quarter.
McCourty recovers fumble deep in Buffalo territory — 2:56 p.m.
Another colossal takeaway from Devin McCourty sets the Patriots up for a go-ahead score. New England gets the ball at the Buffalo 11, on the cusp of the lead.
Patriots opening drive of second half ends with an interception — 2:51 p.m.
A Tre’Davious White interception on the goal line gives the ball back to Buffalo. A huge, huge play on one of the few bad balls of the afternoon from Mac Jones. The Bills will have the ball at their two-yard line with 9:32 left in the third quarter. The game is still tied at 14.
Checking in on other action — 2:42 p.m.
The Jets and Dolphins are tied in the third quarter, and the Steelers have a 10-7 lead at the half. If New England loses, the Patriots would need wins from the Jets and Browns to advance to the postseason.
Halftime analysis with the Patriots and Bills tied, 14-14 — 2:32 p.m.
Two quarters are in the books in Orchard Park, and the Patriots are tied with the Bills at 14.
Mac Jones: 13-16, 119 yards, 2 TDs
Rhamondre Stevenson: 3 carries, 25 yards
DeVante Parker: 4 catches, 4 targets, 39 yards 1 TD
Josh Allen: 12-20, 96 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Stefon Diggs: 5 catches, 7 targets, 49 yards
▪ After taking that bruising opening shot, New England played well for the rest of the first half, eventually tying the game at seven after the opening return for a touchdown, tying the game again late in the second quarter, and keeping the Bills out of the end zone with a big pick from Devin McCourty. There’s a lot of football left to play, but given the emotional nature of this game from Buffalo’s perspective, this has been an impressive two quarters for the Patriots.
▪ The Bills were converting nicely on third down for the first quarter-plus, but the New England defense forced two first-half punts from Buffalo. Given how rare Bills’ punts have occurred recently in New England-Buffalo games, that’s a nice feather in the Patriots’ cap.
▪ Defensive highlight was the red-zone interception from McCourty, who picked off Allen with less than a minute to go to keep the game tied at 14 heading into the half. Big, big play.
4th INT of the year for McCourty, with a big assist from Judon. Fifth Red Zone INT of the year for Josh Allen. No one else has more than 3— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) January 8, 2023
▪ Two impressive scoring drives for the New England offense. The first was a nine-play, 74-yard sequence where they were able to stay out of third-and-long situations and Parker (who had a pair of catches to help move the chains). Under the circumstances, it was a really impressive answer by Jones and the offense, a series that was punctuated by an excellent catch in the end zone by Meyers.
▪ The second saw the emergence of Kendrick Bourne, who had three nice catches, as well as Stevenson, who had a big 18-yard carry. On the two scoring drives, Mac Jones was a combined 12-for-12. The New England offense has struggled at times this year, but Jones and the offense has played well here at out of the gate. Who would have thought that the Patriots would have more plays of 20-plus yards than the Bills over the first two quarters?
▪ Special teams certainly started on a down note with the 96-yard kick return for a touchdown from Buffalo’s Nyheim Hines — in a game with no margin for error, it was an awful way to start. Other than that, it’s been a passable performance.
▪ The Patriots will get the ball to start the second half. An early score here could make things very interesting, and start to put some pressure on the Bills.
▪ Even if the Patriots lose, they can still reach the playoffs if the Dolphins lose to the Jets and the Steelers lose to the Browns. The Steelers lead the Browns, 10-7 at the half, while the Dolphins and Jets are tied 3-3 in the third quarter.
McCourty with the pick — 2:27 p.m.
Giant takeaway there by the veteran Devin McCourty. New England blunts that Buffalo drive, and will take over at is own 33 with 16 seconds left in the first half.
Bills 14, Patriots 14 | 3:45, second quarter — 2:14 p.m.
The Patriots have just tied with the touchdown coming on a two-yard touchdown pass from Mac Jones to Devante Parker.
Good, steady drive that saw Mac Jones and the offense take quality yardage — much of which came off play-action — that culminated with the flip to a wide-open Parker in the end zone. An impressive series for New England.
Rhamondre Stevenson went over 1,000 yards on the season on an 18-yard carry midway through the second quarter. It’s the first 1,000-yard season for New England since 2016, when LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,161 yards, and the 17th time in team history that a player has reached 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
Kendrick Bourne had 34 yards on that drive with three catches, including a key third-down reception in the Buffalo red zone.
Patriots come up with a stop — 2:04 p.m.
The Patriots picked up an excellently-timed third down stop, as Daniel Ekuale picked up his second sack of the season to force the punt.
New England will take over at its own 26 with 9:16 left in the first half. Through a quarter-plus, the Patriots have forced two Buffalo punts. Given what we’ve seen over the last couple of years, that alone represents a win for the New England defense.
Hamlin’s recovery is something to celebrate in Buffalo — 1:58 p.m.
Damar Hamlin was everywhere.
He was on the warm-up shirts — “Love for Damar” — worn by his Bills teammates, by Bill Belichick, and by the Patriots as they passed and punted through the milky gray morning before kickoff.
Hamlin’s remarkable improvement after suffering cardiac arrest in the first quarter of last week’s game against the Bengals meant Orchard Park was a joyous environment on Sunday.
Patriots forced to punt again — 1:53 p.m.
The Patriots go three-and-out, and the Bills will get the ball back at their own 35-yard line with 12:44 left in the first half. It’s still 14-7, Buffalo.
This feels like a key stretch for the New England defense, which needs a stop and a Bills punt to be able to continue to hang around.
Bills 14, Patriots 7 | 14:15, second quarter — 1:47 p.m.
The Bills take a 14-7 lead on a four-yard touchdown pass from Josh Allen to Dawson Knox. There’s 14:15 left in the first half.
Buffalo did really well on third down on that drive, as Allen connected on a series of pass plays to keep the chains moving and the drive alive. The Bills’ offense was stagnating a bit early, but a third-down catch from Diggs that went for 16 yards gave Buffalo a little spark. An Allen-to-Diggs pass play picked up another 16 yards later in the drive. McCourty had a terrific pass breakup in the end zone to deny the Bills a touchdown, but an 18-yard pass play to Gabe Davis — as good a second option in the passing game as you’ll find these days — ultimately set up Buffalo for the score.
Diggs is starting to flex his muscles a bit. A home-run hitter by nature, he’s done well do nail some singles and doubles against the New England pass defense, most of them, against either Jonathan Jones or Marcus Jones. He has four catches on four targets for 43 yards.
All even through the first quarter — 1:42 p.m.
First quarter is done — game is tied at seven.
Mac Jones: 6-7, 61 yards, 1 TD
Damien Harris: 2 carries, 8 yards
DeVante Parker: 2 catches, 2 targets, 28 yards
Patriots 7, Bills 7 | 5:45, first quarter — 1:29 p.m.
The Patriots have just tied the game on an impressive toe-tap of a two-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers.
Excellent response by Mac Jones and the New England offense, a drive that was highlighted by a third-and-short pass play to Meyers that went for 20 yards, the largest gain of the afternoon for the Patriots, and that was followed by a 17-yarder to Parker, his first catch in weeks. (Parker added an 11-yard reception a couple of plays later.)
Those two catches from Parker certainly make you think about what this offense would have looked like with a healthy Parker for all 17 games.
Pats’ D answers — 1:16 p.m.
In their first opportunity of the afternoon, the New England defense was able to hold Josh Allen and Buffalo in check. The Patriots needed to be able to absorb that emotional gut punch out of the gate, and while they took a big shot with the opening kick return, that defensive stop was the sort of stabilizing sequence New England needed. Deatrich Wise finished it with a sack, forcing the punt. The Patriots will take over at their 26 with 10:29 in the first quarter.
Pats go three and out — 1:09 p.m.
That was the exact opposite of what the Patriots’ offense needed out of the gate — a three-and-out that was capped by a nine-yard sack. The Bills will take over at their own 32 with a 7-0 lead.
This could be a very long afternoon for New England.
Bills 7, Patriots 0 | 14:46, first quarter — 1:02 p.m.
That was quite a start — Nyheim Hines returned the kick 96 yards for a touchdown. Let’s see how New England responds to that initial gut punch — Mac Jones and the offense will take over, already at a disadvantage.
Game on — 1:01 p.m.
The Patriots won the coin toss and deferred.
Official Price prediction — 12:50 p.m.
When it comes to today’s game, given everything that’s happened with the Bills over the last week, I think the Patriots are walking into an emotional buzzsaw. Buffalo is going to be a charged environment today, even more than usual, and I have every belief that the Bills are going to feed off that energy.
New England will play well and give a good accounting of itself this afternoon, but today is not really about the Patriots, but a much larger drama. This afternoon is about Bills’ team looking to play — and win — for Damar Hamlin. It’ll be too great a challenge for New England to overcome.
I’ll say Bills 27, Patriots 13.
Pregame scenes — 12:15 p.m.
Both teams wore shirts honoring Damar Hamlin before the game. The defensive back’s No. 3 was prominent inside and outside Highmark Stadium.
Patriots playoff scenarios — 12:08 p.m.
In terms of postseason scenarios for New England today, there are two options:
▪ If the Patriots win today, they’re in the playoffs.
▪ However, they can also make the postseason if they lose. If that happens, they would need the Jets to beat the Dolphins and the Browns to beat the Steelers to land the seventh spot. Both the Jets-Dolphins and Browns-Steelers games kick off at 1 p.m.
Football weather in Buffalo — 11:55 a.m.
According to weather.com, temps in Orchard Park this afternoon will be in the low 30s at kickoff, with light winds and almost no chance of precipitation.
Through 16 games, the Patriots are 1-1 when the temps are 80 or above at kickoff, 1-0 when it’s between 70 and 79, 1-2 when it’s been in the 60s, 3-1 when it’s been in the 50s, 1-1 when it’s been in the 30s, and 0-1 in the teens. (Three games — in Minnesota, Arizona, and Las Vegas — have been indoors.)
Inactives — 11:36 a.m.
Patriots: ST Brenden Schooler, S Josh Bledsoe, CB Shaun Wade, RB Kevin Harris, DT Sam Roberts, CB Jalen Mills, TE Jonnu Smith.
Bills: S Jared Mayden, LB Baylon Spector, OL Justin Murray, CB Christian Benford, OL Ike Boettger, TE Tommy Sweeney.
Analysis: Mills (groin) has been unable to go since suffering an injury on Thanksgiving. His loss will again test the back end of New England’s depth chart. Marcus Jones, who is OK to play after sustaining a concussion, will likely get the bulk of the reps in Mills’ place.
Smith (concussion) will be down another week, which means a full workload for Hunter Henry.
Schooler (hip) was limited all well, and questionable coming into the weekend, so the decision to sit him isn’t a surprise. Schooler has impressed as a core special teamer.
Wade, Roberts, Bledsoe, and Harris are all healthy scratches. Given the state of New England’s cornerback position, the decision to sit a (presumably) healthy Wade doesn’t bode well for his long-term career in New England.
Among the notable actives include Marcus Jones, who didn’t play last week because of a concussion, as well as cornerback Jonathan Jones (chest) and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (shoulder), both of whom were listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. In addition, wide receiver DeVante Parker, who was limited earlier in the week with a concussion, will dress this afternoon.
Meet today’s referee — 11:30 a.m.
Clay Martin will serve as the referee for this afternoon. Martin, in his fifth season as an NFL referee, will be working his second Patriots game of the year — he was the lead official for the November win over the Colts.
According to NFLPenalties.com, on average, Martin’s crew assesses 12.2 flags per game, the fifth-most in the league. His two most-called penalties this season are offensive holding (39) and false starts (36).
Patriots-Bills by the numbers — 11:24 a.m.
A few numbers to consider when it comes to today’s game:
▪ If the Patriots win today, Bill Belichick will have the all-time lead when it comes to postseason berths for NFL coaches. He’s currently tied with Don Shula at 19.
▪ If New England wins, the Patriots qualify for the playoffs, and Mac Jones would become one of seven quarterbacks since 2000 to start in the postseason in each of their first two seasons, joining Lamar Jackson, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, and Ben Roethlisberger.
▪ With five total tackles this week, Ja’Whaun Bentley can become the 13th New England player to reach 120 total tackles in a season and the first Patriots player to do so since Jerod Mayo had 147 total tackles in 2012.
▪ If Kyle Dugger has a pick-6 today, he’d become the first player in franchise history to return three interceptions for a touchdown in a season. If he scores a defensive touchdown today against the Bills, he’d be just the fourth player in NFL history since 1990 to score four defensive touchdowns in a season.
▪ If Marcus Jones returns a kick for a touchdown today against the Bills, he’d become the first Patriots player to ever return a kickoff for a touchdown and punt for a touchdown in the same season, and the first NFL player to accomplish the feat since 2019 when Jamal Agnew did so for Detroit.
▪ Rhamondre Stevenson enters this week with 986 rushing yards and needs 14 more to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. It would be the first 1,000-yard season for New England since 2016 when LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,161 yards and the 17th time in team history that a player has reached 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
▪ If Matthew Judon has three sacks today, he’d tie the franchise record for most sacks in a season. (Andre Tippett had 18.5 sacks in a 16 game season in 1984.)
▪ This afternoon, Devin McCourty will move past Stephen Gostkowski for fifth in team history with his 205th game played as a member of the Patriots.
Betting today’s game — 11:18 a.m.
The betting line for this one has stayed pretty steady over the course of the week, with the Bills opening as an 8-point favorite on Monday (per Bet Online) and changing only slightly over the course of the week. (It’s back to 8 this morning, according to most online books.) In addition, the number has held fairly steady — as of Sunday morning, it’s at 43.5.
A few notes, from Odds Shark:
▪ New England is 1-5 against the spread in its last six games.
▪ The total has gone under in six of New England’s last nine games.
▪ New England is 1-4 against the spread in its last five against Buffalo.
▪ Buffalo is 3-6 against the spread in its last nine games.
▪ The total has gone under in nine of Buffalo’s last 13 games.
▪ Buffalo is 10-1 straight up in its last 11 games at home.
Predicting today’s outcome — 11:12 a.m.
Cast your vote now:
Pregame reading list — 10:45 a.m.
The best way to get ready for this afternoon’s contest? Your pregame reading list: