The Patriots fell to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, as Buffalo established a 10-point first-half lead that they carried through halftime then extended it late in the game to take them to victory, 24-10. New England falls to 6-6 on the season with their second-straight loss.
After a slow start, New England's defense found some success against Buffalo in the middle of the game but their offense could not take advantage of the stops and produce points to close the gap. The Bills put together a long sustained drive that culminated in the fourth quarter with another touchdown to put it away, as Josh Allen once again put on a clinic with top target Stefon Diggs throughout the game.
New England's offense was stagnant for most of the night outside of the notably explosive first-quarter strike by Marcus Jones as their season-long issues continued against their divisional rivals.
Here are the keys from the disappointing loss that puts a significant nail in New England's playoff hopes.
Marcus Jones, three-phase player
Rookie third-rounder Marcus Jones has been slowly ascending this season. Everyone took notice when he returned a punt for what was essentially a walk-off touchdown against the Jets and his role continued to expand against the Bills, as the rookie took some top reps at outside cornerback with veteran Jalen Mills out. Jones' speed made sense to incorporate in the secondary against the potent Bills attack.
But it was Jones' appearance on offense that was most striking, as Mac Jones immediately went to him in the first quarter, throwing into a slot blitz off an RPO that perfectly exposed Buffalo on the play. Jones caught the ball and quickly got up to speed, escaping Jordan Poyer and scoring the game's first touchdown with a 48-yard score. It was an electric moment that gave New England a 7-3 lead.
Jones did a little of everything in college and that versatility is beginning to show itself at the NFL level. The rookie is slowly putting together an outstanding season in all three phases and emerging as a consistent playmaker.
Pats defense has no early answers
The Patriots defense allowed back-to-back nine-play scoring drives to open the game as they struggled to find a way to get Josh Allen and the Bills offense off the field without points. An offensive pass interference penalty on Stefon Diggs helped set the Bills back on their initial drive, holding them to a 48-yard field goal when combined with a false start that set up a 3rd-and-20.
They'd hit no such speed bumps on the second drive, facing but one single third down that was converted thanks to a pass interference penalty on Jack Jones. Five plays later Allen would find Diggs for a touchdown that gave the Bills back a 10-7 lead. New England's pressure had trouble getting to Allen, as he had time in the pocket, and when he didn't he bought enough time or yards with his legs.
After a rough offensive possession for the Patriots, in which they narrowly avoided taking a safety off an international grounding, the Bills were set up with great starting field possession on their own 44 yards line. They convert with another scoring drive, this time leaning more heavily on the run and therefore needing to pick up multiple 3rd downs with short yardage, which they did. The fourth and final third down was a 3rd-and-8 and Josh Allen again showed why he's one of the toughest QBs in the league, scrambling to his right with a player draped all over him but still managing to get off a last-season touchdown-scoring throw to Gabe Davis that extended the lead to 17-7. This time the drive lasted 14 plays as the Patriots defense found no way to stop the potent attack out of the gate.
Buffalo was 5-of-6 on third down to start the game, with the only one they didn't convert being a 3rd-and-20. They'd finally force a punt on the Bills fourth possession, a critical stop near halftime with New England already trailing by 10.
Uche strip-sack keeps it close
It was a tough start for the Patriots defense but after forcing their first punt in 23 Bills drives they'd face another Bills possession before halftime, with Buffalo threatening on the Pats' side of the field. Josh Uche came through with one of the few big Patriots plays of the night with a much-needed strip-sack of Josh Allen that gave the offense another chance at chipping away at the Bills' lead.
Unfortunately, they couldn't turn the takeaway into points.
The New England offense got the ball back at their own 42-yard line, and Mac Jones would break their streak of three three-and-outs with an eight-play, 29-yard drive, but Nick Folk's 48-yard field goal attempt would donk off the upright, keeping the score at 17-7 at halftime.
Bills ice it
Though the Patriots defense pitched in three-straight stops spanning the second and third quarters, the offense couldn't break their funk and put points on the scoreboard, squandering their opportunity to put any pressure on Buffalo.
It's been a season-long struggle and though Rhamondre Stevenson turned in another valiant effort, breaking tackles and getting tough yards throughout the game, but it wasn't enough even though New England avoided making any turnovers of their own. Mac Jones threw for just under 200 yards as another game went by without consistent production in the passing game.
The Bills would finally get back on track on their second possession of the second half with a dominating 15-play, 94-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown by Devin Singletary. The score extended Buffalo's lead to 24-7 and effectively put the game away.
Patriots are 6-6
With their second-straight loss, the Patriots are back to .500 at 6-6 on the season, a tough place to be as the team battles for a playoff spot. They hung tougher with the Bills than they did in the playoff game back in January but ultimately the results were the same and they were unable to solve Josh Allen enough nor put enough points on the board to keep pace with one of the NFL's best attacks.
With five games to go the team's playoff hopes are still alive but they'll need to quickly find new life on offense and defense as they prepare for a two-game trip to the southwest to face the Cardinals and Raiders, two teams looking to keep their own playoff hopes alive.
It was a disappointing outcome but one that is very much in line with how 2022 has gone. The defense kept the door to victory slightly ajar for a period of time but the toothless offense could not find a way to consistently move the ball or get into the end zone enough to match scores.