The Patriots opened up an early 10-point lead on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, finally getting the kind of start they've been looking for this season and setting the stage for a surprisingly competitive game that came right down to the end. Buffalo made the plays down the stretch and looked poised to win the game, aided by a late Kendrick Bourne fumble that set up a Bills score that made it 25-22 with just under two minutes left.
But Mac Jones and the Patriots offense put together perhaps the most clutch drive of Mac's career, an eight-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that won the game in thrilling fashion. It was an unexpected and much-needed win for the maligned Patriots, who pulled off the upset win by playing a full 60 minutes and closing the game out on their terms, winning the game 29-25 and breaking multiple losing streaks in the process.
Here are the key takeaways from the heart-stopping game!
1. Pats start hot
There's been a common formula for the Patriots starting games lately that has involved quickly falling into a points deficit but against the Bills the Pats got their best start of recent memory with Mac Jones leading a nine-play, 63-yard field-goal-scoring drive on their first possession and then Jabrill Peppers intercepting Josh Allen's first pass attempt of the game.
The offense had a good plan out of the gate, immediately involving Pop Douglas and then getting big plays from Rhamondre Stevenson (14-yard rush) and Pharoah Brown (25-yard reception). Unfortunately, the drive sputtered out inside the red zone, holding the Patriots to a 3-0 lead, their first lead since their Week 3 win over the Jets.
On Buffalo's ensuing possession, Peppers forced a turnover for the second straight week, dropping into coverage and hiding in Josh Allen's blindspot long enough to force a mistake fight out of the gate. The safety continues to emerge as a playmaker and driving force for the defense and has been one of the team's bright spots this year.
Mac and the attack carried over the momentum from the takeaway, as Douglas continued to "pop" with receptions of 10 and 26 yards, with the 26-yarder coming on a big third-and-1 as the Patriots took a calculated risk running play action and taking a shot downfield. Ezekiel Elliott finished the drive with a tough two-yard goal-line run that extended New England's lead to 10-0. It was as good as the Patriots have started in some time.
2. Bills respond, but so do Pats
Down 10-0, the Bills strung together a long drive on their second possession, converting two third downs while having an offensive pass interference called after a would-be touchdown score. The Patriots defense would get the ensuing stop on third-and-17 as they got a valuable red zone stop, holding Buffalo to a field goal. It was a sustained 13-play drive that went 57 yards, but the OPI call was enough to help the New England defense get off the field.
After a Patriots three-and-out, Bryce Baringer delivered one of the best punts of his young career, backing Buffalo up deep in their own territory. The Pats defense would respond themselves, forcing a three-and-out of their own, as New England was able to do something that has often eluded them in recent matchups against the Bills, getting them to punt.
Douglas continued to make major contributions with a 25-yard punt return on the play and then Kendrick Bourne delivered another big play, taking a crosser up the sideline for 33 yards. The Pats were stopped again in the red zone, settling for another field goal that made the score 13-3 in the second quarter. After struggling to produce many big plays, Douglas and Bourne emerged in the early going of this one as the offense looked like they had suddenly found a new stride, even if they came up short in the red zone, taking two field goals instead of adding touchdowns.
3. Finishing the first half
The solid play for the Patriots continued late into the second half, as the defense did enough to get a missed field goal by Buffalo from 42 yards out just after the two-minute warning. Buffalo reeled off a 12-play drive but could not get a big enough play to open things up.
Christian Barmore and Deatrich Wise stepped up on the drive with a big sack that set the stage for the stop, as the defensive front was disruptive against Josh Allen and forced a number of throwaways thanks to good pressure.
The Patriots offense got another crack before the half, but were unable to get a drive going.
Still, it was the best first half of football seen from the Patriots in a while aided in part by some personnel moves, including sliding Michael Onwenu out to right tackle and making Douglas the primary slot receiver. The execution was better, the penalties were limited and the big plays started to show up.
The positive first half set up New England with a 10-point halftime lead.
4. Bills come out firing in second half
After a halftime ceremony honoring Saturday's Patriots Hall of Fame inductees Dante Scarnecchia and Mike Vrabel, the Bills offense came out and quickly moved their way down the field, partly aided by a roughing the passer penalty on Jack Jones that initially looked like it would go unflagged.
Buffalo faced just one third down on the drive, a third-and-eight from the New England eight-yard line that Allen would convert with a checkdown to James Cook, who broke a Jabrill Peppers tackle and made his way into the end zone. It was a well-orchestrated 10-play drive as New England's defense couldn't get the key stops or penalties needed to get Allen and his offense off the field. It was Buffalo's third double-digit drive of the game and a quick reminder of how effective the BIlls offense can be.
Just over five minutes into the second half it was a three-point game, at 13-10, but New England would answer with another field goal drive. Douglas continued his breakout game with a 20-yard end around but again the Pats were unable to get into the end zone as they allowed Buffalo to stay within a score.
5. Pats D makes a stand
The Bills once again began to drive the ball down the field as the fourth quarter arrived, but the Patriots defense made it harder on them, getting to multiple third downs and forcing Buffalo to go for it twice on fourth down. The Bills got that first fourth-down conversion with a QB sneak but on the second the Patriots defense stepped up and got a much-needed stop at their own 30-yard line.
Ja'Whaun Bentley made the big play as it looked like Allen initially completed his pass for a first-down conversion. Bentley arrived angry, delivering a big hit that jarred the ball loose before tight end Dawson Knox could secure it. With the Bills looking to take a one-point lead with a touchdown, the Patriots defense stepped up and gave the offense another opportunity to build on the lead.
5. Pats break 20, Bills respond quickly
Off of the missed field goal, the Patriots offense finally found their touchdown-scoring mojo, piecing together a critical nine-play, 66-yard scoring drive that Mac finished off by hitting Kendrick Bourne for a score that put them over the 20-point mark for the first time this season.
Again it was Pharoah Brown and Pop Douglas making big plays, with Brown picking up a 26-yard reception and Douglas making another tough catch that went for 19 yards. The score, with a failed two-point conversion, made the game 22-10 midway through the fourth quarter, setting up a fascinating finish as New England tried to complete the impressive upset.
Buffalo wasn't that impressed and quickly marched down the field in five plays, with Stefon Diggs picking up a 25-yard touchdown that cut made it a five-point game, 22-17 with 5:32 left. The scoring drive took just two minutes as the Bills reminded everyone how unstoppable they can be at times.
6. Bourne gives it back
With the Bills closing the gap to just five points, the Patriots needed a scoring drive to close things out but unfortunately what they got instead was a fumble from Kendrick Bourne as the turnover problem reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. Until that point, the team had avoided those killer mistakes, despite escaping a Mac Jones fumble earlier by recovering it themselves.
The Patriots defense got a third-down stop on their eight-yard line, setting up a key fourth-and-2 with just 2:50 left in the game. Buffalo would convert with a quick pass and then score and get a two-point conversion to take their first lead of the game.
7. Pats find their clutch
With just under two minutes to go, the Patriots offense mustered a final drive and finally showed some clutch, getting big plays from Stevenson (34 yards) and Hunter Henry (14 yards). From the Buffalo eight-yard line, and 23 seconds left, Mac hit Douglas again, who made the catch but also drew a pass interference penalty that placed the ball at the one-yard line. Jones found Mike Gesicki for the game-winning touchdown, on National Tight Ends Day, as New England secured a critical win.
8. Patriots are now 2-5
With the unexpected and thrilling win the Patriots get their second victory of the season and, perhaps more importantly, a needed psychological boost as they break not only their three-game in-season losing streak, but their four-game losing streak to the three-time reigning AFC East champions.
Certainly, the team found some intriguing new elements on offense, with Michael Onwenu at right tackle, Cole Strange back in the lineup and the extended use of Pop Douglas in the passing game. The defense allowed some long sustained drives but got enough stops over the course of the game to make the difference, while the offense found their last-drive clutch with Mac Jones' second career fourth-quarter comeback win.
Next up, the Patriots look to take down another one of the top teams in the AFC as they travel to Miami to face the explosive Dolphins.