The Patriots looked poised for a good start against the Buffalo Bills, but costly mistakes set an early tone that they never bounced back from. Buffalo relentlessly seized control of the game with long, sustained drives, while the Pats could not get any critical stops when the game was still on the line.
Buffalo put a final nail in the coffin with an explosive scoring play, but otherwise they were methodical in their domination, with Josh Allen finishing with a 138.7 quarterback rating.
Meanwhile the Patriots offense continues to be stuck in neutral, putting up a season-low in passing yards and watching the defense allow a season-high in total yardage. In all, New England is heading in the wrong direction on both sides of the ball and the result was unsurprisingly non-competitive.
After taking a second look at the TV copy of the game, here are the four areas where the game was lost for New England.
First Drive Flameout
Despite how the game turned out, the Patriots had the makings of a good start, fueled by a 27-yard kickoff return by Donte Moncrief and then a 29-yard run by Sony Michel that featured excellent blocking by the offensive line that enabled Michel to go untouched until he was 20 yards downfield.
After a read-option was blown up for a loss, Josh McDaniels immediately reached into his bag of tricks, calling a pitch to Michel, who then lateraled back to Newton, who then targeted Damiere Byrd for what should've been a touchdown. Byrd has been reliable this season, that's why it was surprising and even more disappointing when he dropped the sure score.
Tangibly, the drop cost the Patriots an opening-drive touchdown after going eight quarters without one. They'd be forced to settle for the field goal. But emotionally, it might have even been a bigger blow to a Pats team that has needed things to go perfectly all season long for them to win.
It's clear how important it is for the 2020 Pats to not fall into a points hole and, if they were able to get the Bills into one, it might've put some unexpected pressure on Buffalo as well.
Instead, the Pats wasted a couple of solid plays to start the game and set a tone of missed opportunities that would follow them throughout the game.
Fourth Down Problems
The Patriots defense pitched a red-zone stop on their first possession, holding firm at their own four-yard line, and showing that their third-down defense would be one of few good areas in the game. Buffalo would finish just 5-of-12 on third down yet would punt only twice in the game.
The reason? Failures on fourth down, with the first coming after it looked like the Patriots were about to force a three-and-out on Buffalo's second possession.
Sitting on their own 35-yard line, the Bills called a fake punt, snapping the ball directly to the upback who then threw it to the flat to pick up the first down. After settling for a field goal on the first drive, Buffalo's aggressive playcall was a bit surprising, but it's the kind that teams need to make when playing in Foxborough.
Still, the Patriots would get three good stops and immediately set up another fourth down, this one for just a single yard so it was less surprising to see them go for this one. New England sold out in the middle, assuming a QB sneak or quick handoff, but they got neither, with Josh Allen keeping it on a naked bootleg and going 22 yards.
They'd score a few plays later, making it 10-3, already enough to ultimately win the game.
After the Pats closed the score to 10-9, Buffalo would have another fourth-down conversion in the second quarter that led to their next touchdown. That one was perhaps the most impressive, with Allen standing tall in the pocket and finding his tight end downfield with Devin McCourty draped all over him.
The Patriots defense had some good moments in this game, they were not run over like they were the last two weeks. However, in the critical spots, especially on fourth down, the Bills dominated and it directly led to touchdowns.
Enel Powerful Play of the Game: Diggs for 50
After a nine-play touchdown-scoring drive by the Patriots, powered mostly by two long runs by Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor, the Bills countered with their own 10-play drive to re-extend their lead to eight points.
At that moment it felt like the Patriots chances in the game were hanging by a thread and that thread was promptly snapped with the biggest play of the game, a 50-yard scoring strike from Allen to Stephon Diggs.
Even with five pass rushers coming for him, Allen calmly surveyed the field and threw a strike to Diggs on a crosser just a little over 12 yards downfield. Diggs turned on the jets, leaving J.C. Jackson in the dust and blowing the game open at 24-9.
"I didn't really see the ball and I feel like I hesitated a little bit," said Jackson of the play after the game. "He was about to cross and then when he caught it and scored, yeah I kind of hesitated. I saw the ball at the last minute. He caught the ball and he ran it in for a touchdown. He's a good player, he's a playmaker. Like I said, I could have done better, I could have had tighter coverage."
Nothing kills a defense like big scoring plays and while the Patriots defense is in the top half of the league in big passing plays allowed, this play sealed their fate in the game and that's why it's this week's pick for the Enel Powerful Play of the Game.
Another Extended Drive Brings on the Blowout
With the game at 24-9 at the start of the third quarter, it felt like long odds the Patriots would mount any kind of comeback attempt. They've broken 20 points just three times in the last 11 games of the 2020 season.
The Bills erased all doubt with their first possession of the second half with a methodical drive that took just eight plays and 3:32 to go 75 yards to put them over 30 points on the game.
In all, the Bills had four scoring drives of 10 plays or more plus this one that took eight. The 50-yarder to Diggs was the only scoring drive that was shorter. Usually the Patriots pride themselves on forcing continued execution whi
The Patriots defense simply had no answers for the Buffalo offense all night, as they were one step behind both mentally and physically. They might've limited the big plays and held up better than in recent weeks against the run, but no sacks, just one measly tackle-for-loss and no turnovers is not going to get the job done against one of the best offenses in the NFL.