Despite falling in their fourth-straight game, the Patriots showed quite a bit of fight against the Bills and saw some intriguing performances from some of their young weapons. After two weeks of looking listless, especially on the offensive side of the ball, Cam Newton started to find a rhythm as the Pats began to move the ball in the second half and the defense got just enough key stops to give the team a shot at victory.
One mistake at the end quickly derailed what was shaping up to be a scrappy Patriots victory that got their season back on track, but that can't overshadow the progress and competitiveness that the team showed.
There are still issues for the Patriots and, at 2-5, great uncertainty where this season is headed, but unlike previous weeks, there were some silver linings to take away despite many of the same continued flaws that are proving to be the difference in tight games.
Here are the five plays that defined the loss in Buffalo that show how narrow the tight rope to victory can be.
Jackson nets third-straight interception game
Situation: 2Q 1:38, 7-3 Bills, BUF 3rd-and-8 at NE41
After giving up a long touchdown-scoring drive on the opening series of the game, the Patriots defense buttoned up, forcing two-straight punts before the Bills got the ball back late in the second quarter. With just over five minutes left before halftime, Buffalo started to moving down the field again, picking up three first downs and threatening to extend their lead before getting the ball to start the third quarter.
But J.C. Jackson put a stop to that with his fourth interception of the year. Later, Diggs admitted he had stopped too soon, leaving Jackson in perfect position to make the pick, marking his third-straight game with an interception. A restricted free agent this offseason, Jackson is having his best season and stepped up with Stephon Gilmore out. Outside of one long catch and run by Diggs, Jackson did an admirable job against Buffalo's top threat.
The Patriots offense would pick up another field goal before the half, holding what could've been a 14-3 score at half time to a one-point game.
Run defense struggles continue
Situation: 3Q 13:44, 7-6 Bills, BUF 1st-and-10 at BUF37
The Patriots run defense hadn't been very good to this point, giving up 5.4 yards-per-rush, and things got worse to start the second half. Buffalo would need just five plays to get into the end zone, repeating the same scoring effort they had on the opening drive of the game.
Stefon Diggs' 41-yard catch-and-run was the big play on the drive, and together with the previous play, an 18-yard run by Devin Singletary, aptly captured where the Patriots struggled most in this game -- containing the run-after-catch and stopping the run.
The run by Singletary exploited a crease in the Patriots defense, as Singletary lowered his head for some hard extra yards. Too many plays looked just like this one, as the Bills had 190 rushing yards against the Patriots after having a previous high of 126 and posting under 100 yards in four of their seven previous contests.
That makes two weeks in a row the Patriots defense has surrendered over 190 rushing yards and Lawrence Guy getting hurt on this same play is about as bad as it can get. Beau Allen is going on his third week of practice and should be due back in game action soon. They really need the big veteran to help them fix this major flaw in the defense.
Enel Powerful Play of the Game: Harris gets first touchdown
Situation: 3Q 3:09, 14-6 Bills, 2nd-and-5 at BUF22
By late in the third quarter the Patriots had gone nearly two full games without scoring a touchdown, going all the way back to Cam Newton's fourth-quarter keeper against the Broncos. Down 14-6, the defense forced a much-needed three-and-out and the offense responded with one of their grittiest drives of the game, overcoming a 10-yard Illegal Use of Hands penalty with a great individual effort by Rex Burkhead on 3rd-and-10 to keep the drive alive.
Two plays after Burkhead's critical conversion, Damien Harris and the Patriots offense showed what a perfectly blocked running play can do, as Harris burst through the line, made the free safety miss and took it 22 yards to the house. Isaiah Wynn and Joe Thuney powerfully sealed off the left side of the line, while pulling guard Shaq Mason and fullback Jakob Johnson delivered key blocks in ideal rhythm to spring Harris.
The Patriots would then convert a two-point play to tie the game, with Newton finding Jakobi Meyers in the back of the end zone, but a failed onside kick following the score set the Bills up to retake the lead.
Still, Harris continues to show intriguing burst and vision that paid off with the first touchdown of his career. He'd follow his performance on this drive with 39 total yards on the next drive, setting up the Patriots last touchdown score of the game. He should continue to receive more carries going forward as the power run game has been the most effective element for the offense this season.
Harris' 22-yard touchdown scamper is this week's Enel Powerful Play of the Game, with powerful blocks opening the way for a powerful run by the explosive back.
Meyers converts big 3rd down
Situation: 4Q 3:30, 24-21 Bills, 3rd-and-4 from NE27
The Patriots defense delivered a key red zone stop on the Bills final possession, making a last stand at their own 10-yard line after Buffalo put together another effective drive between the 20s, not seeing a third down until the last play of the drive. That set up the Patriots final chance, down three points with plenty of time.
The drive might been a quick three-and-out if not for this huge conversion from Newton to Jakobi Meyers, who led the team in catches, none bigger than this one. It was the kind of quick throw we haven't seen much of this season, with Newton faking the handoff then quickly firing a pass to Meyers on an in slant. Meyers made the secure catch and the drive would kick into gear from there.
Like Harris, Meyers was a second-year standout in this game after getting a chance he's been waiting for. Aside from Julian Edelman's performance in Seattle, this was the best receiving performance of the season for a Patriot and it came with some tough catches in key spots.
Newton's fumble ends it
Situation: 4Q :37, 24-21 Bills, NE 2nd-and-10 at BUF19
For the third time this season, the Patriots had a chance to win the game at the end but fell just short. Neither of the previous other two situations were quite as painful as this one, as New England's momentum seemed to be building toward a season-altering crescendo before having the rug pulled out from under them.
Newton had one of his more effective rushing days, with a 19-yard rush taking the Patriots into field goal range with plenty of time to go for the win. With :37 seconds left, the Patriots sat at Buffalo's 19-yard line, calling another quarterback keeper for Cam.
Newton followed strong edge blocks by his receivers Damiere Byrd and Meyers, with Isaiah Wynn and Rex Burkhead clearing the way in front of him. For a moment it looked like Newton might even burst free and take it into the end zone, but Justin Zimmer, a journeyman defensive tackle with a stop in the CFL and on his second stint with the Bills, made the play of his career, forcing the fumble and putting a sudden stop to what looked like at least overtime.
Turnovers have killed the Patriots offense all season long, undercutting just about every performance. Against the Bills they finally were putting together a game without a giveaway until this play. What was almost their first clean performance became a rehash of their continued issues in an instant.
There are plenty of what-ifs seven games into the 2020 season, but this was the most dramatic game-changing play of the year and an unfortunate one for Newton, who was finding a stride in the offense unseen since September. Despite being 2-5 there were things to build off of from this loss, unlike the previous two weeks. The Patriots have their issues to be sure, but should continue to be a challenge for every opponent they face.