After a big win over the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots jumped back into the seventh AFC playoff seed and now once again control their own postseason fates, despite having won just one of their last three games. But it's a tall order for New England, one that requires knocking off Josh Allen and the Bills, a team the Patriots have had few answers for over the last three matchups.
"We're just gonna control what we can control, it's one game season for us, that's the way we looked at last week and that's the way we look at this week," said Bill Belichick on Monday morning. "We'll put everything we have into this one and be ready for a team that we played fairly recently, that's clearly one of the top teams in the league. They're a really good football team, well coached, beat us three straight times... we have a ton of respect for them. We're gonna have to play our best game, that's what we're gonna get ready for."
There could also be a path to the playoffs even if the Pats drop the game in Buffalo, but it would entail a complicated three-game parlay with long odds to hit. Also, depending on Monday night's result in the Bills-Bengals game and then next Saturday's Chiefs-Raiders game, Buffalo could be out of the top seed running by the time they take on the Patriots.
So yes, there are plenty of permutations for both teams, but for the Patriots the simplest one is key... flip the script vs. the Bills with a win and you're in.
Thus, the 2022 season comes down to a familiar matchup, one the Patriots faced in the 2021 playoffs and were summarily defeated in, 47-17. It's been an up-and-down road to get back to this point, but this Patriots team never gave up, even after back-to-back weeks of gut-wrenching last-second losses to the Raiders and Bengals, and have earned the opportunity to prove that this is a different year and that they really have saved their best football for last.
"This is a resilient group," said Matthew Slater after the win over Miami. "I've been a part of a lot of teams here. I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a part of this crew. We have been dragged through the mud, kicked, counted out, and we just keep fighting. What more can you ask for? As a leader of this team that is all you ask for, is guys that come in and compete every week regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what's being said about them. That's the type of football team we have."
The question now is can this Patriots team flip the script on their last three performances against Buffalo? After famously not forcing a punt in the last two matchups of the 2021 season, the Patriots showed more fight this season against Buffalo in early December during their Thursday Night Football contest.
But even that game was never really in doubt, as Buffalo controlled the clock with nearly 40 minutes of possession time, while rolling up 428 total yards of offense. At the center of it is Josh Allen, who has 10 throwing touchdowns and no interceptions in those last three contests vs. New England.
"Allen by himself is a tough matchup for any player, any defense," commented Belichick on Monday morning as the team quickly turned the page from Miami.
In Week 13, Josh Uche did force a fumble from Allen, which briefly opened a door of opportunity that the Patriots offense was unable to take advantage of. The Patriots defense has continued to make those kinds of key plays over the final stretch, with Kyle Dugger's pick-six vs. the Dolphins giving the defense a team-record seven defensive scores in 2022.
Unlike the 2021 team that sputtered on both sides of the ball heading into the most meaningful games at the end of the season, there's reason for optimism that this year's defense might be playing well enough to turn the tide against Allen and the Bills.
Despite their offensive struggles this year, the Pats have found other ways to produce consistent points, something that figures to be a critical part of their effort in Buffalo.
"We don't know what it's going to be, but finding a way to win the game, whether it's a defensive touchdown, special teams, whether it's the offense going on an eight-minute drive, they score. Whatever it is, it's that time of year, we got to figure it out and do those things," said Devin McCourty on Sunday night.
There's plenty else to figure out this week as well. From what the Bills will be playing for, to the health status of the battered Patriots secondary as well as punter Jake Bailey, there are multiple factors that could further help New England tip the scales.
But what's clear is that regardless of the Bills' situation or who is or isn't available by Sunday, the Patriots will need their best effort of the season, likely at a level we have not seen yet, at least out of the offense, to get the season-extending win. And even then, all they might earn is the opportunity to go right back to Buffalo in the Wild Card round to try and do it again.
"I think the message has to be just leave it all out there," said Matthew Slater. "This is a playoff game for us, we have to treat it as such. The urgency, the preparation, the focus, the attention to detail, it all needs to be there. So I am certainly going to be pushing hard. I do not know what my future holds so I want to make this count on a personal level and I know a lot of guys feel that same way, so we will see how it goes."