With one drive the Patriots and Mac Jones were able to erase a fair amount of negative aspects surrounding the team over the past three years. Now it will be up to Jones & Co. to build off that momentum.
When New England took over at its own 25 with 1:58 to go trailing Buffalo 25-22, Jones and the offense had an opportunity to change, at least partially, some of the zeroes that had occupied win columns in a couple of different places. Heading into that drive the Patriots had been 0-14 (0-15 counting a loss at Green Bay that Jones missed due to injury) when allowing the opponent to score 25 or more points in a game during Jones' tenure, and he hadn't mounted a game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of any game.
Eight plays and 75 yards later, the Patriots changed that narrative – at least for one day. Jones effectively distributed the ball quickly and allowed his playmakers to do the rest, marching the offense into scoring position in the waning seconds. He was poised throughout, and he came up huge on the third-and-8 throw across the middle to Hunter Henry that moved the ball to the Bills 25 and put the Patriots comfortably in field goal range. From there he smartly chipped away at the Bills defense until the ball sat at the 1, and two plays later he found Mike Gesicki under the goal posts for the game-winning touchdown.
"The two big ones were the pass to [Rhamondre] Stevenson and the great run that changed the field position, totally changed the whole dynamic of the drive," Bill Belichick said the following day. "And, the third-and-long conversion to Hunter, which then put us into field goal range and gave us an opportunity to try to win the game with a touchdown as opposed to just kicking a field goal to extend it.
"Mac did a good job, but the receivers, the protection, it was all part of it. It was good team offensive execution at the time we needed it the most."
Offensive execution, particularly late in close games, had been severely lacking prior to Sunday's comeback. When trailing by a score in the second half this season, Jones hadn't been able to mount a single scoring drive in 13 attempts. Against the Bills he not only led the winning touchdown march, but also fashioned another almost as impressive earlier in the fourth quarter when he capped a 66-yard march with a 4-yard TD to Kendrick Bourne to give the Patriots a two-score lead at 22-10.
It was the kind of offensive production the Patriots have lacked for the better part of the Jones era, particularly in close games. Bill Parcells used to use the phrase "demonstrated ability" when describing his team's potential. In other words, once his team performed in a certain way, it now had belief that the success could be repeated.
That will be the task that Jones and the offense now face moving forward. Can Bill O'Brien continue to manufacture ways to get speed on the field consistently, as he did against Buffalo in the form of Demario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton and Jalen Reagor? That trio didn't play a ton – Thornton saw just three snaps – but the different looks early helped jumpstart the lifeless attack and eventually New England forged a 10-0 lead. The post-Tom Brady Patriots need to play from in front, and O'Brien's creativity allowed that to happen.
Douglas in particular seemed to benefit from the change in approach, one that saw DeVante Parker go from a full-time player to a part-time role on Sunday with just 35 snaps (58 percent). Getting the ball in the hands of Douglas and Bourne gave the Bills problems as their secondary consistently had trouble making tackles in the open field.
Now, can Jones build off that performance and establish some level of consistency on that side of the ball? If the answer is yes, perhaps the talk of a quarterback change in the future will die down and the Patriots can approach the offseason knowing they have their guy.
The Eagles penchant for using the "tush push" technique to help Jalen Hurts execute quarterback sneaks continues to draw the ire of some fans and media. To be honest, I don't get the anger.
While the play isn't the most aesthetically pleasing the league has to offer, I don't really see a huge difference between the Eagles using blockers to help their uniquely built quarterback to move the chains on short-yardage plays and the countless other times during a particular slate of games when a ball carrier adds extra yardage while inside a pile being pushed from behind by teammates.
Critics of the Eagles tactics call it a dangerous play that leads to injuries. Is it any more so than say, Travis Kelce getting bottled up just outside the end zone at the end of the first half of the Chiefs win over the Chargers before being knocked in for the touchdown by his linemen? In both cases there are multiple bodies crashing into each other from both sides trying to move pile one way or the other, often with players entering the fray with a running start. Has anyone called for the outlaw of Kelce's touchdown, or the many others like it that take place each week?
Again, it's not a great play to watch, but neither is any other quarterback sneak. It's simply about power against power and there's a reason the Eagles seem to execute the play better than most: Hurts has the lower body strength of most linemen. It would be a shame if the league steps in and legislates the play out of the game, especially if no one ever figures out how to stop it.
The Ravens have struggled all season in the red zone and as a result they entered Sunday's matchup with the Lions with a disappointing 4-2 record. That all changed thanks to the brilliance of Lamar Jackson, who led five touchdown drives on six trips inside Detroit's red zone in a 38-6 demolition of the previously red-hot Lions.
Jackson kicked things off with a beautiful 7-yard touchdown run to convert on fourth-and-1 to open the scoring, then bought what seemed like an hour of extra time maneuvering around the pocket before hitting Nelson Agholor for a 12-yard touchdown. The Ravens added scores from Mark Andrews (two) and Gus Edwards and eventually led 35-0 before Detroit managed to get on the board.
The difference between 4-2 and 5-2 doesn't seem all that big, but the manner in which Baltimore took down a quality opponent that had been playing extremely well may have vaulted the Ravens into the mix in the AFC.
The officiating is officially becoming a problem. Too often the guys in stripes are impacting games with significant calls that either allow or negate important plays during the course of a game. The Patriots-Bills game was littered with marginal calls each way, but Clete Blakeman's crew was nowhere near the biggest offenders of the weekend.
That took place in Indy where the Colts were victimized several times by questionable calls that overturned potentially game-winning plays. A strip sack and fumble recovery in the final minute appeared to give Indy the win, but an illegal contact was called in the end zone, seemingly well after the sack had taken place, and overturned it. Later, the Colts were flagged for pass interference in the end zone, pushing the ball to the 1 to give Cleveland yet another reprieve following a P.J. Walker pass that was well overthrown. Eventually the Browns found the end zone when Kareem Hunt barely cracked the goal line in the closing seconds to give Cleveland the 39-38 win.
While the calls likely didn't decide the game, Miami didn't get much love in their loss to Philly either. Christian Wilkins was flagged for a roughing the passer that could best be described as ticky-tack. That was one of 10 Dolphins penalties against zero called on the home team. Before crediting the Eagles too much for their sportsmanlike play, James Bradberry grabbed Cedrick Wilson's facemask on a huge fourth down with Miami trailing by 7 in the second half, preventing a potential completion, and no flag was thrown.
These instances are happening more and more often each week, and it's impacting the outcomes of games.
- Kansas City (6-1) – Patrick Mahomes was on full display in the Chiefs win over the Chargers.
- San Francisco (5-2) – The banged up Niners stumbled again, but mostly on defense.
- Philadelphia (6-1) – The Eagles also bounced back in impressive fashion against Miami.
- Miami (5-2) – The Dolphins did not look great in Philly and need to bounce back.
- Baltimore (5-2) – The Ravens looked uninspired before Sunday's beatdown of Detroit.