The Buffalo Bills held a 17-10 lead in the third quarter against the New England Patriots after a 53-yard touchdown grab by John Brown. New England was able to whittle that lead down to 17-16 when they began a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. That was the latest that the Bills have held a lead in a game against New England that Tom Brady started and finished since September 8, 2013.
Alas, the Bills were unable to hold the lead, surrendering a one-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion to make the score 24-17. While Buffalo was able to drive to New England's eight-yard line, they were unable to score, as the Patriots’ defense tightened in the goal-to-go situation. The Pats clinched their eleventh consecutive AFC East Division title, while the Bills lost in their latest attempt to slay their 20-year tormentor.
How did our players to watch perform this week? Like the game itself, it was a true mixed bag.
QB Josh Allen
We saw the whole Josh Allen experience on full display Saturday. In the beginning, Allen was horrendous, missing on easy throws to open receivers, holding the ball too long, and just generally struggling to do anything productive against a strong New England defense. When the Bills took possession with 33 seconds remaining in the first half, Allen’s stat line read thusly: 3-for-8, 19 passing yards, one rush, two yards. After throwing an incomplete pass to begin the final drive of the half, it didn’t look like it would improve. However, Allen scrambled for 16 yards, hit Cole Beasley for a nine-yard hookup, then dropped an absolute dime on Dawson Knox that was initially ruled a touchdown. Replay correctly overturned the call to give Buffalo a first-and-goal from the one, and two plays later, Allen hit left tackle Dion Dawkins for a touchdown to tie the game. Allen was 3-for-5 for 43 yards and a touchdown on that last drive alone.
In the second half, the inconsistency continued, though it was a much better performance on the whole. Allen threw a gorgeous 53-yard touchdown pass to John Brown to give the Bills the lead. He also hit Beasley on a 25-yard pass just before the two-minute warning to set up the goal-to-go sequence that ultimately failed to tie the game. Allen finished the day 13-of-26 for 208 yards and two touchdowns, adding 43 yards on seven rushes. He threw some great balls, but he left a few plays on the field, with the two most egregious being misses in the end zone to Dawson Knox. On Buffalo’s first possession, he overthrew Knox on a corner route in the end zone on third-and-seven from the 17 yard line. That meant that Stephen Hauschka had to come on for a field goal rather than an extra point. The second miss was on second and goal from the nine with just 1:55 remaining in the game. He overthrew Knox ever-so-slightly, then was sacked on the next play before his desperation heave for Beasley was batted down in the end zone. Overall, Allen made some plays, and the strides he made from the first meeting are encouraging; however, he didn’t complete enough passes to maintain drives, leaving Buffalo in a position where their defense was on the field for far too long.
RB Devin Singletary
The rookie had a strong first half, carrying seven times for 34 yards in the early going. After intermission, however, Singletary was unable to find his footing. He carried eight times for only 12 yards in the second half. While New England definitely made a concerted effort to shut down Singletary, the Bills did him no favors by calling the same read-option runs between Allen and Singletary repeatedly, and in a very predictable pattern. Of Buffalo’s five second-half possessions, four begin with a Singletary run, and three of those were read-option hand-offs. I kept saying that Allen just had to keep one of them to loosen New England up, but their disciplined defensive unit kept giving Allen the “give” look rather than the “keep” look. Kudos to the Pats’ defensive unit for maintaining gap integrity and for tackling well. Singletary’s final line (15 carries, 46 yards, one catch, two yards) was very disappointing given the success of Frank Gore earlier this year.
C Mitch Morse
Man, what could have been. Setting protections is hard against a Bill Belichick defense, and for much of the game, Morse and Allen did so wonderfully. However, Morse was injured on the play immediately preceding Allen’s Herculean fourth-down conversion on Buffalo’s final offensive drive, meaning that Jon Feliciano had to shift from guard to center for the end of the game. A snap that came off-time and some big pressures followed, and it’s hard to think that having Morse in to diagnose the blitz would have made Allen’s life easier. Of course, had Dion Dawkins not fallen down on the game’s final play while Cody Ford played the role of bullfighter at the same time, Allen may have had a shot at completing a pass rather than a heave. Morse will almost certainly sit out the regular season finale against the New York Jets to ensure that he is at full health for Buffalo’s Wild Card playoff game the following week.
DT Ed Oliver
What a disappointing night for Buffalo defensively. The team appeared content to sit in a zone and let the front four apply pressure to Tom Brady, who adeptly found holes when given loads of time to do so. The team didn’t run many of the double A-gap pressures it’s been using over the last two months, and when they showed the look, they almost always dropped out of it. Oliver made some impact plays in his 39 snaps, with none bigger than a touchdown-saving tackle of a scrambling Brady in the fourth quarter. Brady’s temper-tantrum at the end of the play underscored the quarterback’s frustration with his inability to outrun the massive rookie defensive tackle, who finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit on the day.
LB Matt Milano
It’s funny, because while watching the game, I felt like Milano was a constant presence around the ball—and I also felt like he missed a ton of tackles. Despite this, the statistics tell me that he had a game-high 12 tackles, nine of which were of the solo variety. My eyes told me that Milano had a sub-par game, and I’m sticking to that. He was unable to corral Patriots ball carriers on a few occasions, allowing those players to gain extra yardage (and in a few cases, a first down). New England broke some big runs when Milano entered the hole and tried to arm tackle Sony Michel, and the Patriots receiving back combo of Rex Burkhead and James White combined for eight receptions and 101 yards on just nine targets. Pro Football Reference has Milano at 15 missed tackles for the year, and I’d be willing to wager that more of those came on Saturday than in any other game this year.