The Buffalo Bills defeated the New England Patriots 24-21 on Sunday to take control of the AFC East. There were lots of ups and downs as well as good and bad. Here are our takeaways from the game:
Who makes the bigger fourth-quarter mistake?
I wrote this header when the Patriots tied the game with 9:30 left. On third down at the New England 10, Bills quarterback Josh Allen found Gabriel Davis in the end zone. It wasn’t a great throw, but it was good enough where it should be caught 100 times out of 100 by an NFL wide receiver. Instead, it fell to the turf and Buffalo kicked a field goal to take the lead. With 31 seconds left, Patriots QB Cam Newton put the ball on the ground and he took the mantle from Davis. Justin Zimmer knocked the ball loose and Dean Marlowe fell on it deep in Bills territory with New England in prime position to tie it or take a late lead.
Run defense didn’t step up
We came into the game knowing the Patriots were going to have to run to win the game. In response, the Bills ran a ton of one-deep safety with ten guys close to the line of scrimmage. The Bills activated Harrison Phillips and Trent Murphy to stop the run after sitting them over the last few weeks to stop the pass. That certainly didn’t happen today. After 188 yards from the Patriots on the ground, including Damien Harris topping 100, whatever Buffalo was trying to do didn’t work. New England managed more than 5.5 yards per carry.
Run offense finally steps up
I’ve been complaining about the Bills’ lack of running back yardage all year. This week, they got back Jon Feliciano at guard (who later had to move over to center), and the holes were there. The Bills’ running backs came alive and it was great to see. Devin Singletary finished with 86 yards and Zack Moss had 81 as they gashed the Patriots’ defense for 6 yards per carry. Allen added 7 rushes for 23 yards before his three kneel downs. All three of Buffalo’s touchdowns came on the ground.
Nerding out on the onside kickoff
What a great call by the Patriots to go for the onside kick after they tied the game late in the third quarter. They had just gone for two to tie the game at 14 and scored their first offensive touchdown in weeks. They knew their limitations on offense, and it was a great decision. It was an equally great play by Bills’ linebacker Tyler Matakevich to attack and catch the ball off the hop, securing the possession for Buffalo.
Fourth-quarter goal-line series was great play calling
To cap off the ensuing drive, Buffalo drove it to the five as the third quarter expired. After the break, the Bills came out with a quick snap to Zack Moss (gaining a first down inside the three) and went straight back to the line for a QB sweep. Clearly they were called as a package trying to catch New England off guard. (It was a good plan, but didn’t result in a TD.) A run to Moss gained a couple, and then Buffalo went empty set on 3rd-and-goal. On a QB draw, Allen made a guy miss, and powered his way into the end zone. It was a really well-designed series inside the five-yard line.
A.J. Klein might be gone this week
Klein has been a frequent flyer in our takeaways piece, and not for good reasons. On 2nd-and-13 in the second quarter, Klein was stiff-armed by James White who gained 28 yards in total, about 23 after evading Klein. He’s been terrible and Buffalo signed Darron Lee this week. Even though cutting Klein won’t save them any money, he’s been so bad on the field, it makes sense to jettison him now. Matt Milano should be fully healthy now, Tyrel Dodson can return after next week’s game, and with Lee and Andre Smith, they can’t be worse than Klein, right?
AFC East is Buffalo’s to lose now
The Bills are 6-2 and with the Miami Dolphins getting to 4-3 today, Buffalo holds a virtual two-game lead in the division thanks to their win over Miami earlier this season. The Bills are 4-0 in the AFC East and Miami has two losses, meaning they can only get to 4-2 at best. If the Bills beat either the Dolphins or Patriots in the final two weeks, they’ll lock up the divisional tiebreakers and that’s if they can’t secure the division sooner than that. At this point, the Bills are the overwhelming favorite in the AFC East.