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Buffalo Bills 33, New England Patriots 21: Rapid recap and notes

The Bills are back on top of the AFC East

Some demons were exorcised in Foxboro on Sunday, as the Buffalo Bills moved past their ugly loss of a few weeks ago and knocked down the New England Patriots in a 33-21 road win. With a standout day by Josh Allen and an all-around defensive script, the Bills controlled the game from start to finish and took over the division lead.

Buffalo’s defense made an emphatic statement as the game was just underway, with a run for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a sack to force a three and out. With solid field position after the punt, the table was set for the Bills’ offense.

Buffalo came out with a varied offense, featuring four runs and a few catches by players who don’t typically catch the football: Devin Singletary, Jake Kumerow, and Isaiah McKenzie. On a 13-play drive that took nearly seven minutes, Josh Allen and company drove down the field and took the lead with an Allen-McKenzie connection in the back of the end zone.

The Patriots, relying on their ground game, responded with their own long touchdown drive. Damien Harris ran seven times for 48 yards, Mac Jones tossed a few checkdowns, and the Patriots converted two fourth downs before Harris found paydirt to tie the score.

Buffalo started their next drive with a pair of checkdowns to Reggie Gilliam and Devin Singletary, sandwiching a five-yard Singletary run. Zack Moss mixed into the lineup for the first time, and Allen broke free for a 25-yard run, bringing the Bills into the red zone. Unfortunately, on their next play from scrimmage, Ike Boettger hurt his Achilles tendon, and was carted off the field. The Bills made a little more progress—but on third down, Allen’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and they settled for a field goal and the 10-7 lead.

Allen wasn’t sitting on the bench for long. Three plays later, Mac Jones had his pass tipped by two different Bills, and it dropped into Micah Hyde’s arms. That set Buffalo up with their best starting field position of the day at the Patriots’ 33-yard line. It only took three plays to put the Bills in a goal-to-go situation. But on first down, Zack Moss tripped over his teammate—instead of a touchdown, he was downed at the one-yard line. Allen threw the ball away on second down, and his pass to Dawson Knox was off-target on third down. Buffalo went for it on fourth down, but Allen couldn’t connect with Emmanuel Sanders.

Nevertheless, the decision paid off for the Bills, who forced a quick punt. Although Stefon Diggs couldn’t catch a drive-opening deep ball that would’ve scored, he made up for it with a 23-yard gain on 4th & 2, and then by scoring a touchdown on 3rd & 11. Some awkward penalties and non-calls on both teams made up the final two minutes of the half, and the Bills had a 17-7 lead with two quarters complete.

Out of halftime, the Bills had the makings of a great offensive drive. They gained 54 yards on the first five plays. Later, on 2nd & 10 from the New England 23, it looked like Allen would hit a wide-open Jake Kumerow for an easy touchdown, but Kumerow dropped it. Allen hit Sanders for a first down on the next play. The Bills had another touchdown nullified by a penalty, and another penalty took away a five-yard gain. Taken too far away, they settled for a field goal.

Damien Harris broke free for a 31-yard gain at the start of the next drive. With Mac Jones finding open receivers, the Patriots converted two more fourth downs and scored with a one-yard Harris run on their 14-play, 75-yard drive response.

Aided by a nice kickoff return and a 28-yard Isaiah McKenzie catch, Buffalo had another touchdown drive. It was capped off with some angry running by Devin Singletary for two short gains to the end zone. Leading 26-14, the Bills tried for a two-point conversion, but Allen wasn’t able to sync up with Jake Kumerow for the catch.

With 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots weren’t done yet. They stuck to their formula, mixing running plays with short passes and crossing patterns. It ended like every other touchdown drive, with another Damien Harris touchdown run. That cut the lead to 26-21, still with nearly eight minutes left in the game.

Isaiah McKenzie, who was in the middle of a career-best day, saved the drive early with a 17-yard catch on 3rd & 10. He followed that up with a 15-yard catch on the next play. After two runs gained nine yards, Allen tried a QB sneak on 3rd & 1, but was stuffed. Facing the option of a 51-yard field goal or a 4th & 1, Buffalo went for the win. Allen took a naked bootleg from under center, juked Jamie Collins and J.C. Jackson in the backfield, and moved the chains through his feet. Facing a 3rd & 10 a few plays later, Allen improvised a shovel pass to Stefon Diggs, who hauled it in and broke free for a 19-yard gain. Devin Singletary ran for a five-yard gain and the Bills had their foot on New England’s throat. On the next play, Allen shoveled to Dawson Knox for his third passing score of the day. Leading 33-21 with only a couple minutes left, the game was in hand.

This win can’t be underscored enough. The Bills hung 33 points on one of the best defenses in the league. They didn’t punt. They didn’t turn the ball over. Now 9-6, they’re back on track to win the AFC East and set up another playoff game in Orchard Park.

Injury report

  • Ike Boettger was carted into the locker room in the second quarter after injuring his Achilles tendon. The Bills shuffled their lineup again, inserting Dion Dawkins (who didn’t start today) and moving Ryan Bates to left guard.
  • A few Bills were nicked up but continued playing through the game today: Levi Wallace, Stefon Diggs, Isaiah McKenzie, and Devin Singletary among them.

Quick hits

  • Absolutely phenomenal performance by Isaiah McKenzie today. In the best game of his career, he caught 11-of-12 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t just replace Cole Beasley today—he made a case that he should be playing even when Beasley is available.
  • Congratulations to Josh Allen for throwing his 100th touchdown pass! Only two other Bills quarterbacks have reached that milestone: Jim Kelly and Joe Ferguson.
  • It was an outstanding day for Allen, who’s not intimidated by the Belichick defense anymore. 379 total yards. Three touchdowns. No turnovers.
  • Stefon Diggs put in some real effort today, dealing with multiple minor injuries and cornerback J.C. Jackson. He caught seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
  • How about the offensive line? Already dealing with COVID and injury problems, they lost Ike Boettger to an Achilles injury in the first half. But Ryan Bates stepped up, Dion Dawkins came back to the game after missing time on the COVID list, and the results speak for themselves: no sacks on Josh Allen.
  • Interesting defensive tactic from the Bills today: They would sub out starting cornerback Dane Jackson for Siran Neal on obvious running plays, hoping for a little extra muscle.
  • Way to go, Micah Hyde, with two interceptions on the day. His first helped the Bills widen their early lead, and his second closed the door on any hopes for a Patriots comeback.
  • It’s not always their style, but today’s Bills were all about “bend but don’t break.” The Patriots only gained 4.8 yards per play. Damien Harris had his, but everyone else wasn’t a threat.
  • Just to underscore this win: No punts, no turnovers, no sacks, four touchdowns, 33 points. One defense here played like the best in the league, and it wasn’t Bill Belichick’s.

Next week

The Bills return to Orchard Park to host the Atlanta Falcons at 1 PM EST on Sunday. The Falcons, 7-8, just came off a 20-16 win over the 2-12-1 Detroit Lions.