The New England Patriots entered Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills in first place in the AFC East. After a 33-21 drubbing, the Patriots are now in second place. Buffalo corrected most of the ills that plagued them in the first meeting between the two teams. While New England remained close enough that I was uncomfortable throughout the majority of the game, Buffalo was clearly the better team from start to finish.
How did the Bills do it? For starters, they played much better on offense. They also contained most of New England’s key players. Here’s how our players to watch played on Sunday.
QB Mac Jones
Up until the bye week, Mac Jones had been a revelation. He was doing exactly what the Patriots asked of him, managing the game and making enough plays to win. He had thrown 16 touchdowns against just eight interceptions, completed 70 percent of his passes, and averaged 204 yards per game. Since the bye, however, Jones has faced two stellar defenses, and he has looked much more like a rookie than he had before the bye. Over the last two weeks, Jones is completing just 52 percent of his passes, and that 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ration is now a 1:2 ratio, as he’s thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions in the last two weeks. Against Buffalo, Jones completed just 14-of-32 passes for only 145 yards and two interceptions. For reference, he completed as many passes to Micah Hyde yesterday (two) as he did in the entire game against Buffalo three weeks ago. Without crazy wind gusts slowing down the Bills’ offense, the Patriots played from behind all afternoon, which put the ball squarely in the hands of one Michael McCorkle Jones. Advantage Buffalo, who hit Jones four times and sacked him once on the afternoon.
RB Damien Harris
Harris turned in an exceptional performance in what was ultimately a losing effort for his club. He returned from a hamstring injury to handle 18 touches on 31 offensive snaps. He totaled 103 yards and all three New England touchdowns on those snaps. Harris was responsible for the game’s longest play from scrimmage, a 31-yard run on New England’s first offensive play of the third quarter. This game is proof that there are two ways to defend the run in the NFL: a team either needs to stop the players from running the ball, or they need to score enough points where a team is forced to stop running as much as they would have liked. Buffalo is built to do the latter, and that’s exactly what happened on Sunday.
TE Hunter Henry
Henry didn’t catch his first pass until the fourth quarter, a nine-yard grab to start a New England drive trailing 26-14. That was the only pass that the Patriots’ $37.5 million free-agent addition caught on the afternoon, as the Bills continued to play pass defense at an elite level. New England’s leading receiver was Jakobi Meyers, who caught six passes for 59 yards. No other Patriots player had more than two catches or 33 yards receiving. Henry was bottled up by a Buffalo defense intent on taking away the crossing pattern, forcing Jones to throw it outside.
DT Davon Godchaux
After racking up ten tackles in the first meeting between these teams, Godchaux managed just three assisted tackles on the afternoon in a game that saw Buffalo’s offensive line play much better than it has arguably all season. What’s more intriguing is that they were down to their fifth guard in Ryan Bates, who started at right guard before swapping over to the left side after Ike Boettger ruptured his Achilles tendon. The Bills cleared space for the running game in limited qualities while also protecting Josh Allen all day. Godchaux did his job, but Buffalo’s line did theirs better.
CB Jalen Mills
Allen went at New England’s CB2 as expected, but it was really the slot corner that the Bills exposed all afternoon. Mills managed six tackles, and he was the closest person in coverage on at least four catches on the afternoon. However, it was Isaiah McKenzie repeatedly burning Myles Bryant that led to Buffalo’s dominant day on offense. Bryant was on an island with McKenzie all day, and Lil’ Dirty took him out to the woodshed. McKenzie had 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, easily leading the game in those categories.