The New England Patriots thought they could turn their Wild Card matchup with the Buffalo Bills into a physical contest, and if they did that, they felt like they could win the game. Well, the game was a physical one, but the better team came out on top, as the Bills thrashed their division rivals in a 47-17 victory that wasn’t even as close as that score would suggest.
Buffalo was in complete command from the start, as they scored on every possession that didn’t immediately end a half of football. Buffalo scored seven touchdowns against the league’s No. 2 defense. The only defense that they’re going to see that’s better than New England’s from here on out is the one they see every day in practice.
The Bills took command of the game by controlling New England’s key players. Here’s how the Patriots’ players to watch performed on Saturday night.
QB Mac Jones
The stat line isn’t horrendous, as Jones completed 24-of-38 passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Stats without context are entirely meaningless, though, and the context tells a much grimmer picture about Mac Jones in his first playoff action. Jones moved the Patriots down the field on their first drive, and he even had a shot at hitting a wide-open Nelson Agholor for a touchdown after his wideout smoked Levi Wallace on a double-move. However, Jones threw a floater with a bit too much touch, and that gave second-team All-Pro safety Micah Hyde time to make a ridiculous play, intercepting the pass to end the threat. Jones was 10-of-16 for 106 yards and that interception at halftime, and 30 of those passing yards came on one broken play to Hunter Henry on the game’s first possession. Jones threw another interception, this one after staring down Henry and throwing into coverage on a quick out, allowing linebacker Matt Milano to bat the ball up for Wallace to intercept. After Buffalo scored again, it was 33-3. From that point forward, Jones was 13-of-20 for 116 yards and two touchdowns when the game was already well out of hand. The Bills made him throw to the boundary, and his subpar arm strength made it difficult for him to do much of anything. He made some nice throws, including a 43-yard completion to Kendrick Bourne, and he did show that he has solid touch and accuracy. However, there was a clear difference in how the ball comes out of his hand as opposed to how it comes out of Josh Allen’s, and that difference isn’t the good kind for New England. Buffalo sacked Jones three times, as well, including once on a fake spike attempt where Jerry Hughes snuffed it out and seemed insulted that the Patriots would even try it. Once the Patriots had to play from three scores down, that game was over.
RB Damien Harris
After hearing about how the Bills couldn’t stop the run that one time against New England, it was nice to watch the Bills not only stop the run, but score enough where stopping the run didn’t ultimately matter that much. Harris had five carries for just 12 yards in the first half, and the Bills were all over the Patriots’ run game all night long. New England finished the game with 89 rushing yards on 20 carries as a team. Harris, for his part, was held to nine rushes for 30 yards after he combined for 214 yards and four touchdowns in the two regular-season meetings between the teams this year.
LB Dont’a Hightower
The veteran linebacker was nicked up a bit coming into the game, but he and his teammates all looked a few steps slower than Buffalo’s offense on Saturday night. He was pretty ineffective, as was every member of New England’s defense, during the blowout. Hightower had three tackles total, none of which went for a loss. He didn’t hit Josh Allen, either, as the Buffalo quarterback stayed clean for most of the evening.
LB Kyle Van Noy
The veteran was the primary spy on Allen, but he wasn’t particularly good in the role, as Allen was able to throw and run at his leisure throughout the evening. As with Hightower, he was just too slow to keep up with the crazy speed the Bills have on offense, and he didn’t rush very effectively, either. Van Noy also totaled three tackles without a quarterback hit.
CB Myles Bryant
Buffalo attacked the middle of the Patriots’ defense again, but rather than hammer the slot with Isaiah McKenzie and Cole Beasley, they used tight end Dawson Knox as the alpha. Knox caught all five of his targets for 89 yards and two touchdowns. McKenzie caught all three of his targets for 45 yards. Beasley caught his lone target that counted for a 19-yard gain; his second catch was wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty on Knox. Bryant had two tackles without a pass breakup on the evening in yet another game where the Bills exploited him and his area of the field throughout the contest.