The Buffalo Bills handled the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football in Week 13, cruising to a 24-10 win to notch their third straight victory at Gillette Stadium and improve to 9-3 on the season. They have also now won their first divisional game of the season, with two more divisional matchups on deck in Weeks 14 and 15 against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, respectively.
We have a lot to cover here, so let’s dive right in to the top five things we learned from Buffalo’s third straight win.
Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs wins the day again
The Bills held a 17-7 lead at the half — which could have been a bigger lead, but which also felt close to insurmountable thanks to a Patriots offense we’ll discuss below — thanks in large part to the continued stellar efforts of quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Allen appeared to get some of his early season mojo back, making a couple of jaw-dropping, vintage Allen plays in the first half: a running shotput throw to running back Nyheim Hines for a first down, and a jump-throw touchdown pass to Gabe Davis as he teetered on the sideline.
Buffalo didn’t need its A-tier passing attack to win this game, but when they needed plays, Allen and Diggs made them. Diggs hauled in seven receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown that gave the Bills the lead for good. The duo also had a second, lengthy touchdown pass waived off due to a holding call. New England couldn’t cover Diggs, and Allen kept finding him. You’d be hard-pressed to find a quarterback-receiver duo that’s clicking as well as Allen to Diggs is right now.
James Cook, Isaiah McKenzie assume role of second fiddle
Each week, the Bills need at least one player to step up in their passing attack as a complement to the Allen-Diggs lead act. That can vary week to week, and while Davis was the player to hit pay dirt in this one, the efforts of running back James Cook and slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie aren’t to be ignored.
In combination, Cook and McKenzie caught 11 passes for 85 yards. McKenzie accounted for five receptions for 41 yards, while Cook snagged the other six receptions for 41 yards. With tight end Dawson Knox needed primarily as a blocker once again, with running back Devin Singletary dropping a couple of passes, and with Davis and Allen still looking a tad out of sync, the Bills needed Cook and McKenzie to keep their passing attack clicking — and they delivered.
Cook also had a big game on the ground (14 carries for 64 yards), and his 20-touch, 105-yard performance was easily the best of his rookie season to date.
Buffalo iced the game in the third quarter
That aforementioned 10-point halftime lead could have been larger, but it also could have been smaller. Nick Folk drilled a field goal off of the cross bar to close out the first half, and the Pats missed on an opportunity to make it a one-score game. After New England forced a Bills punt on the opening drive of the second half, they began marching down the field, ripping off 30 yards (with five extra on a Bills penalty) on the first four plays of the ensuing drive.
That drive stalled out after defensive end A.J. Epenesa stuffed running back Rhamondre Stevenson for a four-yard loss, forcing the Patriots into a — gulp — passing siuation, and the Pats ended up punting. They pinned Buffalo at its six-yard line.
15 plays, 94 yards, and 8:55 of game time later, running back Devin Singletary scooted into the end zone from a yard out to put the Bills up 24-7. Allen completed 6-of-6 passes for 65 yards on the drive, with Diggs catching three of those for 47 yards. Cook, Singletary, and Allen added 29 rushing yards on nine carries. It was the back-breaker. The Bills had their insurmountable lead in hand at the start of the fourth quarter.
Bills d-line dominates banged-up Pats o-line
It won’t show up in the stat sheet — Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was only sacked once, late in the game as New England settled for a field goal in garbage time — but Buffalo’s defensive line was excellent in its first of (at least) four games without its leader, edge rusher Von Miller.
Jones spent a good deal of the night avoiding pressure. He took an intentional grounding penalty deep in his own territory after defensive end Shaq Lawson broke through for a pressure. Lawson had a tackle for a loss, and Epenesa had two. New England did a decent job bottling up the red-hot Ed Oliver, but Lawson, Epenesa, and Greg Rousseau were able to compensate with solid days. Jones was forced to scramble three times (for only seven yards), and on 36 pass attempts, he took entirely too many check-downs en route to a 5.4 yards-per-attempt average.
Buffalo’s back-seven defenders deserve credit for bottling up an underwhelming Patriots receiving corps, as well. And yes, New England was missing multiple key pieces along its offensive line, while others who played were less than 100%. All the same, this was a promising first performance in the Miller-less month.
Are the Pats done in the division race?
Here are your updated AFC East standings heading into the rest of the Week 13 schedule on Sunday.
AFC East Standings
|3||New England Patriots||7-7||2-2||5-4||+31||L1||2-3|
|4||New York Jets||7-7||2-3||5-5||+18||L3||1-4|
Buffalo’s next two games are against the Jets and the Dolphins, with both games taking place at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY. The Bills have scores to settle with both teams after getting knocked off in Weeks 3 and 9 by the Dolphins and Jets, respectively. But while those three teams figure to remain in the conversation for the AFC East title for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to wonder if the same can be said for New England.
The Patriots now sit three games behind the division leader (whether that is Buffalo or Miami remains to be seen) with five games to play, and they’ll have a head-to-head loss against that team. One of those games is a rematch with the Bills, again scheduled to take place in Western New York. They also have games remaining against tough playoff contenders in the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami (both at home in Foxborough, MA). And, given the way they looked tonight at home against a superior opponent, it may be time to count the Pats out, at least in the division. They are now a team fighting for their playoff lives.