After the past week, overflowing with emotion, expressly the ways that the NFL extends beyond the game of football, the Buffalo Bills returned to the sport with an emphatic 35-23 victory over the New England Patriots. It was an exciting win filled with gestures of love and solidarity for Damar Hamlin, who watched the game while recovering from cardiac arrest at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Nyheim Hines paved the way with a historic two-touchdown performance as a kick returner, and Josh Allen and the Bills’ defense took care of business in the second half, outscoring the Patriots 21-9 in the final two quarters.
Hines gave the game a storybook beginning, running back the opening kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown as the announcers were still discussing Hamlin’s impact on Buffalo. Anywhere the cameras panned you could see the elation on faces as they celebrated one of football’s rarest plays. Hines didn’t end things there — he brought back another kick for a 101-yard touchdown in the third quarter, which meant that the Patriots (who’d just taken the lead) were only in charge for all of 13 seconds.
Allen couldn’t find many openings against the Patriots in the first half, but threw for 158 yards and two TDs after halftime to help close out the win. Mac Jones, throwing for the other side, had a lot of success tossing the ball to his top five targets, and threw for three touchdowns against Buffalo’s defense. But the Bills got to him in the second half — first, Tre’Davious White caught an interception over the top of Nelson Agholor down the left sideline. Later, Jones tried a seam route to the end zone, but overthrew it and it bounced into the arms of Matt Milano. Finally, Jones had a throw tipped as he was hit, and it bounced off the fingertips of his checkdown target, into the arms of Tremaine Edmunds.
With the win, the Bills end their season with a 13-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Next stop: the playoffs.
- Spencer Brown seemed to hurt his ankle or lower leg in the second quarter, and came out for a handful of plays, but was able to play through the injury to finish the game.
- Anytime you have a day as rare as two kickoff return TDs, you’re the star of the show. Nyheim Hines did something only ten other players in NFL history have managed, and his electric scores galvanized Buffalo’s heart in this win.
- Hines was so dangerous today that the Patriots opted to send one kickoff out of bounds and take the penalty rather than give him another opportunity today.
- Two receivers also charged up the Bills when they were stuck in the mud on offense. John Brown’s 42-yard TD catch was a blast from the past and showed that the Patriots were vulnerable over the top. Stefon Diggs’ 49-yard catch put the Bills up by 12 in the fourth quarter.
- Diggs went over 100 yards for the seventh game of the season. He also tied a franchise record with his 11th TD reception of the season.
- Credit to the Bills for forcing mistakes out of Mac Jones and finding the winning edge in the second half. Tre’Davious White, Matt Milano, and Tremaine Edmunds each had interceptions. White and Milano picked off the ball in the red zone, which prevented potential touchdowns on each occasion.
- Similarly, credit goes to Josh Allen for his second half — he avoided mistakes, hit two huge deep touchdowns, and turned a tie game into an easy win for the Bills.
Super Wild Card weekend! Because the Bills won, they’ll be the second seed and host the seventh seed. The way the afternoon shook out, with the Miami Dolphins narrowly winning over the New York Jets, it’ll be Miami coming to Orchard Park, NY.