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Bills 27, Patriots 21: Three things we learned

The Bills’ ugly win over New England in Week 17 is nonetheless their fourth straight victory

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Style points were once again not on the table for the Buffalo Bills in victory, this a 27-21 decision over the New England Patriots in Week 17. Everything else, however, remains very much on the table for the good guys as their head into the regular season finale next weekend, on the road against the Miami Dolphins.

There will be an entire week to build up anticipation for the Bills-Dolphins rematch in Miami that will decide the AFC East winner and No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture. For now, let’s focus on what we learned from the Bills’ ugly-but-necessary win over Bill Belichick and company.

Bills survive an off day from Josh Allen

On the plus side, Buffalo’s MVP candidate quarterback did score two more touchdowns, extending his 2023 season total to 42, three shy of his career high. Both scores came on shove-and-score play calls at the goal line.

It was almost entirely downhill for Allen from there. Facing a very good Patriots defense, Allen struggled mightily with his accuracy and his decision-making, particularly in the first half. At the end of the day, he completed just 50 percent of his passes (15 completions on 30 attempts) at 5.6 yards per attempt, threw an ugly interception on a deep ball, and had a quarterback rating of 53.3. In many ways, the Bills won in spite of their quarterback, regardless of his two short rushing scores.

Allen also took a hit on a game-sealing first down run late in the fourth quarter, and removed himself from the game for the final two kneel-downs. It appeared that team trainers were looking at his shoulder or collarbone area, and Allen could be seen flexing the fingers on his right hand after the hit. His status will obviously bear watching, though it’s hard to imagine Allen missing this start; assuming he does play, the Bills are going to need much more out of him than they got today in the biggest game of the season.

Special teams woes continue early, but Sam Martin saves the day

New England jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after journeyman wide receiver Jalen Reagor returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a score. Add it to the growing pile of issues that Buffalo’s beleaguered special teams units have experienced this season. However, much like in last week’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers, punter Sam Martin salvaged the day with several timely punts.

All six of Martin’s punts against New England pinned the opponent inside their own 20-yard line, including three inside the 10-yard line. He averaged 48.2 yards per punt on a cold, windless day at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, and the consistent field position flipping was a huge factor in Buffalo’s strong defensive showing — particularly as Buffalo’s offense struggled. Give that man a game ball.

Defense saves the day with big plays in bulk

The biggest reason that the Bills were able to prevail, ultimately, was that four first-half takeaways by the defense proved to be a trump card for the offensive issues. Cornerback Rasul Douglas once again spearheaded the effort, corralling two errant Bailey Zappe throws for interceptions, and returning the second of those 40 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter to put Buffalo up 20-7.

Ed Oliver also got in on the act, using one hand to pull in a Douglas tipped pass for the game’s first turnover. (He also added another sack, bringing his season total to 9.5.) To wrap up the turnover party, cornerback Christian Benford stripped a ball from tight end Pharaoh Brown and recovered it.

The four-to-one turnover ratio was the single biggest reason that the Bills were able to win this game, and continued a season-long trend of the injury-ravaged defense bailing the inconsistent offense out. The Bills preach complementary football, and with a looming matchup against one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses for all of the regular season marbles, the Bills are going to once again need negative plays turned in by the defense in order to meet their goals.

What else stood out to you from this win, Bills fans?