An interesting thing that caught my attention during the Buffalo Bills’ victory over the New England Patriots was commentary toward the end about Buffalo allowing 21 points to New England, who have averaged less than 15 per game this season. The insinuation was that perhaps Buffalo’s defense was failing in some manner. “Wait!” I declared. “Wasn’t there a kickoff returned for a touchdown?” Surely that means some (maybe all) of the failure was on the part of the special teams coverage. So I made a video about it...
If you’re not into the video content, it’ll be hard for me to paint the same picture with words, but here we go. I began by dissecting the kickoff return itself. The Buffalo Bills started off fine, with players on the edges forcing wide receiver Jalen Reagor to wade through a small sea of humanity to earn the touchdown.
Numerous great blocks by New England sealed off would-be tacklers. A possible illegal block in the back didn’t hurt their chances either. A fallen Patriot may have actually done more good by laying on the ground than he would have trying to make a block as he became a longer obstacle to go around. Finally, kicker Tyler Bass himself linef up well to slow Reagor down — but an impressive spin move from Reagor led to little loss of momentum. From there it was a race that we all know the ending to.
As for the context promised on the matter, the first point to make is that the touchdown counts the same and Reagor certainly earned it. However, there’s no objective reason to hold those seven points against the defense.
I take several screen grabs from Pro Football Reference to highlight what kind of day Buffalo’s defense had. The defense allowed 14 points, which is roughly New England’s average. Does that mean the Bills played average?
Maybe not. Thanks to numerous short drives due to turnovers and three-and-outs, New England had 13 chances to score (not including the opening kickoff). Buffalo’s defense allowed 1.08 points per drive, which is not only lower than the Patriots’ 1.17 average for the season, it’d be lower than the worst team in the league (the New York Jets). Put differently, a large part of why the Patriots were able to put up two touchdowns is that they had extra possessions due to how quickly Buffalo stopped them on most drives.
If you’d like to end on a laugh, the Patriots had only three drives the entire second half. A major factor in this was that their first drive after halftime ran out half the quarter. It gained a measly 36 yards and ended in a punt.