It is official. The New England Patriots have lost their grip on the AFC East after winning the division in each of the past 11 seasons. This past Sunday, the division-leading Buffalo Bills held on to win a close 24-21 battle over the Patriots, vaulting them to 6-2 while dropping the Patriots to 2-5. Here is my breakdown of the game.
When looking at the box score, it appears that this was an evenly-matched game, and that is true. In every major aspect of the game, the two teams were similar in total yards, rushing yards, turnovers, etc. The one major difference was red-zone production as the Bills scored three touchdowns in three red-zone trips, while the Patriots scored only once in three red-zone trips. This proved to be a major difference in the game as the Bills won by only a field goal in a back-and-forth game.
Cam Newton had a solid game with 15 completions on 25 attempts for 174 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions either. He spread the ball around as six different players caught a pass from Newton. Jakobi Meyers continues to emerge as a dependable option with six catches for 58 yards. Rushing-wise, Cam Newton was productive with 54 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. The one mistake Newton made, however, was on the Patriots’ final drive of the game as Newton fumbled the ball in the Bills’ redzone with 32 seconds to go, sealing the win for the Bills.
Newton was solid but not converting chances in the red zone at the end of the game killed the team’s chance at victory.
On the bright side, running back Damien Harris continues to fill the void of Sony Michel’s absence as he ran for 102 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown run, his second 100+ yard game this season. He has great speed and vision as he bursts through holes the offensive line creates for him. His emergence has been one reason for optimism in a tough season.
Overall, the defense helped to keep the Patriots in the game after the offense failed to score a touchdown in the first half. They even forced a turnover as J.C. Jackson intercepted Bills’ QB Josh Allen in the second quarter, which the offense converted into a field goal at the end of the half. It was Jackson’s fourth of the season, which is tied with three others for the most in the NFL. Ja’Whaun Bentley picked up a sack as well. They even held Allen to only 154 yards passing, his second-lowest total of the season; that is impressive considering the Patriots were without cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was recovering from a minor knee injury.
This is where the positives end as they allowed the Bills to score 17 points on three of their four drives of the second half (fifth drive was the Bills kneeling to run out the clock after the Newton fumble), including the go-ahead field goal with under four minutes to go in the game. The Bills gained 190 yards on the ground and the Bills’ duo of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary provided many key yards on their two second-half touchdown drives. Moss finished with two touchdowns and 81 yards, while Singletary rushed for 86 yards.
Also, like the offense not converting in the red zone, the defense could not the Bills in the red zone as they allowed three touchdowns and one late field goal. All three touchdowns allowed were on the ground, a testament to the soft defense they played once the Bills got within striking distance. Like the offense, the defense played a solid game, but losing the red-zone battle was the main reason the Patriots lost this game.
In a windy afternoon at Buffalo, kicker Nick Folk made both of his field goals, including a 43-yarder early in the second quarter. Folk is now 11-13 on field goals and 11-12 on extra points. He has been dependable this season as he has resurrected his career after struggling the last few seasons. Punt returner Gunner Olszewski had one punt return for 15 yards, which set up the Patriots’ first touchdown of the game as they started at the Buffalo 37-yard line.
The Patriots look to snap their four-game losing streak as they head to New Jersey to take on their division rivals in the winless New York Jets on Monday Night Football.