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It will be remembered as a historic game because of the way it was played amid swirling gusts and biting cold winds on the field. It will go down as the game the New England Patriots simply ran the football…
And ran the football…
And ran the football, as if out of a black and white film of an early 1950s team.
“I don’t think there will be a game like that in a long time,” Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones said afterward.
Aside from turning back the clock with their mere three passing plays to 46 runs, the Patriots came away with a 14-10 victory that offered more storylines and narratives than it did points.
For the Patriots, this one goes down as the moment they grabbed control of the AFC East, snatching it from the defending division champion Bills, and doing it in the manner that was potentially crushing to Buffalo.
The Patriots, you see, were smarter than the Bills. And they were also more physical than the Bills.
So it was a two-fold domination that should raise eyebrows around the league about what New England is capable of and what the Bills are susceptible to.
Smarter? Yes, because when Monday dawned in Western New York, the winds were already howling and whipping up to a reported 30 MPH in some areas.
“We kind of knew that this morning, with the wind and things like that, it was going to be more of a running game and aggressive game,” said Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson. “When we went out for pregame, it was all snowy and gusty so we all kind of knew what kind of game it was going to be.”
So, no, Bill Belichick didn’t plan this all in advance. He’s good, but not that good.
“No, we didn’t know how it was going to be,” Belichick admitted afterward.
But that, in some respects, is more impressive because the Patriots were adaptable. They made necessary adjustments on the fly. They didn’t ask Jones to beat the wind and the Bills’ defense.
All he had to do was set the blocking and hand the ball off.
“We had a game plan and obviously that changes a little bit with the elements, but at the end of the day, we had the looks we were looking for to run the ball and we just kept doing it,” Jones said.
The Patriots ran the football the first 10 times they snapped it and really didn’t interrupt that flow except for those three pass attempts. And even as everyone including the Bills knew what was coming, the Patriots gained 222 rushing yards.
The Patriots did this, mind you, against 8-man tackle boxes by the Bills who were just daring New England to please, please throw it, to no avail.
“Six-years-old we threw the ball more than that,” Patriots guard Dave Andrews joked.
So now the Patriots have won seven consecutive games heading into their bye week and are feeling pretty good about where they’re seemingly headed. The Bills, meanwhile, are battling a lot of demons.
Buffalo, the preseason favorite by some to challenge for a Super Bowl title, started out well enough with a 4-1 record. But they’re 3-4 ever since, failing to string even two consecutive victories together during that span.
“That’s real,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said. “We are what we are, what our record says we are, as they say. We’ve been inconsistent and the opportunities to win the game, and again, you go back and look at it and say, ‘Do we have opportunities to win the game?’ You’re darn right we did. You’re darn right we did.
“We got to do some better things on defense, obviously with that run defense.”
McDermott’s problem was his defense couldn’t stop the run and his offense didn’t commit to running the ball despite the elements.
The team that plays in a stadium that suffers lake effect weather fancies itself a passing team with quarterback Josh Allen. That’s understandable in September. But come December, they simply don’t run the football when conditions demand.
And what’s worse, they might not be able to fix it this year.
“I’m not going to sit up here and lie to you guys,” McDermott said. “To fix that part of your game at this part of the year is tough. That’s why we try like heck to do it in training camp. That’s when you develop toughness of the football team and that’s why we run the football in training camp.”
McDermott, by the way, got out-coached Monday night. He cost his team a timeout by challenging a successful New England quarterback sneak that offered no good camera angle to be overturned.
And, again, he was on the headset when the Bills passing game wasn’t moving it and the pass plays continued to go in to Allen. It was a sharp contrast to the Belichick approach.
“Let’s not give more credit than we need to give credit to Bill Belichick in this one,” McDermott bristled. “It was, whether it’s Bill or anybody else, they beat us…
“I don’t think, with all due respect, it’s a Bill Belichick type thing. It’s what are you doing with the opportunities you got?”
That brings me to Allen, who had opportunities to prove he’s the elite quarterback he was last season but instead completed only 50 percent of his passes (15-of-30) for 145 yards and one touchdown. The rocket-armed quarterback wouldn’t blame the wind for his struggles.
“I don’t know that it affected us too bad, maybe a throw here or there,” Allen said. “But, again, that’s why I’m here to play in those type of conditions. I got to find a way.”
Allen missed a back-shoulder throw to receiver Stefon Diggs at the goal line in the final seconds that would have won the game. And he made the wrong decision on the last offensive play of the game when he seemingly threw to the wrong one of two receivers running a post pattern against an all out blitz.
It all left Allen fuming.
“We’re pissed off ’cause we want to be great,” he said. “We’re pissed off for greatness and we expect so much out of ourselves and when we don’t play the way we know we can play, it’s angering at times.”
So the Bills are at the proverbial fork in the road. Can they recover or was that actually poison the Patriots fed them as they ran the ball down their throats?
“This could be one that can rip us apart or bring us together,” Allen said. “And I think the latter. I think we’ll get things rolling. I don’t think — I know for a fact that we will because of the makeup that we have.”
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