A scary new reality could emerge for the Patriots and their fans: they are clearly no longer the AFC East class. The Buffalo Bills are.
Led by superstar quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills reported one of the most humiliating defeats the Patriots have ever suffered under Bill Belichick, stripping them on national television over the weekend wildcard in a 47-17 game.
There are certainly more detailed ways to look at New England’s end-of-season defeat, but there’s also a very simple explanation for what happened Saturday night: The Bills were by far the best football team and played as if every fiber of their collective was determined to prove it to a team that too often got in their way.
With Allen in the lead, the Patriots may be about to find out what it’s like in the worst way. And while Mac Jones offered plenty of reasons to feel good about his rookie season, Saturday’s game brought the differences between him and his counterpart into a terrifying contrast.
The Patriots had no answers and no will to find them.
The last time the Patriots coached by Bill Belichick lost so much in the postseason was, well, never.
The last time one of his defenses gave up on so many points? Also never.
The Bills had: 482 yards total attack, 29 first downs, seven possessions with one touchdown and six third-down conversions on seven tries. (The only reason they haven’t scored on every ball possession or converted every third down is that Buffalo knelt down the clock to end the game.)
Allen had more touchdown passes (five) than missed (four) and added 66 yards to the ground.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll kept the New England defense off balance with a nice mix of plays, several new wrinkles compared to what it took in week 16 against the Patriots, and a strong balance of running passes involving Allen, Devin Singletary (81 yards running), and fast Isaiah McKenzie (29 yards running).
On the other hand, the Bills picked Jones twice and held New England at 89 yards of running, with 18 of those coming in Jones scrambles.
But it wasn’t just about numbers. You might see it on the field.
Offensively, the Bills’ offensive line mistreated the Patriots forward, not allowing for a sacking or tackling for defeat. Allen surgically dissected the Patriots’ coverage, controlling the ball or extending footwork when nothing was available and then ruthlessly exploiting mismatches and mistakes. He was in complete control and nothing the Belichick defense had done upset him.
On the other hand, the Bills flew defense and special teams and hit every New England ball carrier like an oncoming train and created turnovers with exceptional effort.
Going into the game, the question essentially boiled down to whether Belichick and his coaching staff could find a way to overcome Buffalo’s clear talent advantage with excellent game planning.
But even the greatest game plan ever devised can fail if: 1. your opponent is simply better than you, or 2. you don’t show up to play. When both are true, this is what you get.
The gap between Josh Allen and Mac Jones is huge.
Let’s start by pointing out the obviously needed context here: Mac Jones just finished his rookie season and first ever post-season start, while Josh Allen is a fourth-year quarterback who has had an MVP-level season and played in a AFC championship. Comparing their careers at this point is a largely useless exercise.
But here’s the truth: Allen was not only the best player on the pitch Saturday night, but he’s also one of the best in the NFL. He does things on the grid that maybe two other players can do if we’re to be charitable (say Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes), and elevates his team to the level of a true Super Bowl contender.
Jones is far, far away from that.
While Allen can make the difficult aspect simple as his mental play catches up with his bazooka arm and the absurd athleticism for quarterback position, Jones, by contrast, simply doesn’t have the same margin for error.
His first interception wasn’t even a bad shot in terms of accuracy or positioning (although both could have been a little better). He just can’t get that kick into play like a guy like Allen can – and he later made his touchdown against Emmanuel Sanders. The rookie’s second pick wasn’t a bad decision either. He just didn’t have the arm to squeeze that ball past Matt Milano’s hands, and he paid the price.
Once the Patriots were forced to pass the pass throughout the game, they had no chance both because the point guards let Jones down and because he still can’t mentally or physically support that weight.
Know that Jones will get stronger this off-season and possibly arrive in the 2022 season with an improved arm and possibly mobility as well. He also clearly displayed a more immediate acuteness on the mental side of things than his fellow rookie quarterbacks, which allowed him to help more than badly in his first year as a starter.
But know this too: Jones’s game has limits and most likely his ceiling will never come within arc of Allen’s. That’s why teams choose Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance in the draft (all things being equal) over a more traditional pocket passer-by like Jones: if you can get through the first few fights (which Allen definitely had) and shape the raw materials, that is the type of player you can get.
Jones can certainly equalize the odds to some degree by mentally staying one step ahead of the game and beating teams with precision and quick decisions. But sometimes, there’s a point where that’s not enough, either because the best plans go wrong or because the guy on the other side is more talented as well as being just as smart.
That second part is what the Patriots and Jones are facing with Allen. It could be like this for a long time.
The loss could alter the future of the Patriots.
This is not exactly the time for New England’s “return to the drawing board” after this defeat. After all, they made the playoffs in what could have been more of a year of bridge and they did it with a rookie quarterback.
But some much-needed reflection, and perhaps profound change, are still on the horizon.
While the Patriots have gotten some signings from free agents like Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Mills and Matthew Judon (despite his recent passing), they’ve gotten nothing from Nelson Agholor (an 18-yard catch on Saturday) and Jonnu Smith this season. Either the Patriots have to make a concerted effort to change next season, or they have to try to deal with one (or both) and find free agency or draft replacements.
They also have a number of veterans with one-year contracts to consider.
Trent Brown was good when he played, but his problems with availability make it less likely that he will come back with another deal. Who replaces it with the right contrast? Michael Onwenu? Somebody else? Do they sign Ted Karras again after his solid season or do they let him walk again?
Is it worth bringing back Kyle Van Noy, who played quietly well? Does Lawrence Guy offer enough at this point to keep himself around? Is this for Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and maybe even Dont’a Hightower?
Despite not having a good game against the Bills, All-Pro JC Jackson of the newly minted second team is on the line for quite a bit of money this off-season. The Patriots can afford it not pay him by seeing how bad the cornerback room would have been without him?
Then, there are the more subtle questions relating to the coaching staff.
Linebacker manager Jerod Mayo is a rising star as a manager candidate and may have a real chance for the Denver Broncos or the Houston Texans jobs. Josh McDaniels wasn’t highly regarded as a manager candidate at the moment, but one wonders if the chance to work with a more physically talented quarterback, like Lawrence or Fields, might entice him to leave New England if an offer comes. If that happens at any time, not just this year, how will it affect Mac Jones development?
The teams Belichick coached are not known for resting on their laurels even when they win the Super Bowl. Things are definitely not going to stay the same for a team that barely dipped their toes into the playoff pool before being sent home.
Kendrick Bourne has emerged as a leader.
On two occasions on Saturday, Jones had a foolproof touchdown that rang from the hands of a receiver he had trusted all season (not that either play would have altered the outcome of the match).
The first time around, he threw a ball slightly behind Jakobi Meyers that the catcher could still have taken for a score. She clapped his hands.
The second came on the Patriots’ final possession when Jones threw low on a wide open Hunter Henry in the front corner of the end zone. Henry bent down to pull him in but couldn’t, falling in a comically awkward way that seemed somehow emblematic of ball game.
In both quarter downs that followed, Jones instead sought out Bourne, who was almost the only receiver to make a play for him all day, and the freshman Patriot delivered.
Bourne’s development as a key director came as a pleasant surprise this season after he struggled to learn the playbook early on. His ability to make contested holds, as he did on his second touchdown, as well as his strong running ability after the grapple or during hand passes, have become invaluable in both the best offensive stretches and collapses. of the team.
More importantly, he just showed up to play and brought the same energy into the game that he always seems to bring, and Saturday was low.
The Patriots need to make sure they don’t go into next season with Bourne and Meyers as their best catchers again or else the offense could struggle once again. But you could do a lot worse than playing Bourne in front of a real No. 1 and Meyers playing in the slot.
Whatever happens, Bourne has surpassed expectations so far with New England and will be a solid piece to build on next season.
Subscribe to Patriots🏈 updates
Get the latest news and analysis delivered to your inbox during the football season.