The New England Patriots followed up their lone win of the 2023 season with three straight losses. Last week’s defeat against the Las Vegas Raiders was a step in the right direction. The Patriots avoided a blowout loss for the first time since beating the Jets back in September. But to think that improved effort would lead to a positive result against the Buffalo Bills seemed like a stretch.
Apparently, nobody shared that script with the New England Patriots.
Great Start for New England
After an ugly start to the game a week ago against the Las Vegas Raider, the Patriots came out of the gates looking like a completely different team against the Bills. New England started with the ball and drove down the field into Buffalo territory. The offense was playing with tempo and motion that has not been seen often this season. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien clearly had a game plan for this one, and his offense was executing. They had to settle for a 30-yard field goal attempt from Chad Ryland, but it was good, giving the Patriots an early 3-0 lead.
When Buffalo’s offense got the ball, Josh Allen’s first passing attempt of the afternoon was intercepted. Jabrill Peppers made a terrific play, reading Allen’s eyes the entire way. Peppers left one receiver in the flat to get to the ball and make the pick.
For the first time this season, New England capitalized on a turnover. Their ensuing drive featured RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Demario Douglas. Elliott had four carries for 19 yards and a touchdown. Douglas made two catches for 26 yards, picking up two first downs. The two-yard TD run for Ezekiel Elliott gave him 70 rushing touchdowns in his career.
First quarter score: New England Patriots 10, Buffalo Bills 0
Offensive Line Getting the Job Done
A huge part of the New England Patriots being able to run the ball was the play of their offensive line. The first quarter they looked like a unit yet to have been seen this season. The reason is because they haven’t. Mike Onwenu has been playing right guard when he is healthy enough to get on the field. But against the Bills, Onwenu got the start at right tackle for New England. Both Calvin Anderson and Vederian Lowe struggled there in the first six games. Riley Reiff and Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. are both out injured. So, finally most Patriots fans got their wish and Mike Onwenu got the start at right tackle.
Obviously, the right tackle switch wasn’t the only thing that was working. The interior line of LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews and RG Sidy Sow was moving the line. Running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott finally had some room to run. QB Mac Jones had some room to breathe. From the outset, it was obvious what a huge difference solid offensive line play makes.
Perhaps they got a visit from New England Patriots Hall of Fame inductee Dante Scarnecchia this week.
Patriots Special Teams Contributes
New England’s special teams, which has been unimpressive in 2023, turned it around against Buffalo. They were particularly effective in the second quarter.
PK Chad Ryland got his second field goal attempt of the game and knocked it through from 24 yards out. That scoring drive was set up by a great punt return. Demario Douglas fielded the punt at his own 29-yard line. He returned it 29 yards into Bills territory. This got special teams coach Cam Achord fired up and led to three points.
Punter Bryce Baringer punted twice in that quarter. His first went for 64 yards. Baringer’s second punt of the game was at the end of the first half. New England had a special team mistake on Brendan Schooler’s false start penalty. It had the opportunity to cost New England badly, but Baringer offeset it. He kicked it out of bounds at the two-yard line.
Since Buffalo was going to be receiving to start the second half, the punt to virtually end the first was exceptionally important. The Bills had the opportunity to score at the end of one half and the beginning of the next. But instead, thanks to Baringer’s punt, Buffalo settled for going into halftime trailing 13-3.
Slow Start to the Second Half
Buffalo Bills started the second half with the ball, trailing by 10 points. Then quickly cut that deficit to three.
Josh Allen led a 76-yard drive down the field in 5:06. The drive ended with an eight yard touchdown pass to RB James Cook out of the backfield. Cook helped set up the score with a 20-yard run earlier in the drive. New England fans will focus on another play in that drive.
Jack Jones, playing in his first game of the year for the Patriots, rushed Allen on a first down play from the Bills 45-yard line. Jones got there after Allen released the ball and hit the QB in the chest. Josh Allen flung his head back and tricked the officials into a 15-yard roughing the passer call against Jack Jones. It moved the ball into New England territory and five plays later they were in the end zone.
Patriots Show Some Resilience
Unlike past games, especially the past two, New England showed some resilience following the Bills first touchdown of the game. Mac Jones went 3-for-3 on the drive, but Demario Douglas was responsible for the biggest play. The wide receiver ran the ball and took it 20 yards into Buffalo territory. The Bills defense was able to hold to a field goal attempt but Chad Ryland hit his third of the game, this one from 49 yards out. New England extended their lead to 16-10, where it would stay until the end of the third quarter.
Smelling an Upset in Foxboro
Josh Allen responded with another long drive into New England territory. Latavious Murray made a huge 17-yard reception on a third-and-15 play to pick up a first down. But instead of attempting a 50-yard field goal (Bills PK Tyler Bass had already missed from 42 in the second quarter) Buffalo went for it on fourth down. Patriots LB Ja’Whuan Bentley hit TE Dawson Knox as the ball arrived, and it dropped incomplete. Patriots had the ball back and momentum on their side.
The Patriots offense used that momentum to drive down and add to their lead. Big gains on passes to Pharaoh Brown (26 yards) and Demario Douglas (19 yards) helped New England move the ball downfield. A four-yard pass from Mac Jones to Kendrick Bourne found the end zone. The two-point conversion failed, but the lead was up to 12 points.
New England Patriots 22, Buffalo Bills 10 with 7:40 to play in the game.
A Potential Collapse
It took only 2:04 for Buffalo to drive 75 yards and score a touchdown of their own. New England committed another 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on the drive, this time on Christian Barmore. Josh Allen was 5-for-5 for 60 yards on the drive, which ended on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. The play looked stopped at the four-yard line, but Diggs got up without being touched. J.C. Jackson was unable to bring him down, and suddenly the score was 22-17.
Instead of answering, the New England Patriots showed why they have struggled so badly in 2023. Their three offensive plays went: Incompletion, penalty, fumble. Kendrick Bourne was stripped after a nine-yard completion by Bills All Pro safety Jordan Poyer and Buffalo recovered. They now trailed by only five points and had possession at the New England 29-yard line.
Eight plays later, Josh Allen ran it in himself, taking a QB sneak one yard for the touchdown. The successful two-point conversion attempt was good on a completion to Dawson Knox. The Patriots 12-point lead with 7:40 to play had become a three-point deficit with 2:00 to play.
Can Mac Jones Lead a Comeback Win?
Mac Jones only fourth quarter comeback in the NFL came against the Houston Texans as a rookie in 2021. If New England was going to end their three-game losing streak, they’d need a second one on Sunday. And this time, Mac Jones delivered.
The drive began on a huge 34-yard catch and run by Rhamondre Stevenson down the sideline. It originally looked like the big gain was getting called back on an offensive penalty. But Sunday things were finally falling in the Patriots favor, and the play stood. After one play New England had nearly advanced into field goal attempt territory. But Mac Jones was not done.
After a five-yard run from Stevenson, Jones completed four straight passes, picking up 29 more yards. After a penalty and an incompletion, Mac Jones found tight end Mike Gesicki in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The extra point gave New England a 29-25 lead with only 12 seconds left on the clock.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 22, 2023
The Bills were forced to try to laterals on the last play of regulation, but the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Patriots Brendan Schooler. The comeback was complete, and New England was back in the win column.
Final Score: New England Patriots 29, Buffalo Bills 25
The New England Patriots (2-5) hit the road to face the Miami Dolphins next Sunday.