FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You see the flaws that had resulted in a two-game losing streak for the first time since 2002. Tom Brady throwing interceptions and missing throws he typically completes. Rob Gronkowski not catching a single pass for only the fourth time in his career.
Those haven’t been so familiar during the New England Patriots’ dynasty and their domination of the Buffalo Bills.
Then, you see the final score: Patriots 24, Bills 12.
That’s very familiar.
Despite looking less than machinelike at times and actually giving the Bills chances to hang around with three turnovers Sunday – chances the Bills squandered with dropped passes, a pair of turnovers, a horrific run defense, and a nonexistent run game of their own – the Pats (10-5) were able to comfortably win their 10th consecutive AFC East crown.
It was so comfortable that they allowed Brian Hoyer to take over at quarterback with 6:39 left in the game.
“It was a tough game today, extremely tough,” said running back LeSean McCoy, who explained that he wasn’t on the field for the Bills’ first offensive snap for disciplinary reasons. “You rarely get that type of game from the Patriots, as far as turnovers. We didn’t capitalize at all. It was very frustrating.
“When you get turnovers like that against any team, you have to take advantage of them or it doesn’t matter.”
The Bills’ offense was a comedy of errors. An early sign of things to come was a wide-open Robert Foster being unable to catch a deep throw from Josh Allen because, as the receiver gestured, the sun was in his eyes.
Foster also failed to make a catch near the goal line, Isaiah McKenzie had a drop in the end zone and Logan Thomas let a ball sail through his hands at the goal line.
“I think the lesson that a lot of our young guys that did play today learned is, when given the opportunity, you’ve got to make plays,” coach Sean McDermott said. “Sometimes Josh could have made a better throw, but there’s other times where the ball was a catchable ball and you've got to make plays on the ball and that's what we’re looking for. That’s the production you need to play good football.”
With the Patriots holding a 21-6 lead late in the third quarter, the Bills appeared in position for a touchdown when Jason Croom, who started at tight end with Charles Clay inactive, caught a 24-yard pass to the New England 6. However, in trying to fight for extra yards, Croom fumbled and cornerback Jason McCourty recovered at the 6.
“That’s some of the opportunities I thought we had,” McDermott said. “We get a score there, with a touchdown, we’re within a touchdown or so. Those are tough, because I love the effort, but you also have to be smart and keep it high and tight.”
Allen missed the Bills’ 25-6 Monday Night Football loss against the Patriots on Oct. 29 at New Era Field because of an injured elbow. That made Sunday his first chance to face Bill Belichick’s complex defensive scheme, which can be highly unforgiving against rookie passers.
“Early on they did a really good job of kind of disguising and dropping out and playing zone when they sure looked like they were playing man,” said Allen, who threw for 217 yards, a 31-yard garbage-time TD to Zay Jones, and two interceptions. “They did that for an obvious reason, (me) being young. It took a little bit to adjust to. At the same time, we’ve got to be better with my eyes, got to be better with where I put the football.”
Allen, 22, grew up in California idolizing the 41-year-old Brady, also a California native, and was excited for the chance to face him. Allen also was disappointed he couldn’t get the better of him.
“I wanted to beat him, for sure,” Allen said. “He’s one of the greatest to ever do it, and as a young kid growing up, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to be on the same field as him. So it’s a cool feeling, but at the same time, I was focused on winning a football game.”
Brady finished with a mere 126 passing yards and a TD, with a pair of interceptions, and a passer rating of 48.3.
It didn’t matter, though, as the Patriots’ ground attack continually ripped through the Bills for 273 of their 390 yards.
“To be able to run the football like they did is not good enough on our part,” McDermott said. “Fundamentals are certainly in that when you talk about run defense and then shedding blocks, getting off blockers and tackling. There were times in there I didn’t think we tackled well enough. We had them behind the line of scrimmage and we were throwing shoulders instead of wrapping up. So we’ve got to go back and look at that as we look at our defense.”
Sony Michel had a game-high 116 yards, but the biggest damage came from receiver Cordarrelle Patterson running four times for 66 yards, an average of 16.5 per attempt. Three were on jet sweeps; he lined up as a running back and gained 12 yards on the other attempt.
“We got two turnovers off of (Brady) and it was definitely nice, it was huge,” said safety Micah Hyde, who had an interception. “But at the end of the day, we have to stop all of their weapons, which they do have lot ... that jet sweep from Patterson.”
Meanwhile, the Bills, with McCoy back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him a week ago, ran for only 72 yards, their fewest since running for 46 yards in the previous meeting with the Patriots. McCoy had nine on six carries Sunday.
The win was the Patriots’ fifth in a row against the Bills, who are 5-10.
“You know, this time of year, I think whatever it takes to win, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Brady said. “We did a great job in the run game. ... We stopped them in the run game, too, and made it tough on them.”
Some things never change, even when they don’t quite look the same.