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Patriots Week 18 Report Card In 35-23 Loss to Buffalo

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
January 10, 2023 at 6:00 am ET

Patriots Week 18 Report Card In 35-23 Loss to Buffalo(PHOTO: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

The Patriots lost their final game of the 2022 season, knocking them out of the playoffs. Had they won, they’d have been right back in Orchard Park next weekend, but the Bills prevailed 35-23 on two kickoff return touchdowns and two excellent passes from Josh Allen that were of the “WOW” variety.

The offense had a pretty good day against a very good Buffalo defense. There were still mistakes and missed opportunities. But on Sunday, it wasn’t the offense or the play-calling. It wasn’t the defense who forced three Bills turnovers. It was the special teams. Both offense and defense played well enough to compete for a win. 

But when your STs units give up two touchdowns to an already potent offensive team, it puts far too much pressure on the other two units. 

So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Bills game. 

Quarterback: B-

Mac Jones started the way many games have recently gone against the Bills. Pressure on the first and third snaps (including a sack) and a run that went nowhere. But after a punt, the defense sacked Allen and got the ball back at the 26. And then something akin to miraculous happened. 

Matt Patricia didn’t call one play-action pass, two, three, or four…but five. And lo and behold, Mac Jones hit on all five against the Bills for 50 yards and a touchdown. It worked on the few times that they used PA during the season. So, my comment while watching the game was, “Where the hell was THAT all season? My Bulldog shrugged and went back to sleep. I didn’t know either. 

Two drives later, the Patriots used PA again. And Jones completed 3-3 and then hit DeVante Parker for an easy score after Patricia called a clever play (Did I say that?) that used Marcus Jones as the Bills reacted and left room for Parker to get some separation. Jones was 13-16 for 119 yards and 2 TDs in the first half. 

But he threw three picks in the second half. The first was an ill-advised play to Nelson Agholor, who stopped for a split second on a deep route (Why), and then made a half-hearted attempt at the ball, allowing TreDavious White an easy INT. The other two were bounces off of his receiver’s hands. Jones bears responsibility for his accuracy, but the bounces didn’t go his way.  

Jones finished 26-40 for 243 yards with 3 TDs and 3 INTs for a passer rating of 75.3.

Running Backs: B- 

Rhamondre Stevenson went over the 1,000-yard mark on Sunday and averaged an impressive 9.0 yards per carry, with six carries for 54 yards. Damien Harris chipped in with 48 yards on 13 carries. The duo combined for six catches for 32 yards. 

Dropping their grade a bit was a drop by Stevenson and a fumble, but he was bailed out by David Andrews, who recovered the ball on the ground. Harris had a pass bounce off his hands and right into the Bills’ hands. 

Wide Receivers: B

DeVante Parker returned after missing several games with a concussion. And he was productive, catching six passes for 79 yards and two TDs. His second TD was a nice 26-yard throw by Jones and a great catch of the 50/50 ball by Parker at the goal line.

Jakobi Meyers had 3 catches for 32 yards, including an excellent toe-dragging TD to tie the score. But he was targeted seven times, and the Bills did a good job of shutting him down. Kendrick Bourne had four catches for 45 yards. Tyquan Thornton had one catch for 13 yards.

Bourne and Thornton each had a drop, and Nelson Agholor, who was only targeted once, stopped and then didn’t fight for the ball on a pass by Jones that was picked off. He wasn’t targeted again.                                        

Tight Ends: B-

Hunter Henry, along with Meyers and Parker, was targeted seven times. He caught six passes for 42 yards. The one he didn’t catch was a 3rd and 19 pass into the end zone where Jones tried to gun the ball between several Bills’ defenders. It was high, and Henry got a hand on it, but it bounced off his hands and right to Matt Milano. 

Henry got called for a ticky-tack OPI penalty that forced them into the possession far behind the sticks.

Offensive Line C+

The offensive line allowed only one sack, but Jones was under pressure for much of the game. He was hit four times; a couple were heavy but clean hits. The running game gained 107 yards on 23 carries for an average of 4.7 yards, but there were still too many runs going for negative or little yardage.                                                           

 Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line had a very good day on Sunday. Buffalo rushed for 90 yards on 25 carries which was just a 3.6-yard average which is very good. Even more so, Josh Allen didn’t gash them running for the second game in a row. While he did QB sneak for a couple of conversions, he gained just 16 yards on nine rushing attempts (subtract two kneel-downs). That is light years better than the unit was earlier in the year. 

They were also able to generate good pressure on Allen from the big guys up front, with Daniel Ekuale and Deatrich Wise each getting sacks on Allen. Christian Barmore was credited with a hit, he also combined with Matt Judon in pressuring Allen and forcing a red zone interception at the end of the first half.  

Wise, Ekuale, and Davon Godchaux all had a tackle for loss (TFL).        

Linebackers: B

Ja’Whaun Bentley again led the team in tackles (Surprise, Surprise – Gomer Pyle voice). He also recovered a fumble. The team used Jahlani Tavai to spy on Allen for stretches of the game and held him to just a two-yard gain on one scramble. He was also credited with a pass defensed. 

Matthew Judon was injured early but returned and had a big rush and hit on Allen that caused an errant throw that was picked off by Devin McCourty. He also had a TFL on Allen when he tried to run to the outside. 

Josh Uche got some pressure on Allen, but he was caught several times rushing too far upfield, which allowed Allen to step forward and get around him. Anfernee Jennings stepped in for Judon while he was out and played well, stuffing a pair of runs.


The secondary overall was okay for stretches, but Buffalo burned them for a couple of late touchdowns on just plain ridiculous throws by Allen. While the grade gets dinged because of those, there was little the players could do on either one. 

Devin McCourty had arguably his best game of the year; unfortunately, it may end up being his last in the NFL. He had a nice pass breakup in the first quarter. He intercepted the pass at the end of the first half and recovered a fumble in the 3rd quarter. 

Jonathan Jones had a pass defensed against Gabe Davis, and he punched the ball out from Devin Singletary McCourty recovered. But it was also Jones who was beaten by Diggs on the 49-yard touchdown pass by Allen. But the pass was perfectly thrown, and it was one of those plays where you have to tip your cap to the opponent. The same with the John Brown TD. Myles Bryant had him covered along the sideline. But when Allen went into a scramble, Brown’s speed was too much, and Allen led him with a beautiful throw and catch. 

Overall, Allen completed 19 of 31 passes for 254 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT for a passer rating of 106.1. While that is a good day by anyone, it wasn’t the dominant kind of game; Allen has made a habit of facing the Patriots the past few years.

Special Teams: F

What transpired in the kick coverage game can’t happen. Giving up one TD is bad, but two in the same game is absolutely inexcusable. No team spends more time on STs in practice than the Patriots. Nyheim Hines returned four kickoffs for 235 yards and two TDs, a 58.8-yard average. On the second TD, Bryant, usually a sure open-field tackler, couldn’t bring him down; that was all she wrote. 

Then when the team attempted a squib kick, Nick Folk bounced it out of bounds handing the Bills the ball at the 40-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Allen placed the perfect pass to Diggs for a score.

Matthew Slater made a good play, nudging Taiwan Jones into causing a fumble (the ball hit Jones on the leg), which Bentley recovered. 

Coaches: C- 

The coaches had good game plans, both offensively and defensively. Both units played well enough to stay competitive and possibly win the game. The defense held Allen and a potent Bills offense to just 21 points. Would the Bills have added points on the two moments where they had KO return TDs? Of course, it is a possibility. 

But the unit fought well all game long and forced three turnovers. Some folks were openly wondering before the game whether the Patriots would even force a punt in Orchard Park. They forced three of those as well. 

The offense made mistakes and came up short on several drives, but they scored three TDs, two in the red zone, against the #1 red zone defense in the league. A pass to Damien Harris in the end zone on one of the stops should have been a DPI on Matt Milano, who never turned around and hit Harris before the ball arrived. 

The Special Teams’ coaching caused the game to be lost; the 14 points allowed was the difference in the game. And knocked down the grade here substantially.

That’s a wrap for the season. We’re on to 2023.


Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected].


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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Damien Harris Devante Parker Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers John Brown Josh Allen Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots Nyheim Hines Patriots Patriots coaches Rhamondre Stevenson Stefon Diggs Tyquan Thornton

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