FOXBOROUGH – This game had all the familiar story lines of this season, right up until the final drive.
And then, all of a sudden, the old winning Patriots came back to Gillette Stadium.
On National Tight Ends Day, Mike Gesicki caught the winning touchdown pass. Dante Scarnecchia entered the Patriot Hall of Fame, and the offensive line turned in their best performance in years. Mac Jones has been vilified for not being able to pull out a win, and he authored the best performance of his young NFL career.
Jones hit Gesicki with a one-yard scoring pass with 12 seconds left, giving the Patriots a richly satisfying 29-25 upset win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. The Patriots had led for most of the game, watched as Buffalo scored two rather easy late touchdowns to take their only lead of the game at 25-22, then actually pulled off an old time rally for the win. The Patriots are now 2-5 on the season but are 2-1 in the AFC East.
From the outset, the Patriots seemed to be suddenly all right after being all wrong for most of the season. On the first offensive play of the game for Buffalo, Josh Allen tried to hit Dawson Knox with a right sideline pass. Jabrill Peppers jumped in front of him and made the interception, and the Patriots scored their first points off a turnover for the entire season when Ezekiel Elliott plowed in from two yards out to give the Patriots an early 10-0 lead. The Patriots went into the locker room at halftime leading 13-3, and looking every bit like the old Patriots looked like.
The fourth quarter of this game was magnificent, as both teams scored two touchdowns. Buffalo showed that they are still the great team that they are, and the Patriots reminded everyone in the northeast corner of the USA of the good old days.
The excitement started early in the fourth quarter, when Buffalo decided to go for it on fourth down and two at the Patriot 33. Allen dropped back, rolled to his right and had Knox right in front of him in the right seam. Knox forgot about National Tight Ends Day and dropped a catchable ball with JaWhaun Bentley in coverage.
The Patriots took over, and Jones led the Patriots on a nine-play, 67-yard drive which ate up just over six minutes. Pharaoh Brown started it with a nice 26-yard catch down the right sideline. Three plays later, Jones was strip sacked by Leonard Floyd but Mike Onwenu, who played much of the game at right guard today, recovered the fumble. But the Patriots got a break on the play when Taron Johnson was called for illegal contact, giving the Patriots a first down instead of a six-yard loss.
Following a delay of game penalty, the Patriots had the ball at the Buffalo 23. Jones then hit Pop Douglas on a left slant route for 19 yards to the Buffalo 4. On second and goal, Jones was able to hit Kendrick Bourne in the left flat for a 4-yard touchdown. The Patriots failed to convert a 2-point conversion, and it was 22-10 Patriots with 7:36 left in the contest.
It was at this time that Buffalo, now down two scores, finally woke up and realized that they were in a serious contest. Allen led the Bills on a quick 75-yard drive in five plays that took only just over two minutes. Dalton Kincaid began it with a 12-yard catch, then a roughing the passer penalty on Christian Barmore put the Bills into Patriot territory. Two plays later, at the Patriot 26 yard line, Allen rolled right and was almost sacked but got off a pass in time in the right seam. Stefon Diggs caught the ball inside the Patriot 10 on the ground. He wasn’t touched, so he got up and ran. J.C. Jackson was right there to wrap him up but totally whiffed on the tackle, and Diggs ran it into the end zone. It was now 22-17 Patriots as the fans started to groan.
Jones led the Patriots to their first win in nearly a month Sunday. (PHOTO: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
To make matters worse, on the ensuing drive, on the third play of the drive, Bourne caught a pass over the middle for nine yards, but Jordan Poyer knocked the ball out of Bourne’s hands and Terrel Bernard recovered for the Bills. It took about three minutes and eight plays for the Bills to make Bourne pay for his mistake. Allen ran it in from the one, then hit Knox for a 2-point conversion to make it 25-22 Bills, their first lead of the game.
At this point, one could only think this: Good teams find ways to win games, and bad teams find ways to lose them. This was exactly how the fourth quarter was playing out up to this time. The Patriots no longer make plays to win games. They allow plays to lose games. This is what Patriot Nation now must put up with.
And then the majestic and glorious past suddenly returned, seemingly out of nowhere.
The Patriots had just under two minutes and two timeouts to pull off a miracle win. Jones began by dumping a flat pass to Rhamondre Stevenson to the right side. Stevenson took off on a 34-yard romp and the Patriots were already in Bills territory. A flag was dropped, but was picked up when the officials decided that David Andrews was not illegally downfield. On third and 8, Jones hit Hunter Henry on a crossing route to put the Patriots at the Buffalo 25. A 10-yard pass to Stevenson put the Patriots at the Buffalo 7, first and goal.
The Patriots were now out of timeouts. The next play was a left side pass to Douglas for six yards, and he was stopped in bounds with 18 seconds left. But a pass interference call on Christian Benford stopped the clock and put the Patriots at the one, first and goal. With no timeouts, Jones had three cracks to score a short touchdown or else settle for a field goal and overtime. On the first attempt, Jones overthrew Douglas in the end zone. On second down, Jones hit Gesicki in about the same place, covered by Johnson. It was 29-25 Patriots with 12 seconds left, and following the kickoff, Buffalo was not able to move the ball on the final two plays.
Bill Belichick, who according to the NFL Network signed a contract extension in the offseason, gained his 300th career win as a head coach and was noticeably jolly and at times jocular in his postgame presser. He got hissy only after a reporter asked him about his team’s confidence level on the final drive. But he gave good answers, and even engaged a reporter in chuckles when he was called on a timeout which had to be called to prevent a delay of game just prior to a field goal attempt.
Jones, Douglas and kicker Chad Ryland all had their best games as Patriots today. Jones was 25 of 30 passing for 272 yards, two touchdowns and a 126.7 passer rating. Bourne led the team with six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown, but Douglas had four catches for 54 yards and a nice 25-yard punt return. Allen was held to 27 of 41 passing for 265 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 90 passer rating. Ryland hit on all three of his field goals, including a 49-yarder in the third quarter.
A trip to South Beach is next, with the Patriots heading to Florida to take on the Dolphins. It may be too tough for the Patriots to win, but maybe today’s win helps the confidence just a little bit.
Jones had time to throw, and look at how well he did. So now we know. He can do this. Moving forward, now that we do know, it might change all the narratives the rest of the way.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary