by Ryan Tantalo (@tantalotakes) , 12/26/2021
Following their week 13 thumping of the Bills on Monday Night Football, the New England Patriots looked like the clear AFC East frontrunner. On that windy night in Orchard Park, Buffalo’s run defense allowed 222 yards and the Bills were outgained in total yardage despite the fact that Pats’ QB Mac Jones only completed 1 pass attempt all game. Although Bills’ safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer adamantly denied being “embarrassed”, the Bills were thoroughly out-played and out-coached in that 14-10 loss.
Fast forward to today, a Week 16 rematch on the Patriots’ home turf. The 8-6 Bills, fresh off of a win against Carolina, were looking to get revenge against their division rival. New England (9-5) came in hoping to put the AFC East Division race to bed. The Bills knew the most important step towards achieving victory would be stopping the rush attack of Damien Harris and forcing rookie QB Mac Jones to throw the ball as many times as possible. Buffalo also needed to be more disciplined and aggressive on offense, as they only reached the end zone 1 time in the previous matchup.
Buffalo met the “aggressiveness” bill early; a gutsy 4th-and-goal touchdown conversion in the first quarter set the tone for this game and put Buffalo in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the contest. The Bills’ offense tacked on 10 more points before halftime, largely due to the breakout contribution of Isaiah McKenzie, who led the Bills with 125 receiving yards in the game, and Buffalo went to the locker room up 17-7.
Unlike the first matchup, New England was forced to play from behind in the second half, and couldn’t lean on their rushing attack as heavily. Damien Harris still had a stellar performance, with 103 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns, but the Patriots attack was stifled on 3rd down (1/10 conversion) and Mac Jones was pressured into a poor performance with 14/32 completions (44%) and 2 crucial interceptions. The conservative, methodical offense of Week 13 was not present today and the Pats’ lagged behind Buffalo’s speedy, high-powered unit.
Speaking of the Bills’ offense, this game was a showcase for Josh Allen and his array of weapons. The Wyoming product completed 30/47 passes for 314 yards and 3 tds. Even without receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, Allen found his usual target Stefon Diggs (7 rec, 85 yds, 1 td) and fed Isaiah McKenzie 11 times including crucial conversions on multiple scoring drives. The surprise star McKenzie had a career day with 125 yds and 1 touchdown.
The largest weakness today for the Bills was their running game, which has been a problem all season. Josh Allen was once again the leading Buffalo rusher with 64 yards, more than starting RB Devin Singletary’s total of 39 yards on the same number of carries (12). It’s hard to find many faults in the Bills’ offensive performance today, but the production out of their running backs is still cause for some moderate concern as playoff time approaches.
Today’s game was one of the biggest and most satisfying regular season wins in recent memory for the Bills. Beating your most hated rival is always sweet, but it’s even sweeter when you steal 1st place from them with just 2 games left in a tense and trying season.
Buffalo’s remaining games are both at home vs the 7-8 Falcons and 4-11 Jets.