Bills report card: Buffalo manhandled by Patriots and season could be gone with the wind

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ORCHARD PARK - As you might imagine, nerves were a little frayed in the Buffalo Bills’ post-game news conferences Monday night, and for good reason.

They can deny it all they want, and some of the players who spoke did so following a damaging 14-10 loss to the New England Patriots, but here’s the simple truth and reality: The Bills season is spiraling out of control.

In two months’ time, they have gone from national media darlings and the team many picked to not only win the AFC East in a walk, but to win the AFC and even win the Super Bowl, to a team that is going to have to fight and scratch and claw just to make the playoffs.

In what ranks as the most disappointing regular-season loss of the Sean McDermott/Brandon Beane/Josh Allen Era, the Bills came up small in a showdown against the one team, above all others, that they have to beat on a regular basis if they ever hope to become the team they believe they can be.

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“Yeah, that’s real,” a clearly perturbed McDermott said. “We are what our record says we are. We’ve been inconsistent. Had opportunities to win the game. You’re darn right we did.”

With gale force winds wreaking havoc on the Buffalo passing game while at the same time playing right into the hands of the tougher, more physical and probably more talented Patriots, the Bills face-planted once again on the Monday night stage and lost to a team that attempted three passes all night.

“We understand the implications of this game,” said center Mitch Morse. “We understand the magnitude of what this meant and what this loss meant so it's not lost on us. We understand that we have a lot of work to do to put ourselves in a position where we think this team can be.”

Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:

PASS OFFENSE: C-

Given the absurd windy conditions, it was actually somewhat heroic that Josh Allen was able to complete 15 of 30 passes for 145 yards. As is his way he didn’t want to use the wind as an excuse, but saying after the game that it “wasn’t that bad” was just plain silly.

Yeah, I get where he’s going, but come on, get serious. Anyone who was sitting in that stadium knew it was a monumental problem. Put it this way: If Allen’s right and it wasn’t that bad, then the Bills have way bigger problems than we think because their offense managed 230 yards and was 4-of-14 on third- and fourth-down combined.

Stefon Diggs made only four catches for 51 yards, though one was an outstanding 26-yard grab on the drive that almost resulted in the winning score. But he failed to come up with a touchdown reception in the third quarter on what was clearly a tough ball to catch, but one he’d probably say - if he ever talked after a game - that he should have reeled in.

Dawson Knox was atrocious as he caught two passes and dropped at least three, plus took a horrible false start penalty on the second-to-last offensive play of the game. Gabriel Davis caught an early TD pass and then another 16-yarder, and Emmanuel Sanders was mostly invisible, again, with three catches for 22 yards.

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

RUN OFFENSE: D

It was the No. 1 storyline going into the game. Could the Bills lame running game do something on a night when everyone knew it was going to be difficult to throw? Not surprisingly, the Bills failed because they have three running backs who barely qualify as average.

Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and Matt Breida combined for 60 yards on 19 carries, barely three yards per attempt, and Breida and Allen combined to cough up a fumble on a bad exchange which cost the Bills a scoring chance early.

One thing that made no sense is that Brian Daboll did not have more designed run calls for Allen, knowing how much the wind would be a factor. Allen scrambled once for 21 yards, but his other five rushes netted just 18 yards. Running is supposed to be part of his game, but lately we’ve seen less and less of it.

And while I can lay blame at the feet of the backs, once again, we saw just how average, if that, the Bills’ offensive line is when it comes to run blocking. They just don’t move people out of the way, and when you couple that with backs who have no big-play ability, you’re nowhere in the run game.

Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) reaches for the ball for a catch against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) reaches for the ball for a catch against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

PASS DEFENSE: Inc.

Seriously, how could I even grade a unit that faced three pass attempts all night? Bill Belichick wanted no part of his rookie QB throwing in those conditions so Mac Jones was 2 of 3 for 19 yards.

The three attempts are the fewest in an NFL game since Buffalo’s Joe Ferguson went 0-for-2 in a 1974 game against the Jets which was also played on a horrendous weather day in Orchard Park. For the Patriots, this was the third game in their history where they completed only two passes, the others both coming against Miami in 1982 and 1969.

And what should be absolutely galling for the Bills is that Belichick essentially was laughing in their face by playing the game this way. He was saying to the Bills, “We know you can’t stop our run game, so we don’t even need to pass.” He was right.

RUN DEFENSE: F

And so, what about that New England running game? The Bills knew it was coming, on every snap. They knew it was coming, and still they could not deal with it. The Patriots ran 46 times for 222 yards, 4.8 yards per attempt. That’s right, 4.8 yards per attempt despite the Bills crowding the line with eight and sometimes nine defenders.

Damien Harris broke a killer 64-yard TD in the first quarter and finished with 111 yards while Rhamonde Stevenson had 78 yards and Brandon Bolden scored on a two-point conversion.

Hyde was asked if this performance was embarrassing. He didn’t like the question, and neither did fellow safety Jordan Poyer. Fine, but you know what? It was embarrassing. Just like it was embarrassing against the Titans and Colts, the other two teams who steamrolled them. At least in those games, there was at least the threat of a pass. This was unforgivable and so damning.

Tremaine Edmunds was invisible, except on the plays where he was woefully out of position. Matt Milano did nothing until late in the game when he made back-to-back tackles for loss. Poyer led the Bills with eight tackles. He often does, but usually the bulk of those are on pass completions, not running plays downfield.

So much for Star Lotulelei’s return making a difference. He didn’t even show up on the stat sheet despite 46 run plays. You would think he could have at least stumbled into one tackle.

Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive back Siran Neal (33) recovers a fumbled punt return by the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive back Siran Neal (33) recovers a fumbled punt return by the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

One of the Bills biggest plays came on a punt when New England’s N’Keal Harry had a punt glance off his helmet and Siran Neal recovered at the Patriots 14. On the next play, Allen threw his lone TD pass to Davis.

Tyler Bass made a 35-yard field goal and an extra point kicking with the wind, but he missed a 33-yarder into the wind with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter that proved big at the end because the Bills could have attempted a field goal on their last possession for the win.

Punter Matt Haack actually had a decent game in the conditions as he had 38.6 net average and dropped two of his five punts inside the 20.

McDermott sat out both return men, Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson, because he was worried about their fumbling issues. That’s problematic. He had Hyde back as a safety on punts, and Breida was deep on kickoffs.

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott gestures on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott gestures on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

COACHING: D

McDermott attempted a stupid challenge of a spot in the third quarter that, as is almost always the case had no chance to succeed, and it didn’t. It cost him a timeout. He also called an odd timeout at the end of the first half when the Patriots were simply running out the clock, and burned another timeout in the fourth quarter because the Bills couldn’t get the play called in time.

Daboll was obviously handcuffed by the conditions, but there were some peculiar play calls. Asking Allen to make a highly difficult sideline throw to Diggs on 2nd-and-9 from the 13 on the final possession was a waste of a down. And the inability to get Allen involved in the run game seemed like a missed opportunity.

On defense, Leslie Frazier had no answers against the Patriots running game. Of course, had LB A.J. Klein not tested positive for COVID-19, he could have lent a hand. Then again, maybe not.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills report card: Buffalo gets manhandled by Patriots on MNF

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