ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – At this time of year, teams need to deal with inclement weather, but what we saw on Monday night here between the Patriots and Buffalo Bills was ridiculous.
Prior to kickoff, the National Weather Service issued a wind advisory due to gale-force winds in the area. Gusts came in from Lake Erie, ripping through the Buffalo area. The Weather Channel said the west winds hit 40 knots and caused waves to reach 14-feet high. According to their website, “strong winds will cause hazardous waves which could capsize or damage vessels and reduce visibility.”
Wind gusts hit as high as 55 mph. In warm-ups, kick attempts with the wind looked like they’d be good from 60-plus yards. Against the wind, kickers had a hard time hitting field goals within 30 yards.
The weather caused chaos inside Highmark Stadium and a Patriots offensive game plan that relied mainly on run plays and a historically low number of passes. In the end, this turned out to be an unconventional, but stress-inducing game between two of the best teams in the AFC, as the Patriots held on for an important 14-10 win over the Bills.
New England improves to 9-4 and are now the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
"We should all be proud of our mental toughness," said Devin McCourty. "And what we’re able to do as a team given weather conditions core, anything that happens in a game, we’ll try to find a way to win."
Here’s how it all went down.
Stifling defense secured the win
The Patriots defense bent on Monday, but didn’t break.
The Bills started to move the ball in the fourth quarter as the Pats defense allowed multiple first downs and Buffalo arrived on the door step of the end zone. But the Bills came away with nothing as Tyler Bass missed a 33-yard field goal – against the wind – with 7:28 left in the game. Matthew Judon was the hero on that series as his sack of Josh Allen pushed the Bills back nine yards before the missed kick.
The Pats offense went three-and-out and when Allen got the ball back, the Pats defense was backpedaling again – up 14-10.
Buffalo’s quarterback kick-started the series with a 26-yard pass to Stefon Diggs, who made an incredible catch on the sideline. A 17-yard run by Devin Singletary brought Buffalo to the 25-yard line with 3:45 remaining. Allen then ran for a first down and put the Bills at the 14 yard line with 2:37 left. A false start pushed Buffalo back to the 18-yard line. On third-and-14, Adrian Phillips deflected a pass in the end zone while covering Dawson Knox with 2:11 left in the game. Phillips suffered what looked like a knee injury on the play.
With 2:00 left, Allen's pass on fourth-and-14 was broken up by Myles Bryant.
“I knew he had to get the ball out quick,” said Bryant. “I was actually on (Cole) Beasley and saw the ball ended up going to (Gabriel) Davis so I got my hand in there… I was glad I was able to make a play and we were able to get a win.”
Patriots passing game was non-existent
Mac Jones completed 2 of just 3 passes for 19 yards. His three attempts are the fewest in Patriots franchise history, beating Steve Grogan's record low of five in 1982's snowplow game.
Jones attempted one pass in the first half with 1:22 left in the first quarter. Against the wind, the ball looked like a balloon floating away, but Jonnu Smith was able to somehow haul it in, by hitting it up to himself for a gain of 12. According to Elias Sports, the one pass attempt in the first half is the fewest by any NFL team since at least 1978, which is far back as the data goes.
Jones’ next pass attempt was with 6:51 left in the game. The rookie attempted two passes in a row on that drive.
"It was a crazy game to be a part of," Jones said. "We knew if we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d be good. It was just a weird day, but at the end of the day if you get more points than the other team, it’s a great day."
The wind was the driving force behind the lack of pass attempts. At 9:15 of the first quarter, the wind got ahold of Jake Bailey's punt and comically curved the ball to the far right, marking a 15-yard punt.
Matt Breida fumbled a handoff at 7:02 of the first quarter and Lawrence Guy recovered. On third-and-5, neither the wind nor the Bills could stop Damien Harris. The running back took a Mac Jones handoff and ran 64 yards for the touchdown. Since they were against the gale force winds, the Pats opted to go for two and Brandon Bolden ran in the conversion to put the Pats up, 8-0, at 5:28 of the first quarter.
With the wind, Nick Folk hit a 41-yard field goal at 11:31 of the second quarter to put the Patriots up 11-7.
"I haven't seen that much win probably ever," said Jones. "It was a learning experience ... I've never been a part of something like that. It's really cool."
Patriots pounded the ball in the second half
The Pats game plan was clear by the second half – they were running the ball.
One problem was that Damien Harris suffered a hamstring injury at the end of the second quarter. The team’s leading rusher, ran for 111 yards on 10 carries. He returned for one play in the third quarter, running for 22 yards, but came up limping.
That forced the Pats to rely on rookie Rhamondre Stevenson and the team put together an outstanding, clock-killing drive. This series saw the Pats call 13-straight run plays. The drive ate up 8:34 . Folk capped it off with a 34-yard field goal to put the Patriots up, 14-10, with 13:01 remaining.
“The Bills knew what we were going to do. They had eight (players) in the box,” said Stevenson. “We just had to execute. Hat on a hat and run hard.”
That series also took the teams into the fourth quarter. That gave the Pats an advantage as they finished the game playing with the wind.
That came into play in the ensuing series. The Bills traveled all the way to the other end of the field – and were at the 6-yard line before a Judon sack pushed them back nine yards - but kicker Tyler Bass missed a 33-yard field goal attempt against the wind with 7:28 left.
The Patriots ran the ball 46 times for 222 yards on Monday.
“It came down to us taking care of the ball,” said Bolden. “… the Buffalo Bills are a great defense. Don’t get it twisted. It was a challenge to go out there every play and do what we did.”
Bills benefited from 2 questionable calls
The Bills benefited from two questionable calls – one by the Patriots coaching staff and another by the officials – during their two scoring drives.
A questionable coaching decision led to the Bills scoring their first points of the game. At 2:18 of the first quarter, the Pats had N’Keal Harry back for the punt return for the first time in his career. The ball nicked Harry’s helmet and was recovered by the Bills' Siran Neal at the 14-yard line. On the next play, Allen hit Gabriel Davis for a 14-yard touchdown at 2:07 of the first quarter.
It was strange not to see Gunner Olszewski, who was an All-Pro punt returner, back for the return on that play. Olszewski was on the field, but lined up in front of Harry. After the error, Olszewski was back for punt returns for the Patriots. Harry lined up as a kickoff returner on Monday, which is another new development.
A questionable call from the officials led to three points for Buffalo in the third quarter.
On third-and-7, Allen ran for a gain of six. While the quarterback was leaping for the first down, he was shoved out of bounds by Bryant. Bryant drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the play. The call seemed questionable because the defensive back pushed Allen out of bounds before the first-down marker. That call put the Bills at the 20-yard line and led to a Bass 35-yard field goal at 6:35 of the third quarter. The Pats led, 11-10, after the kick.
"They called what they called," said Bryant "I think personally, I have to be smarter near the sideline ... I'm going to look at the tape, learn from it and move on from there."
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Here's how the Patriots beat the Bills to grab the top seed in the AFC