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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Saturday night’s AFC wild-card game at Highmark Stadium was never in doubt.
As soon as the Buffalo Bills touched the ball following the opening kickoff, you knew it. The Patriots never stood a chance. For the Pats’ defense, it was a nightmare in Orchard Park, and very similar to the group’s effort, or lack thereof, in the team’s Week 16 loss to the Bills.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen and his group embarrassed Bill Belichick’s defense on Saturday night en route to an embarrassing 47-17 blowout loss. Buffalo scored seven touchdowns on their first seven drives. Allen finished 21/25 for 308 yards with five touchdowns. He had more touchdowns than incomplete passes. He was never sacked.
This butt-whooping served as another reminder that the Bills own the AFC East in these post-Tom Brady years. Buffalo has now won four of the last five games over the Patriots.
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This one, however, officially ended the Patriots season and it marked the most lopsided playoff loss in the coach Belichick era, ahead of the team's 33-14 wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens during the 2009 season.
“They played well. We didn’t. They deserved to win,” said Belichick.
This game was never close. Here’s how the Patriots 2021 season came to an end in the bitter cold of Western New York:
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Patriots defense got embarrassed early and often
For the Patriots defense, the first half was an utter embarrassment. The Bills scored touchdowns on all four drives of 70, 80, 81 and 89 yards. Buffalo traveled 300 total yards in the first two quarters and went into halftime up, 27-3.
Allen made the Patriots defense pay using both his arm and legs for an early Buffalo lead. The quarterback rushed two times for 41 yards picking up a 26-yard and then a 15-yard gain. Each attempt pushed the Bills downfield in the game’s opening drive. Allen capped the series off with an 8-yard touchdown to Dawson Knox at 9:45 of the first quarter.
“Every drive we couldn’t come up with a stop. It was frustrating,” said Matthew Judon. “It wasn’t one drive, one play or one single player. It was everything. It was the whole game. Everything was frustrating, honestly.”
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The Patriots had trouble getting to and containing Allen. According to Next Gen stats, Allen had nine seconds to throw the ball on the touchdown throw.
The defense looked exactly the same on the second Bills’ drive for a 14-0 Buffalo lead. Allen hit Knox for a gain of 24 and then Isaiah McKenzie for 19 yards. It wasn’t long before the Bills were in the red zone and the quarterback connected with Knox again, for a 11-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the first quarter.
The third series was just as sloppy. Daniel Ekuale was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty. The Pats also gave up a 22-yard catch to Gabriel Davis. Devin Singletary capped off this 81-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run at 7:20 of the second quarter. Lawrence Guy blocked Tyler Bass’ extra point attempt and the Bills led, 20-0.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, the Bills traveled 89 yards in four plays in their fourth series. Singletary scored a 16-yard touchdown and Buffalo led 27-0 with 1:53 left in the half.
"We just couldn’t keep up with them tonight. They certainly deserve to win," said Belichick. "Well coached. They executed well. We couldn’t do much of anything."
Patriots offense dug itself a deep hole
On offense, the first half was a disappointment.
On the first Patriots drive, rookie QB Mac Jones picked up two big third-down conversions by connecting with Hunter Henry for 30 yards and then taking off for a 16-yard run. Those plays put the Pats at the 34-yard line. Then at 5:48, Jones threw to Nelson Agholor deep. Instead of a touchdown, Bills safety Micah Hyde made a fantastic diving interception.
Coming off the Bills’ opening-game score, it was a huge momentum builder for Buffalo thanks to an excellent play for the Bills’ All-Pro safety. It was a frustrating drive for the Patriots, who also saw a wide-open Brandon Bolden drop a 30-yard pass at the 20-yard line.
“I can make a better throw. That’s pretty much it,” Jones said of the interception. “It’s the first drive of the game. You don’t want to do that. Our goal was not to turn the ball over. It happened. Just part of the game, I guess. Something I can learn from when I watch the tape.”
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The Patriots proceeded to go three-and-out in their second series. Damien Harris started the game averaging just 2.4 yards per carry
On the third series, the Pats made it to midfield before it fell apart thanks to a sack for a loss of eight followed by a delay-of-game penalty. The first three scoreless drives saw the Patriots dig themselves into deep third downs: third-and-14, third -and-10, third -and-3 and third -and-20.
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With one second left in the second quarter, the Patriots scored their first points of the game with a 44-yard Nick Folk field goal and went into halftime down, 27-3.
“It wasn’t good enough. Hats off to them. They played a really good game,” said Patriots center David Andrews. “Got behind early. It was just too much and not enough.”
Patriots’ cornerback depth was exposed
With starter Jalen Mills out due to COVID-19, the Patriots started Joejuan Williams at corner. The team also elevated D’Angelo Ross and De’Vante Bausby to the game-day roster from the practice squad.
What transpired on Saturday was a reality check for Belichick and his front office.
Williams had a bad night. In the second quarter, he was beat for a 22-yard gain by Gabriel Davis. The 2019 second-round pick was then burned by Emmanuel Sanders for a 34-yard touchdown, at 8:48 of the third quarter, to extend the Bills’ lead to 33-3.
This game also saw J.C. Jackson get beat badly by Stefon Diggs for a 45-yard reception. On the next snap, Allen took off and put Bausby on ice skates, embarrassing the cornerback, for a 9-yard run. Singletary scored a touchdown on the next play.
In the fourth quarter, the onslaught continued. With 13:22 remaining, Davis beat cornerback Myles Bryant for a 19-yard touchdown.
Following a 52-yard punt return by Hyde, Jackson gave up a 38-yard reception to Knox. That set the Pats up at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Allen hit offensive tackle Tommy Doyle for a 1-yard touchdown with 8:37 left.
That marked the seventh touchdown in the Bills’ seventh drive.
“They did a good job of creating chunk plays. Good job in the run game,” said safety Devin McCourty. “… We didn’t get a stop. Every play they did was a good play for them… You have no shot to win a game like that.
Kendrick Bourne was the lone bright spot
Kendrick Bourne was one of the Patriots bright spots during the 2021 season. The wide receiver showed heart on Saturday, catching seven passes for 77 yards and the Patriots only two touchdowns.
The Patriots scored their first touchdown of the game at 4:12 of the third quarter with Bourne hauling in a 3-yard score on fourth down. The Pats were in scoring position thanks to the receiver as well. Bourne hauled in a 43-yard pass and then took off for a 14-yard run play.
To make this game even more ridiculous, a fan threw a sex toy in the end zone following Bourne’s score.
With 1:44 remaining, Jones and the Patriots had one finale drive. The rookie ended it by hitting Bourne for a 4-yard touchdown. Jones finished completing 24/38 passes for 232 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Obviously we didn’t play how we wanted to play and every game is different. We didn’t have a chance to win the game and it starts with me," said Jones. "Just getting momentum early and getting our self into position… I could’ve played better."
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Patriots v Bills: NFL Wild Card game wasn't great for Bill Belichick