The New England Patriots suffered an absolutely brutal 24-21 loss on Sunday in Buffalo. With the loss, the Patriots fell to 2-5, while the first place Bills jumped to 6-2. Barring a historic collapse from the Bills, the Patriots division hopes seem to be a longshot. Fortunately for New England, the second half in Buffalo seemed to provide a glimpse of hope we haven’t seen in recent weeks. We’ll dive into those bright spots, as well as the Patriots that struggled, in this week’s edition of “Winners and Losers”
Jakobi Meyers has only played significant snaps in two games this season, but it’s fair to say he’s the Patriots’ best pass-catcher at the moment. Against the Bills, Meyers had six catches for 58 yards. He was the leading receiver in both receptions and yards. Meyers just always seems to be open. He’s a smart and instinctive player, not the fastest or most explosive, but he can run routes well. Plus, he seems to have nice chemistry with Cam Newton.
With all his recent success, it’s fair to wonder why he didn’t receive playing time early in the season, especially taking into account all the struggles at wide receiver. He only played in 22 snaps coming into Week 7 against the 49ers. Even if N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman come back healthy, it’s imperative the Patriots continue to get Meyers his snaps.
Damien Harris is doing more than enough to solidify his role as the starting running back. It doesn’t matter if Sony Michel comes back, Harris is the guy. On Sunday, Harris finished with 102 yards rushing and one touchdown. Even more impressive is how efficiently he ran the rock. He rushed for 6.4 yards per carry. When watching Harris, we always marvel at how hard he runs the football. He finds the hole and he hits it with reckless abandon. It’s fun to watch and it tends to lead to positive yardage.
We should also note that the offensive line had a solid day of run blocking. The costly penalties kept the group from earning a spot in our “winners” section, but they opened up some big holes for Harris, Newton, and Rex Burkhead.
The linebacker spot has been a major weakness on the Patriots defense this season, but Josh Uche provided some hope for the future on Sunday. The highlight of his debut came when he logged his first-ever quarterback hit on third down late in the first quarter.
Uche has something the Patriots don’t have a lot of at linebacker– size and speed. The Patriots have primarily used Adrian Phillips (speed) and Ja’Whaun Bentley (size) at off-ball linebacker this season. Uche, other the other hand, has both. Plus, in addition to playing inside linebacker, he can also use his quickness to bring an excellent pass rush from the edge position. Uche may experience some growing pains, but we would like to see him get significant snaps in the next coming weeks. The play from Bentley just hasn’t been good enough this season. With Uche, New England still may have struggles but they get younger, faster, and Uche can use the experience to further his development.
J.C. Jackson is a future number one corner in this league and he got a chance to display that on Sunday. Sure, he allowed a few catches to Stefon Diggs, but overall he played very well. He also made a huge game-changing interception right before halftime. The turnover not only prevented the Bills from scoring, but it also led to a Patriots field goal.
If the Patriots do choose to move on from Stephon Gilmore, whether it be at the trade deadline or next offseason, you can bet Jackson will be a worthy replacement. Realistically, Jackson would be the number one corner on a majority of the NFL teams around the league. The Patriots should do all they can to sign him to a long-term deal this offseason.
Two Bill Belichick in-game coaching decisions stood out to us on Sunday. The first came right before the half when the Patriots opted to kick a field goal rather than attempt another throw into the end zone. New England faced a third down with 12 seconds left. There was plenty of time left to take another shot at the end zone. The decision clearly illustrates how little faith Belichick has in the offense. This particular decision could be justified, but the lack of offensive aggressiveness was evident.
The second big decision came after the Patriots tied the game at 14. Momentum had clearly shifted, and Belichick went ahead and attempted a surprise onside kick. The kick failed and Buffalo took advantage of the short field and went down and scored. In our eyes, this was Belichick’s worst coaching decision on the day.
Some of Belichick’s personnel decisions were also a bit questionable. The main one being the absence of Chase Winovich. Winovich has seen decreasing snap counts in each of the last three weeks. On Sunday he barely touched the field (5 snaps total). Through the first four games of the season, Winovich was one of the Patriots’ best defensive players, which makes his recent absence even more confusing. Whatever the issue is, we hope to see Winovich back out there soon.
Belichick is the greatest coach of all time, there’s no doubt about it, but he deserves his fair share of criticism for the loss.
The Front Seven
The Patriots’ run defense continues to be a major concern. Going into Sunday’s game with forecasted heavy winds and rain, it was clear the Bills would have to rely on their rushing attack more than they normally do, and boy did they ever. Buffalo rushed for 190 yards, on 5 yards per carry.
There are a few things that go into the Patriots’ struggles against the run. For starters, the Patriots tackling the past couple of weeks has been horrendous. That’s not just the front seven either, the entire defense has struggled with tackling. Second, New England can’t seem to set the edge, no matter which edge defender they have out there. Finally, New England just doesn’t have enough talented run-stuffers. The defensive line lacks proven depth and it’s been that way since Beau Allen got injured in training camp. Meanwhile, the linebackers just haven’t played good enough, in particular Bentley. We don’t want to pile on Bentley but he struggled again mightily on Sunday. He missed multiple tackles and just wasn’t effective.
Overall, the personnel among the front seven needs an overhaul, but that won’t happen until the offseason. Unfortunately, that means that the struggles against the run will likely continue throughout this entire season.
Josh McDaniels First Half Play-Calling
We understand the Patriots’ offensive talent limits what Josh McDaniels can do on offense, but the play-calling in the first half was way too conservative. McDaniels had some horrific third down play calls. It wasn’t just the runs on third down and long, it was also some of the play calls on third and short. The entire offensive game plan seemed to be incredibly hesitant. It just felt like McDaniels lacked trust in Newton.
To be fair to McDaniels, he did call a much better game in the second half. The Patriots scored 15 of their 21 points in the second half. Hopefully next week, we’ll see McDaniels continue to evolve the offense around Newton and his skill set. Quarterback runs and quick throws benefit Newton greatly.
Up until the last play of the game, Newton’s play didn’t warrant a spot in the “losers” section. He wasn’t perfect, but he had a very solid game( 174 passing yards, 54 rush yards). That’s the best we’ve seen Newton play in awhile. His play gave the Patriots offense some life. However, his fumble in the red zone to end the game pushed him into the “loser” section. It’s unfortunate, but that just can’t happen. The ball needed to be covered up, especially in that situation.
The good news is that Newton looked to have some of his confidence back. Let’s hope the late turnover doesn’t affect him in any way mentally and he can get back to his early-season form against the lowly New York Jets.
Let us know your winners and losers from Sunday’s game!