Patriots: Defense no-shows in 33-21 loss to Buffalo, Pats drop to No. 6 seed in the AFC

FOXBOROUGH – A year ago at this time, the Patriots were playing for pride, and even that was iffy.

A day after Christmas this season, the stakes could not have been higher at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

With the Bills visiting for a much-anticipated rematch of the Monday night hurricane game a few weeks ago, there was no Christmas spirit on the field, just pure hatred with the AFC East division title on the line.

Unfortunately for the Patriots and their fans, it was Buffalo leaving with one final gift in the form of a 33-21 win over New England after the defense had arguably its worst performance of the season.

The Patriots were the No. 1 seed two weeks ago. Now, at 9-6, New England is currently the six seed and by no means guaranteed a playoff spot.

“Well, kind of a little bit like last week. Not a lot to say here. Obviously Buffalo made more plays than we did today, played better than we did, coached better than we did,” said Bill Belichick. “We just didn’t perform well enough to really have a good chance to win the game. We have to find a way to do better. Again, they made more plays than we did. Give them credit and set to go back to work here for next week.”

For the second straight week, the Patriots simply didn’t look like themselves in the first half and trailed by 10 at the break because of it. The hole was ultimately too big to dig out of.

After a quick three-and-out from the offense to open the game, Buffalo marched 75 yards in 13 plays and chewed up 6:57 of clock, capping the drive on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Josh Allen (30-47/314/3 TD) to Isaiah McKenzie to make it 7-0. McKenzie (11/125/1) was the biggest problem throughout the afternoon for the Patriots’ defense.

New England did respond on its next possession, with Damien Harris (18/103/3) rumbling in from 16-yards out following a 4th-and-1 conversion. Nick Folk’s PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 14:28 left in the second. Buffalo put together a 10-play drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Tyler Bass to push the lead to 10-7. Three plays later – immediately after a brutal N’Keal Harry drop – Jones was looking for Harry again over the middle but the ball was behind him, tipped and then picked off by Micah Hyde, setting the Bills up with great field position at the New England 23.

The Patriots defense came up big – thanks in large part to a drop by Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone on 4th-and-goal – and earned a turnover on downs from inside its own 1-yard line with just over five minutes left in the half.

New England punted three plays later and the Bills took over at the Pats’ 42. Facing 4th-and-7 at the Pats’ 39, Buffalo got Christian Barmore to jump offside, making it a much-more-manageable 4th-and-2. Allen hit Stefon Diggs for 23 yards on the next play and then found him again for a 12-yard TD soon thereafter to push the lead to 17-7.

The Pats’ got bailed out after a failed third down by a roughing the passer call, but the referees soon interjected themselves a bit more and halted any Patriots momentum before the half. Following the RTP call, Mac scrambled for seven yards out near midfield and seemingly drew a late hit flag out of bounds, but the flag was picked up. After the discussion and before the next snap, Trent Brown was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, pushing the ball back to force New England into a 3rd-and-18 situation. The Pats punted back to Buffalo, the Bills ran three plays and happily took the 17-7 lead to the locker room.

“What we ruled was, we had contact on the sideline. And after discussion, we determined that it was incidental contact that didn’t rise to a level of a personal foul,” referee Shawn Smith told pool reporter Mike Reiss after the game regarding the play with Jones. “There was no second act by the defender in that situation, so we determined there was no foul, based on that action.”

The Bills put together a 14-play drive that lasted 5:58 to open the third quarter, reaching the Patriots’ two. But, several penalties ended up killing Buffalo’s momentum and kept the Pats in the game when Bass kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 20-7.

Harris ripped off a 31-yard run to start the ensuing drive, Harry had a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-8 to extend the drive and Meyers came up with a big catch on 4th-and-3 to keep the drive going as well. All that eventually led to a 1-yard TD run from Harris, cutting it to 20-14 heading to the fourth.

The Patriots defense just couldn’t get off the field all day (Buffalo never punted on Sunday) and eventually scored again early in the fourth, this time on a 2-yard touchdown run for Devin Singletary. The two-point attempt after was no good, keeping it a 26-14 game.

Jones and the offense had another big response drive spanning 10 plays and 75 yards in just over four minutes. An 8-yard touchdown run for Harris – marking his fifth 100-yard game and the eighth of his career – cut it to 26-21 with 7:37 to go. JC Jackson dropped an interception early in the drive that would’ve changed everything. Instead, Buffalo moved 75-yards downfield in 13 plays and put a dagger through the hearts of Patriots fans everywhere with a 2-yard TD pass to Dawson Knox. Jones was intercepted near the Buffalo goal line on a desperation heave on fourth down in the final two minutes to finish off the ugly day.

“You can’t have successful plays when your quarterback’s not doing the right thing, so I have to play better and get the ball to the people that need to get the ball,” said Jones. “There’s no excuses…I think we just need to execute better. It really just wasn’t our day. But there’s no excuses and there’s really nothing to talk about. I didn’t play great. I can play better and I can lead a lot better. It starts with me, so we’ll just have to look in the mirror and address what we can and just keep working to get better every day.”

With games against Jacksonville and Miami remaining, it’s very possible the Patriots win out and end up getting in the playoffs. The problem is, after expectations suddenly started involving Super Bowl talk as the No. 1 seed with a bye just 14 days ago, being in this position with two weeks left is unacceptable, regardless of what those expectations were to start the season.

““It’s our own fault. There is no one to blame except for us,” said David Andrews. “That is what it is, can’t change it now, got to get back to work tomorrow.”

“We’ve got to get together as a team, we got to come closer and we’ve just got to do the right things,” added Kyle Van Noy. “We’ve just got to practice a little bit better, I’m not saying practice was bad, we’ve just got to watch a little extra film here and there and tweak some things and just play better. You know, I can sit up here and talk all day about yadda yadda yadda, but at the end of the day we just got to go produce, you know, talk less and play more.”