This article originally appeared on USA TODAY Sports+: Bills pick up huge win over Patriots, but there is still more to prove

Bills pick up huge win over Patriots, but there is still more to prove

Richard Morin
USA TODAY Sports+

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Buffalo Bills followed a familiar script Sunday en route to a 33-21 win over the New England Patriots.

It was a crucial win, one that gave the Bills the inside track in the AFC East title race. But it didn't prove anything new.

Buffalo was in complete control of the game. The Bills scored first, went into halftime with a lead and never trailed during what quarterback Josh Allen called a "complete and situational football win" at Gillette Stadium.

"I mean, we had no punts today," Allen said. "(Punter) Matt Haack came out and was like, 'We need to get a picture because I've never done that in my life.'"

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass.

The Bills (9-6) simply weren't tested by the Patriots (9-6) and rolled to a double-digit victory. Still, with two games remaining before the playoffs, Buffalo hasn't proved it can win a close game.

The Bills are 0-5 this season in games decided by seven points or fewer. Since 2019, they are just 8-12 in such games. 

As much as their wins have followed a similar script—jumping out to an early lead and maintaining it—their losses also feature a common thread.

In their season-opening loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills were unable to overcome two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 23-16 defeat.

Against the Tennessee Titans Week 6, the Bills couldn't prevent running back Derrick Henry from stamping a game-winning touchdown drive with 3:05 left. The Titans won, 34-31.

Next came a Week 9 stunner when the Jacksonville Jaguars collected a 9-6 victory with the Bills unable to score a single touchdown.

The Bills were then unable to stop the Patriots in a Week 13 clash in Buffalo that saw New England emerge with a 14-10 victory despite attempting just three passes.

Finally, the Bills rallied back from a 27-10 deficit against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following week only to lose the game in overtime to a Tom Brady touchdown pass.

Dec 12, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs with the ball against the Buffalo Bills during overtime at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Five games decided by a touchdown or less. All losses for the Bills.

"I think we continue to learn lessons," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game. "This is in some ways a young football team and a young leadership group. It's hard to follow up a season like last year with a similar season the next year."

Buffalo jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when Allen found wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie for a three-yard touchdown connection.

After the Patriots evened the score with a Damien Harris touchdown run in the first quarter, the Bills added a second touchdown and a field goal to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.

The Bills opened the third quarter with another field goal before the Patriots made it a 20-14 game with Harris' second touchdown rush of the game.

Allen responded by leading a 66-yard drive punctuated by a Devin Singletary touchdown run from two yards out, but the Patriots executed a 75-yard drive on the ensuing possession and made it a 26-21 game with 7:37 left.

Still playing with the score in their favor, the Bills drove 75 yards in the other direction and re-established their 12-point lead.

Bills players were told to keep pushing, and they did.

"Our message for the whole game was, ‘no matter what, don't take your foot off the gas,’” Singletary said after the game. "Just keep going, you know what I mean? Just keep moving. Keep applying pressure."

Allen, who completed 30 of 47 passes and threw three touchdowns, wasn't sacked and looked cozy in the pocket.

Everything from Allen's body language and progressions to his cadence and execution was aided by playing from ahead on the scoreboard.

"I think it keeps you two-dimensional," Allen said of playing with a lead. "Running, passing, rollouts, nakeds, quick game, some deep shots … it just forces the defense to play all types of situations in every inch of the grass."

Playing from behind, however, is a different story. Like most quarterbacks, Allen's career numbers take a hit when his team is trailing.

Entering play Sunday, his career completion percentage dipped nearly 6% when behind. He was also more likely to throw an interception in those situations.

Granted, these trends are not exclusive to Allen. Quarterbacks tend to take more risks when trailing in games. Most see their statistics decline when behind, but Allen has yet to win a game this season while being forced to take those risks.

It remains to be seen whether Allen and the Bills can win games that come down to the final possession, the type of situations they are likely to see if they reach the playoffs.

INSIDER'S TAKE:Bills must rely on momentum, QB Josh Allen for playoff push

The Bills have two games remaining against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, both of whom boast losing records.

"We're where we want to be right now," Allen said. "We still have to find ways to win football games, move the ball and take advantage of opportunities. A playoff-caliber mindset, that's what we have."