Bills report card: Josh Allen, Isaiah McKenzie deliver masterpiece to torture Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - For more years than I care to count, I have sat up in the press box at Gillette Stadium and watched otherworldly quarterback play.
Almost always, it was by the guy who used to play for the New England Patriots, that guy named Tom Brady who tortured the Buffalo Bills the way no player has ever tortured one particular team.
What goes around, comes around, Patriots fans.
I’m not here to compare Josh Allen to Tom Brady, who I have to grudgingly admit is the GOAT. I wouldn’t dare. But Sunday afternoon, Allen put on a performance that rivaled anything Brady ever did to the Bills in this former land of misery nestled in the suburbs of Boston.
Instant analysis:Bills defeat arch-nemesis Patriots 33-21 to take control of AFC East
Allen was at the top of his game, and as we’ve come to find out, when he’s playing like that, you need an express elevator to get up that high. Buffalo’s 33-21 victory over the Patriots was truly a team effort, but Allen, as is usually the case, was the driving force behind it all and far and away the best player on the field, just the way it used to be with Brady.
Allen directed an offense that produced 33 points, 428 yards, and 28 first downs against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Bills had possession of the ball seven times when you take away both end of half situations. On those seven drives they put up points on six of them, and the other one was stopped on a fourth-down play at the 1.
“Obviously Buffalo made more plays than we did today, played better than we did, coached better than we did,” said dour Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Buffalo’s receivers played well, they threw the ball well, they ran after the catch well. They did a good job. Did a better job than we did, that's for sure.”
Yeah, that about sums it up. Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:
PASS OFFENSE: A
Allen was magnificent in a game that he had to step up in. Of course, you can say that almost every week, but this was off the charts impressive, beating a very good defense, in its house, with the division lead at stake. Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three TDs and he did not turn the ball over.
Isaiah McKenzie stepped in for Cole Beasley and had the game of his life with 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, and Stefon Diggs chipped in seven catches for 85 yards and a TD. Whenever a play needed to be made in the passing game, the Bills made it and they did so whether the Patriots were in man or zone. They had an answer for everything, just an outstanding performance. Sean McDermott said Brian Daboll called a great game and he was right.
And a big reason for the success was the play of the offensive line. That’s not a mis-typed sentence. This may have been its best game of the year despite some really tough obstacles, specifically losing LG Ike Boettger to a torn Achilles. Four players played multiple positions after that unfortunate injury, including Ryan Bates having to play the most he ever has for the Bills. The result was no sacks. Dion Dawkins wasn’t even supposed to play, but he stepped in without practicing all week and did a great job.
RUN OFFENSE: B-
Devin Singletary has really given the Bills some solid play the last two weeks, a potentially key development heading into the postseason. He gained only 39 yards, but he ran with conviction, picked up a couple key gains, scored a touchdown, and he also contributed 39 yards as a receiver on five catches.
Allen was very involved in the run game, by design, and when that’s the case, he usually makes key plays. He led the Bills with 64 yards on 12 rushes including a 25-yard scramble up the middle, and he also converted a fourth-and-1 with a well-executed bootleg to the left on the clinching TD drive that deliciously silenced the crowd.
Up front, the Bills’ line did a much better job than the first game against the Patriots when New England’s stout front consistently won. There were creases for Singletary to run through, and the balance the Bills were able to have helped the passing game get on that roll.
PASS DEFENSE: A
Patriots QB Mac Jones had to throw a few more than three passes in this game; 32 was the number and he completed only 14 for 145 yards with two interceptions for a passer rating of 31.4. The Bills only sacked him once, that on the second play of the game by Ed Oliver, and the pressure packages weren’t overly effective, but the coverage downfield was superb.
Safety Micah Hyde made two interceptions, one off a tipped ball in the second quarter and one on a last-minute fourth-down desperation heave. Jordan Poyer was terrific as he usually is, and there hasn’t been a game yet where the Bills have truly missed Tre White as Dane Jackson and Levi Wallace have held up just fine.
Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots with six catches for 59 yards and they had only two completions of 20 yards or more. One of the biggest keys was the near shutdown of TE Hunter Henry who had just one catch for nine yards.
RUN DEFENSE: C+
The Patriots are a running team and they’re tough to stop as the Bills found out in the first game. This game was never really out of hand so they were able to stay with their approach most of the way and they piled up 149 yards and averaged 5.5 per attempt.
This continues to be an area where the Bills have to improve because physical offensive lines have had their way with Buffalo’s front four. There were some chunk runs including a 31-yarder by Damien Harris who had another big day with 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Because the Patriots were able to grind it out, they got themselves into several fourth-and-short situations and they succeeded on 5 of 6 with three of the conversions coming on running plays. Tremaine Edmunds looked to have a solid day and led the Bills with eight tackles, and Harrison Phillips continued his breakout season. Starting in place of Star Lotulelei again, Phillips was in on six stops.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
They didn’t have much to do. Matt Haack was never asked to punt, something that has only happened five times in team history. It was such an occasion that Haack asked to have his picture taken on the field afterward to commemorate his day off.
Tyler Bass made his two field goal attempts and three extra points on a mostly windless day. In the return game, Marquez Stevenson had a nice 31-yard kickoff return and handled three punts without issue and gained 34 yards. The kickoff coverage team limited Gunnar Olszewski to 19 yards on two returns.
McDermott made it perfectly clear that he was going to be aggressive on offense, and he was. It started on the first drive of the game when he passed up a chip shot field goal and went for a fourth-and-2 at the 3 and Allen hit McKenzie for a tone-setting touchdown.
The Bills went for it four times on fourth down and converted three, and by doing that, McDermott forced Belichick’s hand and the Patriots coach had to match the aggressiveness, knowing the Bills did not want to settle for field goals.
Daboll, as McDermott said, had an excellent day. He lost WRs Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis during the week, plugged in McKenzie and Emmanuel Sanders and the offense didn’t skip a beat. Getting McKenzie so involved with a stroke of genius, but it was something that should have happened much earlier this season.
On defense, the Bills allowed the Patriots to go on three long scoring drive that totaled 18 minutes and 35 seconds of possession time. And that allowed the game to be uncomfortably close midway through the fourth quarter, but overall, when you hold a team to 288 yards and get two takeaways, you’ve done a good job.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.