The Buffalo Bills’ Week 16 matchup with the New England Patriots was essentially an AFC East championship game, with the winner in the driver seat for the division and their playoff hopes. The Bills took it to the Patriots from start to finish, pushing the pedal through the floor for 60 minutes. The Bills looked focused, aggressive, and ready to win, and the Patriots too often looked frustrated, flustered, and confused.
A critical matchup, with huge stakes on the line, and the Bills never flinched from the fight. They kept their composure, and made the plays when they needed to make them.
Let’s take a look at the most inspiring part of the game, the part that needs to be inquired about more, the part of the team that requires a better performance, and the most irksome part of the game.
Inspire: Josh Allen, Isaiah McKenzie, Stefon Diggs
The Bills dominated the Patriots’ defense because Josh Allen is an elite QB who threw to his elite WR, and Isaiah McKenzie stepped up in a massive way. Allen has had great games in his career, making signature plays that only someone with his physical traits and balls to the wall mentality can make. Allen was undoubtedly the best player that stepped onto that field at Gillette Stadium.
His connection with Stefon Diggs makes them extraordinarily dangerous, giving them a chemistry that makes them impossible to defend against when they’re clicking. Both Allen and Diggs played at high levels on Sunday, but it was Isaiah McKenzie who had the game of his life. McKenzie finished the day with career highs in catches (11) and receiving yards (125) while also reeling in a TD. With Cole Beasley and Gabe Davis both in COVID protocols, many assumed that it would be Emmanuel Sanders or even Dawson Knox who would take over and be a go-to receiver for Allen. Instead, McKenzie put together one of the best performances of the year, and the Bills needed him in a big way. It wasn’t the usual stuff at a high volume for McKenzie; he didn’t get his yards off jet sweeps, trick plays, or screens, he did it by making high level plays as a WR down the field. After dropping a tough, deep pass early in the third quarter, he came right back on the next play to pick up 11 yards and a first down. McKenzie was locked in Sunday, and it was incredible to watch from start to finish.
Inquire: The OL
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: I still don’t know what to make of the Bills’ OL situation. Put up against the wall, with their LT coming back from his second bout with COVID, and clearly not at 100%, losing Ike Boettger before halftime, they put together what might be their best game in pass protection all season. Allen needed a lot of time to put a number of his throws together, and needed to trust an often shaky OL. Spencer Brown started at LT, but moved back to RT when the Bills put Dawkins back into the game, and both had good performances. Daryl Williams was steady all game, and Mitch Morse delivered some excellent and critical blocks throughout the game. They gave him plenty of time the majority of the time; sure, there were plays that Allen needed to scramble and make a play off schedule, but it wasn’t even remotely close to what we’ve seen in previous weeks. The Patriots aren’t exactly lacking in pass rush power either, as Matt Judon has been phenomenal for this team all year, and the pass rush discipline of the Patriots often leads to other players getting clean up or effort sacks. All in all, an extremely impressive and valiant performance by an OL that has taken a lot of fair criticism throughout the year. Hopefully, this game and their next two games against very beatable opponents with weak pass rushes will give them good momentum as the Bills continue their push to the playoffs.
Require: The DL
Ed Oliver and Jerry Hughes have been the best pass rushers for the Bills this year, and it showed up again today. Unfortunately, no one else quite stepped up to the plate for them. Harrison Phillips was good as a run defender, and it’s an encouraging sign for him moving forward. However, players like Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, Greg Rousseau all made minimal impact as pass rushers. Rousseau, like many rookie pass rushers, gets a pass given his rawness and the steep learning curve that comes with playing EDGE in the NFL, and he has been very consistent and sound in run defense. Addison is over the hill as a pass rusher, Vernon Butler offers absolutely nothing, and no one else seems to be able or willing to step up. Efe Obada had a great game last week against his former team, but wasn’t nearly as active this week. The Patriots’ OL is extremely well-coached and talented, but the Bills’ lack of pass rush has been an issue for almost the entire season, save a few games here and there. They need to step up, especially in the playoffs.
Irk: Keeping the game close
Given the abysmal performance that rookie QB Mac Jones turned in, this game really should not have been as close as it was in the fourth quarter. The Bills missed several opportunities on offense, most notable the drop by Jake Kumerow on a what would have been a wide-open TD. While Allen could have laid it in a little more easily for Kumerow to make an easier catch, it was still a catchable ball, and in tough games, those catches need to be made. The Bills had chances to put this game away, and to their credit, they didn’t take the foot off the gas against the Patriots. However, the missed opportunities early on allowed the Patriots to come back and keep it within one score. The aggressive mentality is great, the lapses in execution were not, and it kept the Patriots in the game for too long.
A huge win moves the Bills to 9-6, and puts their division record at 4-1. The job isn’t over yet, as they have the Atlanta Falcons next week. The Falcons don’t present a major threat, but they are certainly no pushover either. This win gives the Bills control of their destiny, but they don’t have a large margin for error, either. They must continue their momentum moving forward, and simply take care of business against teams they’re supposed to beat. They’ve got a chance to roll into the playoffs as division winners with a ton of momentum, riding a four-game win streak. It’s time for them to put it together, and make their push for the Super Bowl.