Three Takeaways From Bills’ Hard-Fought 24-17 Loss vs. Patriots

12/22/2019
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In a battle that resembled a playoff game, the Buffalo Bills fought hard but couldn’t beat the New England Patriots, losing 24 to 17. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and company moved to 12-3, guaranteeing another division championship, their ninth in the last 10 years. Buffalo, now 10-5, has the fifth seed guaranteed for next month’s playoffs. Here are my top three takeaways from Saturday’s game:

Loss is frustrating but not back-breaking

This Bills team has proven all season long that they can hang with anyone in the league, winning a bunch of games and showing resilience in tough situations. Even in their losses, outside of Philadelphia, they always had a shot to win, with those games coming down to minor details making the difference in the opposition’s favor. 

Saturday wasn’t any different. Despite many ups and downs throughout the game, Buffalo kept it close all afternoon, holding the lead during the third quarter and having the opportunity to tie the game with a touchdown late in the fourth. Just like in their previous loss, against the Baltimore Ravens, they were stopped in the red zone, falling short of their goal.

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This isn’t a team built to win it all in 2019, but they continue to challenge the odds and play at the highest level in the league week in and week out. In the last four weeks, against Dallas, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England, Buffalo has earned the respect of all the NFL community and, without a doubt, they aren’t a team that will be fun to play against in the wildcard round. They have a shot to steal an away game there and, long-term, they’re headed in the right direction. Bills Mafia might be frustrated because of another loss versus the Patriots, but they can rest knowing it should be changing very soon.

A missed opportunity on a perfect stage 

Setting this season’s growth aside for a moment and focusing just on today’s game, it’s tough to not be frustrated with this missed opportunity. This is a team that has been showing their competitiveness all year long; it doesn’t surprise the Bills’ fans anymore that they can compete with the cream of the crop in the league. Now, they need to take the next step, and today was the perfect stage to accomplish it.

A win would have put the Bills and Patriots in a tie atop the division, with New England holding just a tie-breaker advantage. With another win in week 17 and a Patriots loss, the Bills would have won the division title. It would have been improbable, but a win against Brady at Foxborough would have definitely set Buffalo as a true AFC contender in the playoffs. It would make fans believe that 2019 was the beginning of a new era, one where the Patriots wouldn’t sit comfortably in the AFC East throne anymore. Not so fast.

Bill Belichick again showed why he’s one of the best, if not the best coach in the history of the game. With a perfect game plan, his offense gashed the Bills’ defense, winning the time of possession 38:52 to 21:08. They out-gained Buffalo’s offense 414 to 268 in total yards. Tom Brady, maybe not on his prime anymore, proved he still can be, at the very least, an elite game manager, completing 26 of 33 passes for 271 yards, one TD, and no turnovers. He led the team to convert eight of 16 third and fourth down situations.

With the Bills’ offense, as usual, struggling with consistency, and the Patriots’ offense establishing the running game and staying on the field with third-and-short conversions, Buffalo couldn’t keep the third quarter lead or come from behind in the fourth. The opportunity was palpable, but ultimately slipped through their hands. Maybe next time, maybe in the playoffs, Bills fans.

Lessons to be taken

It’s not a problem if some people sleep on the Bills with the playoffs coming. It should be even better for the team if they do. However, they have a lot of room for improvement going forward, and there are lessons to be taken from this Patriots matchup.

First of all, the offense needs to diminish the early downs penalties and negative plays. It’s been killing some of their drives and it needs to be corrected ASAP. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll must review his strategies in those situations, the offensive line needs to be held accountable with the false starts and holding penalties, and Josh Allen needs to do a better job getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid costly sacks.

Another important step, come playoff time, is establishing the running game more with the quarterback as a rushing threat. Allen is a dangerous runner, is at his best when he gets his yards on the ground, and has done a better job taking care of the football in those situations. The read-options, RPOs, and designed QB runs can be the key to build some consistency in this Bills offense. Daboll used such strategies more in the second half, and it gave the unit a boost. With the win-or-go-home games approaching, you can’t hold anything back anymore, it needs to be a major part of the Bills’ game plan.

Last but not least, I hate to do it, but I need to criticize this defensive performance. This loss was mostly on them, in my opinion. Let me explain.

Yeah, the offense couldn’t do much, struggling for the majority of the game, I know, but is it any different than what we saw all year? Nope. This isn’t a team built to be carried by their offense. Not yet. This team is led by its elite defense, one that held opponents below 20 points per game consistently all season long. They held Brady and this Patriots offense to nine points in week three but couldn’t stop them all afternoon Saturday.

They started well with Jordan Poyer forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Micah Hyde, but that was it. They couldn’t stop the run, opening up the play-action and the middle of the field for Brady and Edelman, who caught five of six targets for 72 important yards. They couldn’t stop New England in the red zone in the fourth quarter, nor stop a two-point conversion, allowing them to open a seven-point lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. They missed too many tackles all game long, allowing the Patriots new sets of downs consistently.

Yeah, Allen missed some throws, penalties killed drives, and the offensive line’s blocking was suspect all game long. With that being said, if these 2019 Bills are going to win, it will happen because of their defense, and today, they didn’t play well enough.

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