Sunday, January 16, 2022

Bills Destroy Patriots 47-17

The Patriots playoff run came to an abrupt halt with a crushing 47-17 defeat at the hands of division rival Buffalo. The loss knocks them out of the post-season. And the scope of the loss calls into question how far into their rebuild they really are.

This one was over early. The Bills scored on their first drive, got an end zone interception that ended a Patriots threat, and drove that possession down for another score 10 plays later. In fact, the Bills didn't punt in the entire game -- the second straight game against the Patriots without a single punt. (Last time they got a bunch of fourth-down conversions, this time they never *got* to a fourth down.)

There is a clear talent disparity between the two teams. Buffalo is young, hungry, and one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. The Patriots are old, slow, seemingly less hungry, more injured, and based strictly on player talent probably shouldn't have been in the playoffs.

But despite that, the magnitude of this loss falls first on the coaching. The Bills shredded the Pats defense for two straight games, yet there weren't many adjustments or new wrinkles to slow them down. They mostly rushed four, mostly played zone, and mostly got killed on underneath routes and occasional long throws.

By the end of this game they couldn't stop the run, short passes, medium passes, or long passes. And unless I'm missing something, there isn't anything else allowed on offense.

In past years, I would blast opposing coaches who wouldn't adjust even though they got beaten year after year. One I remember distinctly was former head coach of Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio. He would use the same soft zone game after game and the Patriots would destroy that defense game after game.

In 2007 Tom Brady completed 26 of 28 passes and one of the misses was a Wes Welker drop. Yet Del Rio would never change, stubbornly trotting out his same old defense to get destroyed every single time.

That's how I see the Patriots against the Bills. Three weeks ago they did nothing to slow down the Bills offense, not forcing a single punt. And last night they trotted out the same old defense and got dominated again.

Before the game I wrote that they needed to do some zero-safety blitzes, to make Bills QB Josh Allen get rid of the ball quickly and to take away his scrambling and running lanes. They didn't even try that once. The probably didn't have the personnel to pull it off. But they could have at least given it a shot.

It isn't as if they don't have that defense in their arsenal. Belichick was showing it two weeks ago on Patriots All Access when breaking down the Dolphins game -- and showing how then defensive coordinator Brian Flores ran it in the Patriots 2018 Super Bowl win.

Seven touchdowns on seven possessions means you need to try *something*. But the Patriots never did. The Pats converted 7 of 14 third downs, but the Bills only faced 7 third downs. The Patriots went 4 of 4 on fourth down, but the Bills never even faced a fourth down.

As for the players on the field, in a loss this lopsided it was mostly all bad. Probably the best thing you can say is the young players got a taste of what playoff football is like. Maybe they'll be better prepared for the intensity the next time they are on that stage.

How bad was the defense. When your top five tacklers were in the secondary, that tells you the D-line and linebackers couldn't stop anything before it got started. I recall bad plays by most every linebacker and secondary player, and the defensive line just got pushed back and gashed over and over.

Mat Judon is obviously hurt, Ja'Whaun Bentley will always be a limited player, Dont'a Hightower looks cashed, and Kyle Van Noy had more hits in that Dunkin' Donuts commercial than in the game.

The defensive backfield would have looked a lot different if they'd kept star corner Stephon Gilmore or if Jonathan Jones hadn't gotten hurt. J.C. Jackson is up for a big payday, but his play the last two Bills games (and frankly against Miami) has exposed issues with his play.

The offense struggled to run early, gave up too much QB pressure, and the receivers had trouble getting separation. There are pieces here that can help as the Patriots build toward becoming a contender again: both young running backs, receivers Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, and Jakobi Meyers. But most of the rest of the weapons can hit the road -- including fullback Jacob Johnson, he of the stone hands, false start penalty, and missed assignment on the blocked punt against Indy.

And let's not let Mac Jones off the hook. On his first INT he never looked off the safety. And the second one was a throw right into coverage -- which was popped up and picked. He's young and still has a lot of growth ahead of him. But he was not nearly good enough to compete in this game.

As if to prove Bill Belichick's wisdom about turnovers, Jones tossed just 3 picks in the Patriots 10 wins, but he threw 12 in their 8 losses (including last night).

Where does that leave us? Trying to forget a playoff beating like we haven't seen since Super Bowl XX versus Chicago. Mac Jones did accomplish something already that Tom Brady has never done -- lost a playoff game by 30 points.

Next week I'll have the regular season awards for 2021. And probably the week after I'll have an entry about how the team can best move forward toward improving in 2022.

Otherwise, you are free to enjoy (or envy) another Brady playoff run without fear -- you won't have to see the Patriots play the Bucs this post-season.

Biggest on-going concern: At the moment it's what Belichick does with his coaching staff. His special teams coach lacks experience and that area was a huge disappointment. Joe Judge is available, maybe time to bring him back. BB's son called the defensive signals -- and we saw how that went recently. And as always there are too many home-grown assistants and not enough outside perspectives.

Non-QB MVP: Bourne with 7 catches for 77 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is a keeper; runs precise routes, blocks well on running plays, and competes for every ball and every yard.

Statistical oddity: If Brady wins the Super Bowl this year, he would have 38 total playoff victories. That will be more than any entire FRANCHISE has in NFL history! (Note: the only team with 37 victories currently is the Patriots -- in case you were wondering if this would motivate Brady. Also, Dallas or Pittsburgh are close enough that they could have 38 by the end of this season, too -- but not Green Bay, not enough games before they'd have to play the Bucs. And in my scenario, Brady and the Bucs would beat GB.)

Water-cooler wisdom: "Now I know how helpless all those teams in 2007 felt."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-8 & 0-1!

PPS. :(

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