I didn't think there was a scenario where the Patriots would not only beat the Buffalo Bills, but categorically look like the better team for a full 60 minutes on Sunday morning, but here we are. This was an offense that was averaging less than 14 points a game and put up over double their seasonal average before this week, and more than they've scored outright in the last three weeks in one game.
While the Patriots deserve their flowers in a winning effort that has the potential to hurt the Bills down the road, it takes two to tango, and Buffalo was a train wreck of a dance partner. They allowed Mac Jones to complete over 80 percent of his throws, shredding them in the short and intermediate areas, couldn't get any pressure, and they needed 35 minutes to score their first touchdown and, on top of that, played a soft brand of football. Ultimately, I'd say this game says more about Buffalo than New England, but a win is a win is a win. Here are your key takeaways from film.
Pop Goes the Weasel
The Pop Douglas Hive had a tremendous Sunday, as the rookie from Liberty had his standout game against a stout Bills defense, specifically against standout Bills nickelback/slot corner Taron Johnson. That matchup began literally as the clock was still at 15:00 in the first quarter.
Getting a guy like Douglas in motion presnap is a great recipe for success, and Bill O'Brien put him in an excellent spot right away. This is just a Cover-1 look from the Bills, with Micah Hyde dropping back into centerfield and Jordan Poyer rolling downhill. Had Hyde stuck down in/near the box, this is probably a gain of a couple of yards max. But what Douglas does to Taron Johnson, who most likely ends up as a Pro Bowler, should be illegal in at least 35 states. By the time Douglas hits the 30-yard line, Johnson is about 10 yards away after the cutback inside. That's how dynamic Douglas can be in the open field, we saw a bit of that against Dallas and again here. The Patriots also got him going on a bubble screen and a jet sweep where he again made someone look silly.
Not that I had any doubts before Sunday, but Douglas' great hands stood out the second I first saw his work at Liberty, and he made a couple of great catches over the middle on Sunday as well.
Every team in the league needs a guy like Pop Douglas. Someone who's explosive, can lineup all over the field, is a good option to send in motion, isn't afraid of going over the middle, and can catch everything. Hopefully, Pop is in Foxborough for a long time because he's a legit NFL talent.
The Jalen Reagor Legacy Game™
Years from now, you'll be asking yourself where you were for The Jalen Reagor Legacy Game™ ...Not me, though. I had the vision.
The former first-rounder saw a significant number of snaps, likely in place of DeVante Parker after last week, and while he only caught this pass you see below, Reagor made the most of his time out there.
You may have seen it on the Pop Douglas jet sweep, but it was Reagor who made that key block, which opened things up for him to get those 20 yards. Especially in New England, that's the kind of play that will do you wonders with the coaching staff. Seeing as the former first-rounder is out of practice squad reverts and the team waived Malik Cunningham yesterday, I can see Reagor becoming a permanent fixture on the 53-man unit, especially considering that the Patriots could still be sellers at the trade deadline. But as far as he goes from Sunday, taking a chunk out of DeVante Parker's snap count, well done.
The praise that third-year IDL Christian Barmore has been receiving in light of this game is not without reason, he was that good and then some. With regularity, he was beating up on the Bills' interior offensive front and was in the face of Josh Allen. Here are just a few of his many plus-reps from Sunday.
Patriots.com's own Evan Lazar had Barmore down for a sack and three hurries, putting him at five over his last two games as a pass rusher. He's looked the best he has since his rookie year, and the numbers reflect that. He was a monster against the Raiders as well, and now looks at a Dolphins offensive interior front that's banged up for this next matchup. Big No. 90 will be one to watch the rest of the way.
Josh Allen Is Out Here Doing Anything
Turnovers have been the biggest issue that Josh Allen has refused to shake off, and he couldn't have shown that off faster against the Patriots. He entered Week 7 averaging an interception a game, with picks in three of his last four, and this is how he opened things up.
By the time Allen gets to the top of his drop, he has nothing safe downfield, with Jabril Peppers having the ability to float back on Dawson Knox or drive on Dalton Kincaid. Second point: Josh Allen had an easy check down five feet in front of him and forced the issue on play No. 1. This is the kind of stuff that should drive Bills fans insane. Just a horrible decision that led to the Bills going into an immediate 10-0 hole. On the other side, incredible play by Jabrill Peppers. That seems to be a recurring theme since about Week 10 of last year. In any case, he reads Allen's eyes the entire way, and gets back to the catch point at the perfect moment, making a very good interception.
Arm Talent is a hyper-common buzzword when you are talking about a guy like Allen. While that is warranted, that means nothing if you can't put the ball in the right spot.
I don't want to make it seem like this was the easiest throw to make, but Allen has to do a better job than this. Stefon Diggs blows by the bracket coverage by the time he gets to the 45, and proceeds to lead Diggs from the inside of the numbers to the inside of the left hash. It's also worth mentioning that this was the first play on the drive where Buffalo got turned over on downs.
First of all, I hate this play call by Ken Dorsey going with the flood concept on 4th&2, but they get a good look with Knox on the drag route. Allen simply misses his window and gets this to him way too late, leading to JaWhaun Bentley's excellent PBU. But if you're Allen, you can't waste valuable time waving guys around and pump-faking when the inside of your line is collapsing. Knox should have held onto this, but Allen certainly isn't blameless. Now, one last bad play from Allen.
Put this one in the 'process over results' folder, because while this throw went incomplete and the Bills ended up scoring a go-ahead touchdown here a handful of plays later, this was a horrendous decision by Allen. If Dugger picks this off, it isn't kneel-down territory, but it's right on the edge. It's games like these where I find it hard to put Allen on the level of Patrick Mahomes or even Joe Burrow. He has all the talent in the world, but his decision-making and his ability to take care of the ball have been suspect his entire career, and 2023 is no different.
Return of the (2021) Mac
Now that some time has passed, this may not have been Mac Jones' best game as a Patriot, but it's certainly in the conversation for several factors. Since being drafted, he had never beaten a team that scored at least 25 points and had never led a game-winning drive (tied or trailing) in his career, and he decided to hit three birds with one stone. With B.O'B getting Mac back to what he was comfortable with in year one, plus a great offensive line performance with Sidy Sow at right guard and Mike Onwenu at right tackle, Jones felt as comfortable as he's been in years, and it showed. Here's every throw he made on that game-winning drive, where Jones went 6/7 for 64 yards and a touchdown.
This is exactly how you let McCorkle go to work. Give him some quick developing stuff, and then let the intermediate part of the field open up on its own. Those sideline deep shots that he's been doing these last two seasons aren't his bag, and that's perfectly fine. Don't make Jones something he isn't. Let him dissect the middle of the field, which he did to perfection on Sunday. He was as fired up as anyone in Gillette Stadium, and for good reason. Jones has had to take a ton of heat, more so locally than nationally, but still both over the last 18 months, and no matter what you think of him as a quarterback, the key players in that locker room were all happy to see him have this moment.
Final Score: New England Patriots 29, Buffalo Bills 25
Gaffney's Three Stars from Patriots-Bills 1
3rd Star - Christian Barmore (1 Sack, 4 Pressures, 3 Tackles)
2nd Star - Jabrill Peppers (9 Tackles, 1 Pick, Currently Graded as the No. 1 Run Defender in the NFL, Regardless of Position)
1st Star - Mac Jones (25-30, 272 Yards, 2 TDs, 3 Rushes for 11 Yards)
Honorary 3rd Stars - Mike Vrabel and Dante Scarnecchia (Inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame)
Honorary 2nd Star - Bill Belichick (Coaching Win No. 300)
Honorary 1st Star - The Silver Pants (The All-Navy look is bad and should be permanently ditched. I can turn the Patriots Uniform Set from C Tier to S Tier, but that's for another time)
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