What happened on Monday night at windy Highmark Stadium was simple … literally.
New England’s 14-10 victory over the Bills was the product of two things: Bill Belichick’s coaching and the Patriots offensive line.
For the second straight home game, Buffalo’s defensive front was manhandled for over 200 rushing yards.
Two weeks ago, Indianapolis stampeded the Bills for a staggering 264 rushing yards. Last night New England piled up 222 yards on 46 carries with a mere three passes. And that strategy gave the Patriots a five-minute edge in time of possession.
But the credit goes to Belichick’s game plan.
With the wind roaring off of Lake Erie at 25-30 mph and gusts to 55, he decided not to put the game on the arm of rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones completed two of his three throws and on the rest of his snaps, though looking at 8- and 9-man fronts, he let his offensive line take over smash open holes for a trio of tough running backs..
And as safety Jordan Poyer noted after the game … “we knew they were going to run.”
Left unsaid was … the Bills still couldn’t stop them. It’s been a season-long problem and couldn’t have come at a worse time.
That Super Bowl talk should have ended two weeks ago, but last night was the clincher as they continued their streak of alternating wins and losses for eight straight games.
Buffalo’s hopes of winning the division are minuscule with the Pats holding a 1½ game lead plus a head-to-head win with a trip to Tampa Bay against the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers up next.
The loss dropped the Bills to the seventh and final AFC playoff spot and with six other teams bidding for, at very least, a wild-card spot, it’s worth wondering whether Buffalo will hang onto a postseason berth.
What’s certain is, last season the Bills were 15-3 heading into the AFC Championship Game. Now it’s a pedestrian 7-5 with five to play and clearly, something is drastically wrong with this once-promising team, starting with inspiration.
— The Patriots’ first touchdown, a 64-yard sprint by running back Damien Harris, was New England’s longest rush of the season.
— The one New England pass thrown by rookie quarterback Mac Jones in the first half was the fewest thrown in a half of an NFL game since 1991.
— Buffalo’s only takeaway came when a Bills’ punt glanced off the facemask of New England returner N’Keal Harry with cornerback Siran Neal recovering.
— Buffalo’s only giveaway occurred when quarterback Josh Allen fumbled the exchange with running back Matt Breida with New England defensive tackle Lawrence Guy recovering.
— The Pats first sack of Allen was recorded by defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale, his first of the season since coming off the practice squad. Later linebacker Matthew Judon dumped Allen, giving him a team-leading 12.5 on the season/
— The wind off Lake Erie was so strong that Tyler Bass’ game-opening kickoff, with the gusts, sailed into the stands on the fly.
— New England’s second punt, into the wind, was a 15-yarder by Jake Bailey. It was the Pats’ shortest punt in 14 seasons. Later, Bailey had a career-best 72-yarder.
— Bass’ missed 33-yard field goal into the wind was the shortest failure of his career.
— Poyer led the Bills with eight tackles plus five solos which defensive tackle Harrison Phillips also had. Impressively, though, the Pats ran 46 times, nine of them ended with Buffalo getting a tackle for loss.
Pats defensive tackle Davon Godchaux had game highs in tackles (10) and solos (6).
— Former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley was Buffalo’s leader of the pregame charge.
— Among Buffalo’s inactives was an oddity as both kick returners, Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Marquez Steveson were on the list. Neither was injured but veteran safety Micah Hyde took the position given the conditions. Also inactive were fullback/tight end Reggie Gillam (ankle), defensive end Efe Obada (hip), offensive tackle Jamil Douglas and defensive tackle Vernon Butler.
(Chuck Pollock, an Olean Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)