On a breezy and blustery night in Orchard Park, N.Y., the Patriots allowed rookie quarterback Mac Jones to throw only three passes, two of which came during the fourth quarter. They relied on their running game and defense to extend their winning streak to seven games by beating the Buffalo Bills, 14-10.
“We played kind of the way we felt like we needed to play to win,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said.
The Patriots improved to 9-4, retained first place in the AFC East and maintained their hold on the No. 1 playoff seed in the conference. The Patriots, after a 2-4 start, have not lost since Oct. 17.
“There was a lot of situational football that I thought we, for the most part, handled fairly well,” Belichick said during his postgame news conference. “You’ve just got to give the players a lot of credit for just being tough, being physical, being resilient and dealing with a really good football team and, you know, conditions that were somewhat challenging. So good to get the win and time to move on.”
Those “somewhat challenging” conditions included wind gusts to 50 mph and above. The Patriots had 46 rushing attempts on 49 offensive plays. They amassed 222 rushing yards.
“I didn’t think it’d be like that, to be honest with you,” Patriots tailback Rhamondre Stevenson said. “But after I saw the weather pregame and things like that, the coaches started telling us like, ‘We know what type of game it’s going to be.’ So after that, we knew. Everyone knew.”
Stevenson ran for 78 yards on 24 carries. Fellow Patriots tailback Damien Harris had 111 yards on only 10 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Patriots followed that touchdown dash by Harris with a two-point conversion, not even daring to try an extra point into the wind. Kicker Nick Folk added a pair of field goals. Jones completed 2 of 3 passes for 19 yards on the night. The Patriots had 32 consecutive running plays before Jones’s second passing attempt of the game.
“For the offensive line to do what they did was incredible,” Jones said. “They deserve all the credit in the world. … We knew that we were going to be able to run the ball. The running backs ran hard. … You couldn’t ask for better effort from those guys. Yeah, it’s just a crazy game to be a part of. But we knew if we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d be good. So it was just a weird day. But at the end of the day, you just get more points than the other team and it’s a great day.”
The New England defense did the heavy lifting, and fittingly so. The Patriots entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and first in scoring defense. Opponents have totaled only 73 points over the seven games of the Patriots’ winning streak.
“We know coming in here playing, it’s a tough atmosphere and environment,” linebacker Matthew Judon told ESPN afterward. “And then when you add the wind and the weather, we’re just happy we got the [win]. That’s a really good football team. We’ve got to play them again, so we’ve just got to continue to be focused and stay mentally prepared.”
The Bills scored a first-quarter touchdown on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Josh Allen to wide receiver Gabriel Davis immediately following a muffed punt by Patriots returner N’Keal Harry. Kicker Tyler Bass had a third-quarter field goal. But the Bills could not capitalize on the fourth-quarter chances they created for themselves with a pair of drives, even while moving against the wind, deep into New England territory.
Bass missed a field goal. Then, on the Bills’ last-gasp effort, Allen threw incomplete on a fourth-and-14 play from the New England 18-yard line with just less than two minutes to play. His third-down pass into the end zone for tight end Dawson Knox had been broken up.
“Just playing good team defense,” Judon said. “They can score a lot. You just try to bend but don’t break and keep them to a field goal.”
It was that kind of night for the Bills. They could not take advantage of a 15-yard punt by the Patriots in the first quarter. The Bills took possession at the New England 40-yard line but lost a fumble on a botched handoff.
“I’ve got to play better, be better for this team,” Allen said.
The Bills, who dropped to 7-5, have gone 3-4 since a four-game winning streak in September and October in which they outscored opponents by an average margin of 28.8 points. Their frustration is showing. Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde became testy when asked during their joint postgame news conference whether it was embarrassing that the Buffalo defense could not halt the Patriots’ running game.
“What kind of question is that? ... We made stops when we had to,” Poyer said. “They had one big run. I mean, they’ve got good backs. They kept coming back to a couple runs. I mean, I don’t know how you want us to answer that question.”
Hyde said: “That’s funny. We’ll remember that. I’ll remember that.”
As he left the interview room, Hyde said to reporters: “It’s all about respect. I come here every single week and I answer your questions truthfully, honestly. I appreciate you guys. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.”
The rematch comes Dec. 26 in Foxborough, Mass.
“We’ll see this team again,” Poyer said. “It’s a good football team that we lost to today, and we’ll figure out a way to bounce back.”
By then, the Bills had better have some answers for the Patriots’ runners.
“It just comes down to execution,” Stevenson said. “The Bills knew what we were going to do. So they had eight [defenders] in the box, things like that. So we just had to execute, get a hat on a hat, and run hard.”