1. All of those seasons of watching Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots clobber an overmatched opponent without a hint of remorse made us appreciate ruthless excellence when we saw it. So before we get into the assorted frustrations in the Patriots’ loss Monday night – a loss that guaranteed their first losing season since 2000, the year Belichick spent cleaning up Pete Carroll and Bobby Grier’s mess – the Bills deserve a tip of the cap. The Bills clinched the AFC East title last week; Monday, remorselessly and ruthlessly, they showed just how far the gap is between them and the Patriots right now. Buffalo scored on five of its first six possessions, with the “failed” possession a quarterback kneel-down at the end of the first half. Stefon Diggs treated J.C. Jackson like he was Duane Starks, beating him for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns (and scoring three overall), including a 50-yarder as the Bills broke the game open, turning a 17-9 game into a 31-9 thumping before halftime. Then Allen and the Bills came out on their first possession of the second half and tried to strike deep again. The Patriots at their peak never had much sympathy for their opponents (think Belichick vs. Joe Gibbs, 2007). The Bills, seeking some catharsis for the last 20 years, wanted to crush an inferior opponent Monday night. They did it, and Patriots fans who have seen it from the other side for so long have to respect it.
2. The Patriots managed to hang around early, but it felt – and proved to be – tenuous. Even when they were in the game, they kept making the kind of unfocused mistakes that have been so uncharacteristic of them in the past. Damiere Byrd had an inexcusable drop on a double pass on the Patriots’ third play from scrimmage; they ended up having to settle for a field goal on the drive. Nick Folk missed an extra point that would have tied it at 10. Adam Butler jumped offsides twice on the same series (one was declined), extending the Bills’ first touchdown drive. And Jackson probably shouldn’t have taunted Diggs after breaking up an early pass. Diggs finished with nine catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns, laughing all the way to the end zone on every one of them. The Patriots just did so many things that a bad team does.
3. A reader asked on Twitter Monday what the Patriots record would be with Tom Brady. I guessed maybe 9-7, with no playoff berth and endless frustration on his part about the caliber of the players he’d be delivering the ball to. But it’s really hard to tell, because it’s not just that Brady’s gone — or that the talent and depth on the roster is depleted for a lot of reasons — but that the Patriots’ quarterback play has been so far below replacement level that it’s hard to calculate how much better things would be with even a mediocre passing game. Cam Newton just can’t throw anymore. It was evident when he bounced a sad one-hopper to N’Keal Harry with 12 seconds left in the first half, it was evident in his 34 yards passing in the first half … it’s been evident for weeks. He’s an easy guy to root for, but it was practically a mercy benching when Belichick finally pulled him for the uninspiring Jarrett Stidham after one series in the second half.
4. It’s remarkable how well the Patriots have been able to run the ball given that they’re so inept in the passing game. While Newton was throwing for all of 34 yards in the first half, the Patriots ran 17 times for 130 yards before the break. Sony Michel had 63 of those yards on eight carries, including a 29-yard burst on the first play from scrimmage. He finished with 10 carries for 69 and has 20 carries for 142 yards over the past two weeks. We should probably remember that Michel is an asset. J.J. Taylor had a 28-yard burst of his own. I wish we’d seen more of him this season, and hope he gets 10-12 touches against the Jets.
5. If Belichick plays him next week, Newton has an outside shot at tying his record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14), set during his exceptional rookie year in 2011. Newton still runs with cleverness, but having taken more than his share of lumps, the 31-year-old has moments where he looks like he’s lumbering a bit before the overdrive button activates. He stumbled slightly on his cut during his 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but it was impressive nonetheless. He shook off Mario Addison in the backfield, faked out Tremaine Edmunds with his stumble-cut, then plowed through a couple of Bills tacklers to reach the end zone. Can’t say we figured he’d have more than twice as many rushing touchdowns as touchdown passes this season, though.
6. Adam Butler has produced a solid season, entering Monday’s game with six quarterback hits, five tackles for losses, and three sacks. But he had a rough stretch of undisciplined play on the Bills’ second possession, jumping offside twice. The first was declined – Allen ran for 22 yards on fourth and one – but the second cost J.C. Jackson an interception in the end zone, which would have been his ninth of the season. Two plays later , Zack Moss ran it in for a 10-3 lead. That first Bills touchdown drive was frustrating beyond Butler’s jumpiness and Allen’s run on fourth and one from the Patriots 43. The Patriots appeared to be holding the Bills to a three-and-out, but the punt coverage team left Siran Neal uncovered, and the Bills seized upon the situation with a fake punt. Up-man Jacquan Johnson took the snap and completed the 13-yard pass to Moss before Jonathan Jones could arrive on the scene.
7. I’d like to see Louis Riddick get one of the general manager openings for which he’s reportedly interviewed, but as a football watcher, I’m conflicted, because I really like the chemistry Riddick, Brian Griese, and Steve Levy have developed on Monday Night Football. There’s no shtick with this trio; Levy’s enthusiasm is authentic, and Riddick and Griese are clearly film junkies who break down why something did or didn’t work – such as Terez Hall shooting the wrong gap on Moss’s touchdown run – immediately and precisely. Levy gets a bonus point for asking how the production team found a picture of Steve Grogan without his ubiquitous neck roll. Say, think Grogan is available to take a few snaps against the Jets?
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