Patriots

Patriots’ defense, running game hold off Bills in bad-weather bowl

The Patriots came up with two amazing defensive stands at the end of the game to preserve a hard-fought win over their division rivals.

Damien Harris Patriots
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris takes a hand off for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

The Patriots’ biggest game of the season ended up being their strangest one to date. But as with the six games before it, they found a way to win it anyway.

New England ground out a physical, bizarre 14-10 victory on the road against the division rival Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football in a game that featured wind gusts of 55 miles per hour, swirling snow, and temperatures fit for January.

Mac Jones (2-of-3, 19 yards passing) didn’t factor into this game at all, and it didn’t matter. The Patriots’ rushing attack, led by Damien Harris (10 carries, 111 yards, 1 TD) and Rhamondre Stevenson (24 carries, 78 yards), churned out tough yards all game long, and the defense turned the gutsy Bills offense away in the red zone twice without points in the fourth quarter.

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Here’s a look at the action from this unprecedented, unpredictable contest.

Fourth quarter

11:09 p.m.: That’s the ball game! New England runs the clock all the way down and never gives the ball back to Buffalo. Patriots win arguably the weirdest game of 2021.

Mac Jones’s final stat line: 2-of-3 passing for 19 yards.

Final score: 14-10.

The Patriots’ ground game and defense win the day, and New England takes firm hold of that No. 1 seed.

11:08 p.m.: Brilliant clock management by the Patriots here. They wound the clock down to 44 seconds after the Bills had to take an injury timeout and now can possibly take a super-long kneeldown to burn out the clock.

11:04 p.m.: Turnover on downs!

Josh Allen’s throw falls short of its target in the end zone, and Myles Bryant swats it to the turf to potentially seal a Patriots win.

New England brought the house on fourth down and left the middle of the field wide open, but Bryant played the situation perfectly, jumping off of his original assignment (Cole Beasley) to knock down the throw.

New England can now run the clock down to about 20 seconds before punting the ball away if they can’t put the Bills away with a first down before that.

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11:02 p.m.: Phillips is hurt and down on the field. He’s the one who made the big play on that third down. His injury apparently happened after the play in the celebration that followed, accoding to the broadcast. He’s now off the field finally.

10:59 p.m.: That’s the two-minute warning, and Buffalo now faces a got-to-have-it it fourth-and-14. Josh Allen evaded multiple sacks on that play and fired to Knox in the end zone, but Adrian Phillips makes sure the ball hits the turf for an incompletion. Another big play from the Patriots safety.

This next play could be the game.

10:57 p.m.: A false start on Dawson Knox moves the Bills back five yards, making it now third-and-14 from the 18-yard line. This much-needed drive is going backward.

10:52 p.m.: Matthew Judon got shaken up at the end of that tackle on Singletary, and he might be coming out of this game. That’s a tough blow for this defense if he can’t finish the game.

10:49 p.m.: An absolutely absurd throw from Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs nets the Bills their best play of the day: a ridiculous 26-yard completion along the left sideline into the wind. Wow.

Then, Allen drills a throw between two defenders to Dawson Knox for another first down.

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Buffalo is getting guys open and making plays in the passing game even in this blizzard, and Allen keeps finding them. A big run from Devin Singletary has the Bills just outside the red zone already.

10:47 p.m.: The Patriots roll Mac Jones out to the right for his second pass attempt of the game, but the throw to Nelson Agholor on the comeback is broken up by Dane Jackson.

Then, New England tries a screen for Brandon Bolden, but Buffalo bottles it up to force a punt. The drive is over after just three plays. Not what they wanted.

But hey, Mac Jones is now up to three pass attempts!

10:42 p.m.: And Tyler Bass misses the 33-yard chip shot going into the wind!

The Patriots turn the promising Bills drive away without points. It’s still 14-10, and New England now has a chance to burn serious time off the clock with 7:24 left in the game.

10:40 p.m.: Massive break for the Patriots as Josh Allen falls down, and Matthew Judon cleans him up for a sack.

Then, the officials don’t call offsides on the Patriots on third down after Allen got some players to flinch up front on a hard count, and Allen’s throw goes harmlessly out the back of the end zone.

Fourth down and field goal coming up.

10:37 p.m.: A big run by Allen on a scramble and a big penalty on Dont’a Hightower a few plays later have the Bills in business inside the New England 10-yard line.

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Allen broke contain and ripped off a huge 21-yard run — something he has been excellent at all season. Then, he completed a short throw to Zach Moss for a first down, and Hightower brought him down by the collar out of bounds for a 15-yard penalty.

Fortunately, the Bills have had to burn two timeouts already with 8:18 still left in the ball game. That could aid the Patriots later.

10:34 p.m.: Allen apparently doesn’t care about throwing into the wind. He just completed a third-and-1 bullet to Stefon Diggs to earn a fresh set of downs. Gutsy call when conventional wisdom might have said to run a QB sneak there.

Of course, the dangers of throwing into this wind come up on the next play: a high throw to Emmanuel Sanders almost ended up in Adrian Phillips’s hands.

Still, the Bills’ willingness to throw in this weather with their big-armed quarterback makes them dangerous.

10:28 p.m.: The Bills got tired of that punishing drive and finally stamped it out. Matt Milano dropped Rhamondre Stevenson twice for losses, and Brandon Bolden couldn’t pick up 18 yards to move the sticks on third down.

Nick Folk hits a knuckling kick through the uprights to push the score back to a four-point lead, 14-10.

Mac Jones has not thrown the ball in the second half, and he might not unless the Patriots are trailing for some reason. Once again, though, the drive accomplished this goal: the Bills’ offense will be moving into the wind for the rest of the game.

Third quarter

10:23 p.m.: Third quarter is in the books. Amazing clock management by the Patriots and excellent running by Rhamondre Stevenson.

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The rookie diced up the Bills twice with slick cuts in the backfield and hard running through arm tackles to pick up first downs — this latest one at the Buffalo 10-yard line.

On top of that, the now-6:35 drive chewed up all of Buffalo’s remaining time with the wind at their backs in this game.

10:22 p.m.: As predicted, the first-down call stands. The Patriots resume their drive at the Buffalo 32.

10:17 p.m.: Two straight sneaks from Mac Jones net another first down. He gained four yards (!) on third down somehow then forced his way through on fourth-and-1 to (apparently) move the chains.

That “apparently” is due to the Bills challenging the spot of the ball, arguing the Bills stopped Jones before the line to gain.

Good luck getting that call overturned, though. You couldn’t find Jones in that mass of humanity, and you need absolute proof to overturn a call on the field.

10:15 p.m.: Damien Harris rips off a 22-yard run on his first carry of the second half, but that balky hamstring showed up at the end of the play. Harris limped out of bounds and will probably leave the game for good. He tried to turn on the jets as he did on his touchdown, but his legs simply wouldn’t allow it.

It’ll be Rhamondre Stevenson time for the rest of this game.

10:11 p.m.: Wow, a costly and very questionable penalty on Myles Bryant results in points for the Bills.

Josh Allen broke the pocket and scrambled on third down and evaded a tackle attempt by Ja’Whaun Bentley but couldn’t reach the ball out for the first down before Bryant forced him out of bounds.

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But the officials said Bryant hit Allen, who went airborne while reaching with the ball, late. The quarterback hadn’t yet come down out of bounds yet, though, which raises questions about whether the penalty was warranted.

In any case, the 15-yard penalty turned things from a fourth-and-1 to a first down at New England’s 20-yard line.

Tyler Bass then sneaks a 35-yard field goal through the uprights to make the score 11-10. Patriots still on top.

10:05 p.m.: The Patriots just dodged a MAJOR bullet. Allen’s deep ball down the left sideline hits off of the arms of Stefon Diggs in the end zone and falls incomplete. The wind played around with the ball quite a bit in the air. If it hadn’t, that’s probably a touchdown.

10 p.m.: A holding penalty by Jonnu Smith ruined another great run from Stevenson, and the drive stalls after that. The Patriots punt it away, and Buffalo will take over with 9:15 to go in the quarter.

As the broadcast just mentioned, the Bills will lose the wind for good after this quarter. We’ll see what they can do with this possession from their own 37-yard line.

9:56 p.m.: Rhamondre Stevenson is tough. The rookie running back just powered through about three tacklers to pick up seven yards and a first down on his second carry of the drive.

Stevenson has notably started the drive instead of Damien Harris (questionable, hamstring), who got hurt at the end of the second quarter. Harris did show up on the sideline after halftime, though.

9:51 p.m.: We’re back to start the second half, and the Patriots have already forced a three-and-out on Buffalo’s first possession of the third quarter.

J.C. Jackson almost had another interception on a third-down throw from Josh Allen but couldn’t quite haul that one in. He probably would’ve taken that one all the way for a touchdown, too.

Time to see Mac Jones not throw passes as the Patriots take over at the 20-yard line for their first possession of the second half.

Second quarter

9:36 p.m.: Several reporters have noted Damien Harris went to the locker room before the end of the first half. He was apparently shaken up on his final carry of the quarter.

Rhamondre Stevenson can certainly handle the workload in his absence, but the Patriots certainly don’t want to be without Harris for the rest of the game. Hopefully, he’s just a bit score after taking a bunch of punishing hits in the rough conditions.

9:33 p.m.: Jones will go into the half with just one pass attempt. Even with the wind at his back, the Patriots didn’t throw the football once on this two-minute drive, of which Harris’s 17-yard run was the lone highlight.

Jake Bailey punts it back to Buffalo on a play that wastes the seven seconds remaining in the half, and we go into the break with the score still 11-7.

Harris has been the star of the game so far with 89 yards on nine carries, including his massive 64-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

9:28 p.m.: Kyle Van Noy does it again. On third down and short, the Patriots’ linebacker skies to knock down an Allen pass that could have gone for a first down.

Matthew Judon also laid down a ferocious hit on the Bills’ quarterback that had him getting up slowly.

The Patriots now get the ball back at their own 25-yard line with 1:48 left in the first half after a Buffalo punt.

9:20 p.m.: Even going into the wind, New England apparently has no interest in throwing the football with Mac Jones.

Two runs on first and second down by Damien Harris lost six yards, leading to another punt after a run by Brandon Bolden on third-and-16 predictably didn’t move the chains.

To this point, Jones is still just 1-of-1 passing for 12 yards. Allen, meanwhile, has thrown the ball eight times, including a few on the Bills’ previous possession going into the wind.

9:12 p.m.: Two big plays from the Patriots’ defense foil the Bills’ chances to steal a score going into the wind.

New England kept Josh Allen in the pocket on second-and-long, and Daniel Ekuale brought the quarterback down for a sack. Then, on third-and-very-long, Allen scrambled and delivered a strike to diving tight end Dawson Knox, but Adrian Phillips helped jar the ball loose to cause the incompletion.

The Patriots will start their second drive of the second quarter at their own 16-yard line.

9:03 p.m.: Big stop for the Bills, who bring down Rhamondre Stevenson short of the first down at the Buffalo 23-yard line.

But Nick Folk, the Patriots’ arguable MVP to this point, is true from 41 yards out to make the score 11-7 in favor of New England. Kicking with the wind at his back, Folk put this one right down the middle. No doubt about it.

Aside from one really big break, the Patriots have had the upper hand in this game. Now, their defense will have the advantage over a Bills offense moving into the wind.

First quarter

8:56 p.m.: That’s one quarter in the books. The Patriots are still up 8-7 after an insane first frame that featured its share of surprises.

Just before the break, Mac Jones completed his first pass of the game for a first down to tight end Jonnu Smith. It wasn’t a pretty throw, but Smith made an incredible catch, tipping the floating ball to himself and controlling it while falling to the ground.

The Patriots now get the wind at their backs in the second quarter, which might mean the passing offense is about to open up a bit.

8:55 p.m.: Putting Harry back there as a punt returner at all is a puzzling decision: he has not fielded a punt all season to this point. Every other time Gunner Olszewski hadn’t been back there this year, it had been Jakobi Meyers taking his place, not Harry.

That experiment by the coaching staff just hurt the Patriots.

8:52 p.m.: N’Keal Harry and the coaching staff just cost the Patriots big-time.

Serving as a punt returner instead of Gunner Olszewski, Harry let Buffalo’s punt bounce and then, after not getting out of the way, allowed the ball to hit him in the helmet.

Buffalo recovered and got the ball at New England’s 14-yard line. Josh Allen then drilled a touchdown throw to Gabriel Davis on the Bills’ first play from scrimmage.

What a tremendous blunder after the defense forced a stop and appeared to give the offense another chance to score. Mistakes like that in a game like this, especially on the road, can’t happen.

8:45 p.m.: Patriots catch a break as a first-down conversion from Josh Allen to Cole Beasley gets wiped away due to a holding penalty on Kyle Van Noy, and Bills are forced to punt.

Van Noy proved big on that drive, drawing that crucial penalty and keeping Allen in the pocket on a play that allowed Matthew Judon to bring the big quarterback down.

8:41 p.m.: Touchdown, Patriots!

Damien Harris catches the pitch this time, cuts it back and turns a crack into a cannon for a 64-yard touchdown. Brandon Bolden takes another pitch off the left side for the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.

Brilliant blocking by the Patriots, who hadn’t gotten much going on the ground until that point. Key blocks from N’Keal Harry, left tackle Isaiah Wynn and fullback Jakob Johnson sprung the play, and Harris simply wasn’t going to be caught once he hit his stride.

Huge play in a strange game.

8:32 p.m.: Chaos reigns. Just minutes after Damien Harris fumbled on a pitch, Matt Breida drops a handoff onto the turf. Lawrence Guy falls on the loose ball, and the Patriots get it back.

The Bills had just gotten a first down on a pass (!!) from Josh Allen to Breida along the sideline. Then, because they’re playing in a snowstorm, one of the simplest plays in the book simply fell apart on them.

The first team to score a touchdown might win this game.

8:29 p.m.: Yikes. Three more runs for the Patriots offense leads to another three-and-out as Brandon Bolden gets taken down for a loss by Greg Rousseau. Mac Jones still hasn’t thrown the ball yet, and it might have something to do with the treacherous wind that forced Jake Bailey’s punt into the Patriots’ bench after just 15 yards.

Buffalo will get the ball at New England’s 40-yard line.

One note: Josh Allen’s lone pass of the game was right on target and looked strong. Look for the Bills to try and pass or two on this upcoming drive.

8:25 p.m.: Both teams’ offenses are having about as tough a time as you’d think given the blustery, swirling conditions in Buffalo.

The Patriots started with the ball and went three-and-out, with Damien Harris fumbling a third-down pitch for a big loss. Then, a third-down pass from Josh Allen clanked off a receiver’s hands to force a punt on Buffalo’s side of things.

The kicking game looks like it will be an adventure for both squads as well: Jake Bailey’s punt barely got off the ground, bouncing to Bills’ return man Micah Hyde, while Matt Haack’s punt for the Bills kicked into the end zone for a touchback.

Pre-game

What’s at stake tonight? — 7:43 p.m.

A New England win would establish the Patriots as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. While it wouldn’t completely shut the divisional door on the Bills — the two teams will meet again later this month in Foxborough — it would come close to securing the AFC East for New England.

A New England loss would drop the Patriots into second place in the AFC East, and fifth overall in the conference. Again, the ramifications are minimized slightly because of their meeting later this month, but a loss to the Bills would really blunt the surge that resulted from the six-game winning streak.

Buffalo inactives — 7:22 p.m.

David Andrews is ready — 7:19 p.m.

Can Pats’ keep cover streak alive? — 7:11 p.m.

I have been so all over the place with this game all week. My initial thought was that the Patriots and Bills were going to split these two games that have with each other over the next three weeks, with the home team each winning one. But as the week has gone on, I’ve started to believe more and more in New England when it comes to tonight. I think it started after speaking with some people in upstate New York about the anxiety level for this one — the Bills had thought they had completely vanquished the Patriots after the thrashing they put on them last December, but suddenly, New England is in first place … again.

Anyway, Buffalo has stayed the favorite over the course of the week, holding as anywhere between a 2- and a 3.5-point favorite. I think the Patriots win this thing — just barely — and cover. A Nick Folk field goal at the buzzer? A big defensive stand? Who knows. Regardless, I think New England finds a way to win. When it comes to the over/under, it’s been anywhere between 39 and 41. I think this is going to be a rare under for the Patriots. Bad weather, snow, and wind … it’s all going to play a factor in keeping the score down, in my opinion:

Here are a few other betting notes:

New England is 6-0 against the spread in its last six games.

The total has gone over in six of New England’s last eight games.

New England is 6-3 against the spread in its last nine games against Buffalo.

New England is 8-1 straight up in its last nine games when playing on the road against Buffalo.

Buffalo is 15-5 straight up in its last 20 games.

Buffalo is 10-2 straight up in its last 12 games at home.

New England is 3-8 against the spread in its last 11 prime-time games.

Buffalo is 15-6-1 against the spread in its last 22 games.

The over is 3-0 in the past three meetings between these two teams.

No surprises when it comes to Pats’ inactives — 7:03 p.m.

The following players have been ruled inactive for tonight’s game against the Bills:

•LB Ronnie Perkins (illness) had been on the injury report over the course of the week, so it’s no surprise he shows up here. It’s the first non-healthy scratch of the season for the first-year defender, who is the leader in the race for the Shane Vereen/James White Redshirt Award.

•TE Devin Asiasi has played one game and has two catches for 39 yards. Another healthy scratch for the youngster, who is behind veterans Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith on the depth chart.

•QB Jarrett Stidham is sidelined again, another healthy scratch. Unless something unforeseen happens, I’d expect him to continue in the role of No. 3 quarterback the rest of the way.

•OL Yasir Durant is a healthy scratch as well. The 23-year-old guard has played in six games this year, but hasn’t been active since the Oct. 17 loss to the Cowboys. His absence is a good sign when it comes to the overall health of New England’s offensive line.

•CB Shaun Wade has struggled with injury at times this season, but wasn’t on the injury report this week. He’s been a good depth piece when he’s been healthy, and could still have a key moment between now and the end of the season. But the rookie out of Ohio State will sit tonight against the Bills.

•LB Jahlani Tavai is also a healthy scratch — like Durant, the fact that he’s down tonight means the Patriots feel pretty good about their available depth at that position … namely, Jamie Collins, who returns to game action this evening after missing the last month.

Throwback to 2008 and The Wind Bowl— 6:40 p.m.

It’s going to be a little breezy for this one, but that’s nothing new for Buffalo. There was the Bills-Patriots 2008 regular-season finale when winds topped out at anywhere between 30 and 40 mph, and it wreaked havoc on the goalposts. Check out a recap of that one, which includes a weird mashup of highlights and a 57-yard punt from Matt Cassel(!!!):

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow — 6:35 p.m.

Looks like we are in for our first snow game of the season. Our guy Jim McBride took these videos earlier in the evening, and more snow has fallen since then. It’s going to be interesting to see how rookie Mac Jones fares in the snow.

As for how things might look for the rest of the evening, our pals at WBZ-TV have us covered.

Some numbers to keep an eye on tonight — 6:30 p.m.

•This one is from our buddy Mike Giardi: Josh Allen could be the first quarterback to defeat Bill Belichick in three straight games since Eli Manning did it from 2007-2011. Three straight wins against Belichick is the longest streak by any quarterback since 2000, and has been done by Manning, Peyton Manning, Jay Fiedler, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Brees and Jake Plummer.

•The Patriots will look to improve to 6-0 on the road this season. The Patriots have finished undefeated on the road twice in franchise history (2007 and 2016).

•Kendrick Bourne enters this week with 42 receptions for 623 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. He needs 8 catches at Buffalo to establish a single-season high. He had 49 receptions in 2020 with San Francisco.

•If Jakobi Meyers completes one more pass in 2021, he will be the first Patriots WR to complete more than two passes in a single season. Julian Edelman completed two passes in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and Harold Jackson completed two passes in 1980.

•Mac Jones has completed over 70 percent of his passes in eight of his first 12 NFL games. Jones can tie the rookie record this week against Buffalo. Dak Prescott completed 70 percent of his passes in nine games as a rookie in 2016.

•If J.C. Jackson gets an interception this week, he will be the only Patriots player with at least two seasons with 8 or more interceptions.

•Matthew Judon increased his 2021 sack total to 11½ with an 8-yard sack of Ryan Tannehill last week. With a sack this week, he will join Chandler Jones (12½ in 2015) & Mike Vrabel (12½ in 2007) for the most sacks in a season by a Patriots player under Bill Belichick. It’s also worth noting that Judon’s current pace could allow him to at least threaten the franchise record. He has 11.5 sacks through 12 games, which could get him close to 17. Andre Tippett has franchise record for a 16-game season with 18.5.

Predict the game — 6:22 p.m.

Pregame reading list — 6:15 p.m.

Bills will be a true test, but the Patriots and Mac Jones should have the answers

NFL expert Boomer Esiason is picking the Patriots to beat Bills

Which is the best Patriots draft class of the Bill Belichick era?

Why Stephon Gilmore feels the Patriots mishandled his quad injury

Patriots fans have their choice: Traditional ‘Monday Night Football’ broadcast or ‘Manning Cast’

4 Bills players to watch against the Patriots on Monday night

Let’s get it started — 6:12 p.m.

Hey everyone! Hope everyone enjoyed the Sunday away. We’ve got a fun one on tap for tonight — Patriots and Bills, live from Orchard Park at 8:15 p.m. Keep it here for all the updates you need, all night long. When it comes to pregame, we’ll have the usual: game-day reading list, updates from the stadium, weather news, inactive analysis, betting information, and much more. CUE THE THEME SONG.

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