AFC East

Patriots lose to Bills, 33-21, as Buffalo takes control of AFC East

A downtrodden Mac Jones sits on the bench during the 4th quarter. Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe


For the second consecutive week, the Patriots started slow against a playoff-worthy team, and it cost them.

On Sunday, a week after a sluggish first half played a big role in a 27-17 defeat to the Colts, New England fell into a 17-7 hole against the Bills and couldn’t recover on the way to a 33-21 loss to the Bills at Gillette Stadium.

Buffalo (9-6) is now firmly in the drivers’ seat when it comes to the AFC East divisional race.

As for New England (9-6), the Patriots were riding high after a seven-game win streak, but back-to-back losses have now left them with an uncertain playoff future.

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For New England, Mac Jones finished 14 for 32 with 145 yards and three interceptions. Damien Harris added 103 yards on 18 attempts with three rushing TDs.

The Bills, who did not punt, had four scoring drives of nine plays or more over the first three-plus quarters on the way to the win. Josh Allen showed plenty of poise from start to finish, finishing 30 for 47 with 314 yards and three TD passes while leaning heavily on Isaiah McKenzie (11 receptions, 125 yards, 1 TD).

Buffalo was in command in the early going when Allen found McKenzie with a 3-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0 midway through the first quarter. The Patriots answered with the first of three touchdowns from Harris early in the second — this one coming from 16 yards out — but the Bills tacked on 10 second-quarter points to make it 17-7 at the half.

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Buffalo kicker Tyler Bass connected on his second field goal of the day early in the second half to give the Bills a 20-7 edge. The two teams then traded touchdowns, with Buffalo off the mark on a two-point attempt, to leave it 26-14 early in the fourth.

Harris and the Patriots made it 26-21 with 7:37 to go in regulation, but that would be as close as New England would get. Allen put together an insurance drive down the stretch that was punctuated with a touchdown pass to Dawson Knox to make it 33-21 with just over two minutes remaining.

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Here’s how the game unfolded:

Patriots lose — 4:15 p.m.

That’s two straight losses for New England, which falls to 9-6.

Bills go up big late — 4:05 p.m.

Allen hits Knox with a shovel pass for a touchdown to make it 33-21 with 2:30 left in regulation. You never say never, but that might do it.

Harris finds the end zone for the third time — 3:44 p.m.

Just finished a wild series, one that included a dustup between David Andrews and Matt Milano (who was flagged for a late hit on Mac Jones) and one that culminated with an 8-yard touchdown run from Damien Harris, his third rushing touchdown of the day. It’s 26-21 with 7:35 to go in regulation. New England needs to get a defensive stop here. (Buffalo hasn’t punted all afternoon.)

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Bills score again — 3:31 p.m.

The Patriots desperately need defensive stops here in the fourth quarter. They didn’t get one, as Buffalo’s Devin Singletary just plowed into the end zone from two yards out to make it 26-14 with 11:42 to go in regulation. (The two-point attempt was off the mark.) After such a quality offensive possession, that defensive series was a disappointment for New England, as this one will really be on Jones’ shoulders the rest of the way.

End of the third quarter — 3:22 p.m.

Bills hold a 20-14 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Jones, Meyers spark Pats — 3:16 p.m.

Impressive answer from the New England offense, as Mac Jones and Jakobi Meyers were excellent on that sequence. There was great scrap from Jones on an initial fourth-and-short play, and great heart being shown by Meyers on that series, bouncing back after being blasted on multiple occasions.

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Once the Patriots got close, Jones showed some terrific poise on an ensuing fourth-down play, waiting and finding Meyers on a play that allowed them to move the chains nicely. Shortly after that, Harris plunged in from the 1-yard line to make it 20-14 with 1:41 to go in the third. There’s still a ways to go in this one, but that was an excellent drive from the Patriots’ offense; given the circumstances, maybe their best of he day.

Bills now up 20-7 — 3:02 p.m.

Bass gives the Bills a 20-7 lead with 9:02 to go in the third quarter. The Patriots are going to have to at least start to think about getting away from their run-first mentality the rest of the way. Either that, or you need to start getting some stops on third down in Buffalo territory.

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On that last point, we’re almost halfway through the third quarter and the Bills haven’t punted yet. Part of that is their willingness to top for it on fourth down, but it also speaks to an inability of the Patriots to get off the field. They need to force some punts in the second half if they want a chance of winning this one.

Halftime analysis — 2:36 p.m.

Two quarters are in the books in Foxborough, and the Patriots trail the Bills, 17-7.

Here are a few quick notes/stats:

Mac Jones: 5-for-13, 47 yards, 1 INT

Damien Harris: 9 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD

Josh Allen: 5 carries, 41 yards; 16-for-25, 144 yards, 2 TDs

•It’s an easy call to look at the scoreboard and blame the New England defense, but they had to try and bail out the offense on multiple occasions. The Patriots’ offense has one turnover and struggled to move the ball times over the first two quarters — Jones has had issues — and while the defense held Buffalo out of the end zone on multiple occasions in hopes of trying to keep things close, that group can only do so much. Drops and ill-timed mistakes haunted New England offense in the early going. Bad complementary football.

•I will say the Patriots’ run defense did better as things went on over the first two quarters. The Bills have 65 yards on the ground so far, but a sizable chunk of that has come off of scramble plays from Allen and some nontraditional schemes. Not great, but not as bad as it was last week. And as we said before, the New England defense rose to the occasion nicely on back-to-back Buffalo drives to keep the Bills out of the end zone, holding them to a field goal on one, and forcing a turnover on downs the next series. All in all, the run defense numbers aren’t necessarily terrific, but the New England defense did well on back-to-back series in the first half.

•The best part of the offense in the early going was on the ground. I loved seeing Harris run behind a right side with tackle Trent Brown and extra offensive lineman Michael Onwenu. Keep going back to that over and over again — it’s been almost impossible to stop over the first two quarters. With Stevenson out, Harris should finish with 20-plus touches. (I also wouldn’t be surprised to see New England try and run out of some different looks; jet sweeps, etc., in hopes of trying to get Harris a blow from time to time.)

•Bad back-to-back sequence for N’Keal Harry in the second quarter; on the first play, he simply dropped a very catchable ball from Mac Jones. On the next play, on a ball headed in his direction, it was tipped away and Buffalo came away with the interception. (Not sure how much, if at all, he fought for that ball.) The New England defense kept the Bills out of the end zone, but it was an unfortunate sequence for the receiver.

•Not good:

•Some bad penalties for New England: Christian Barmore was flagged for encroachment on a fourth-down attempt that helped the Bills keep a drive alive, Jonnu Smith was hit with a holding call that wiped out a flea flicker, and Trent Brown was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct late in the first half. (The Brown call was on the heels of a poor no call on Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes, who rode Jones out of bounds and should have been hit with a call of his own. Ultimately, it was a negative 30-yard swing for the Patriots.)

•Special teams has pretty much been a blank slate for the first two quarters. Nick Folk’s extra point was really the most notable aspect of the first half from a special teams perspective.

•The Bills will get the ball to start the second half.

Bills score again — 2:20 p.m.

Bills have made it 17-7 with 1:45 to go in the first half on a drive that was finished off with a 12-yard pass from Allen to Diggs. A lot of credit for what Buffalo has been able to do — the Bills are going to make it awfully tough on New England this afternoon. New England has to answer here before the end of the half, as Buffalo will get the ball to start the third quarter.

Pats hold firm — 2:06 p.m.

The Patriots dodged a bullet there with an impressive defensive stand — after the pick of Jones in New England territory, the Bills couldn’t punch it in, coming up short on fourth down and giving the ball back to the Patriots. That could have made it 17-7 — a big missed opportunity for Buffalo. New England takes over on downs at its own 1-yard line, down 10-7 with 4:44 to go in the first half.

Bills get the ball back — 2:00 p.m.

Awful break there for the Patriots. Micah Hyde with a nice pick on a tipped ball (that was intended for N’Keal Harry). Buffalo gets the ball back in New England territory. That play came shortly after a hideous drop from N’Keal Harry. I know New England is thin at receiver, but after that sequence, going to be interesting to see how many more reps Harry gets the rest of the way.

Bills take 10-7 lead — 1:55 p.m.

After what looked to be a good start, Buffalo settled for a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-7 with 9:01 left in the first half. All in all, it was a 10-play, 68-yard drive for Buffalo. Josh Allen has three carries for 31 yards, and is 10-for-14 for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Interesting — 1:59 p.m.

Harris ties it for Pats — 1:36 p.m.

Better second bite at the apple for the New England offense, as Harris churned out some quality yardage (much of it thanks in part to the presence of extra offensive lineman Michael Onwenu and tackle Trent Brown) and a drive that was capped by a 16 yard rushing touchdown for the Alabama product. It’s tied at seven with 14:28 to go in the first half. On that 75 yards drive, Harris accounted for 48 of the yards.

Two more notes:

-I love the fact both teams clearly understand what’s at stake, as they went for it on fourth down in the first quarter.

-The flag on Jonnu Smith negated a terrific play on that flea flicker. Who says all flea flickers have to be deep balls?

End of one quarter — 1:32 p.m.

Buffalo holds a 7-0 lead, but the Patriots are driving — they face a fourth-and-short at the Bills’ 29.

Bills up early — 1:18 p.m.

In contrast, the Bills had a very good start to the game, stopping the New England offense early and answering together an extended drive that was capped with a Josh Allen touchdown pass on a big fourth-down attempt. It’s 7-0 with 6:37 to go in the first quarter. Buffalo isn’t shaken by what’s on the line in this one — a 13-play drive is a great way to open the game for the Bills.

Pats’ offense held in check — 1:06 p.m.

Less-than-ideal start for the New England offense, and the Patriots will be forced to punt it away. The Bills will get the ball at their own 39.

Pats will open on offense — 1:00 p.m.

The Patriots will start with the ball after the Bills win toss and defer. Time for football.

Official Price Prediction — 12:55 p.m.

Patriots 24, Bills 14: The home cooking, too much Damien Harris, and too many Buffalo personnel losses add up to a New England victory.

Who should Pats’ fans root for today? — 12:48 p.m.

A look around the AFC at some games New England fans should keep an eye on this afternoon.

Ravens at Bengals: Both Cincy and Baltimore are a game behind New England coming into today’s action. Is it bad form to root for a tie? No? Verdict: Draw! (If that doesn’t work, my guess is probably the Bengals, because I think Baltimore would put up a more impressive fight down the road than Cincinnati.)

Chargers at Texans: A Houston upset would push Los Angeles — which is just one game behind the Patriots coming into today’s action — down the playoff ladder. Verdict: Houston.

Steelers at Chiefs: A New England win and a Kansas City loss would create a three-way tie at 10-5 at the top of the AFC with the Patriots, Titans, and Chiefs. Verdict: Pittsburgh.

Broncos at Raiders: Not much at stake here with two teams at 7-7 and fighting for their playoff lives. Verdict: Meh.

Dolphins at Saints: If the Patriots win and Miami loses, New England clinches the AFC East. Verdict: New Orleans.

What has to happen today for the Patriots to clinch the division? — 12:18 p.m.

Here’s what’s at stake today for the Patriots:

New England can clinch the AFC East with a win AND a loss or a tie from Miami.

New England can clinch a playoff berth with a win AND:

•A Las Vegas loss or a tie and a Los Angeles Chargers loss.

•A Baltimore loss and a Pittsburgh loss or a tie.

Will Patriots be money against the spread again today? — 12:13 p.m.

As for the latest line, most places have the Patriots as a one- or two-point favorite. With Damien Harris coming back, it should give a huge boost to the New England offense. Even with Rhamondre Stevenson out, Harris’ presence — as well as the fact that the Patriots are home, Kendrick Bourne is good to go, and Cole Beasley is among those sidelined for Buffalo — will be enough for the Patriots. Last over/under I saw his morning was 43.5 … I’m leaning toward the under, but I’m not as confident in that as I am in New England covering.

A few more gambling totals that might be pertinent to today’s action, according to our friends at Odds Shark.:

•Buffalo is 3-7 against the spread in its last 10 games against New England.

•The total has gone over in four of Buffalo’s last six games.

•New England is 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games.

•The total has gone under in four of New England’s last six games.

•The total has gone under in five of New England’s last six games played in December.

Good football weather today — 12:08 p.m.

Forecast for today? A little different than the last time these two teams met. According to our pals at weather.com, we’ll see highs in the mid-30s this afternoon with some clouds, but no precipitation. Should be a good one for football.

Damien Harris appears to be OK — 12:01 p.m.

Some pregame stats — 11:55 a.m.

A few numbers to look for the afternoon, courtesy of the Patriots’ PR staff:

Nick Folk tied the team record for most 50-yard field goals in a season with his five. If he connects on a 50-yard field goal vs. Buffalo, he will establish the team record for most 50-yard field goals in one season. Stephen Gostkowski had five 50-yard field goals in 2013.

If J.C. Jackson gets an interception this week, he will be the only Patriots player with at least two seasons with eight or more interceptions. Overall, Jackson has 24 career interceptions, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Kenny Easley (24 interceptions) and Richard Sherman (24) for the third-most by a player in his first four seasons since 1970. Only Lester Hayes (25) and Everson Walls (25) have more.

Kendrick Bourne enters this week with 45 receptions for 667 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. He needs five receptions vs. Buffalo to establish a single-season career high. He had 49 receptions in 2020 with San Francisco.

Jakobi Meyers completed two passes for 45 yards in Week 4 against Tampa Bay. He is now 4-of-4 for 88 yards with two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating in his career. If he completes one more pass in 2021, he will be the first Patriots wide receiver to complete more than two passes in a single season.

Mac Jones has completed over 70 percent of his passes in eight of his first 14 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.

Damien Harris leads the Patriots with a career-high nine rushing touchdowns in 2021 and needs one more to reach double-digit rushing touchdowns. He can become the 12th Patriots player to do so and it would be the 16th time the Patriots had a player reach double-digit rushing touchdowns in a single season.

Matthew Judon enters this week with 12½ sacks in 2021. Judon is tied with Chandler Jones (12½ in 2015) and Mike Vrabel (12½ in 2007) for the most sacks in a season by a Patriots player under Bill Belichick and needs one more sack to have the most during the Belichick Era.

Bill Belichick is looking for his 20th 10-win season as a head coach overall, including his 19th as head coach of New England. A win this week will move Belichick into a tie with Don Shula for the most 10-win seasons by an NFL head coach.

Updated all-time coaching wins list (including postseason)

1. Shula — 347

2. Halas — 324

3. Belichick — 320

Williams, Wade among inactives for Pats — 11:40 a.m.

The following Patriots are inactive for today’s game:

•CB Joshuah Bledsoe: The rookie corner who recently joined the 53-man roster after offseason surgery was on the injury report this week with a calf issue.

•WR Nelson Agholor: Agholor is dealing with a concussion, and was out of practice all week.

•CB Shaun Wade: Wade, who was acquired from Baltimore at the start of the year, has struggled to stay on the field, but he wasn’t on the injury report all week. Taking a healthy scratch in September is one thing. Taking a healthy scratch in December when you are a position that could use some depth is another thing altogether.

•TE Devin Asiasi and QB Jarrett Stidham: Both have taken multiple healthy scratches this season — Asiasi has played in just one game. Given the state of the roster at tight end and quarterback, neither is a surprise.

•CB Joejuan Williams: Williams takes another scratch, a bit of a surprise. The fact that both Wade and Williams are out for the biggest regular-season game of the year — and practice squad cornerback D’Angelo Ross is active after just being elevated — isn’t a good sign for either one of them.

•It bears repeating that Rhamondre Stevenson (illness) was among those declared out on Friday.

•The notables who are active include linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who was limited all week with rib and ankle issues, as well as Damien Harris, who was out last week against the Colts, and was limited in practice the last few days with a hamstring.

Predict the outcome — 11:25 a.m.

Pregame reading list — 11:05 a.m.

Best way to get ready for today’s action:

Chad Finn: This Patriots-Bills matchup is the kind of game we missed last season

What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game

Rhamondre Stevenson, Nelson Agholor ruled out for Patriots-Bills

A close look at Mac Jones’s season reveals an eerie resemblance to Tom Brady, circa 2001

Back to football — 11:00 a.m.

Welcome back to football, everyone! This afternoon, we have what promises to be one of the most compelling games of the season for New England, as the Patriots meet the Bills at Gillette Stadium. At stake? Likely the division, as well as a playoff spot. We’ll have all the updates all day long, including the usual pregame fun: your reading list, the scene from Foxborough, a look around the league at some games that could impact the Patriots, the latest betting line, and much more. Let’s kick it off with some leftover holiday cheer. CUE THE BAND.

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