New England Patriots prove they're best in AFC East as Buffalo Bills are blown off course


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Memo to the NFL. If you’re going to give Buffalo a home-field night game, or two, or three, do us all a favor and schedule them in the first half of the season.

As expected, Monday night’s showdown against the Patriots devolved into a game from the 1940s when the forward pass – at least for New England – was as foreign a concept as a telephone that wasn’t connected to a line in a wall.

The relentless wind handicapped both teams, but it had a far worse effect on the Bills because their running game is pedestrian, and the Patriots ground attack is tailor-made for these conditions.

And so, even though Bill Belichick literally forbade Mac Jones from throwing the ball, the Patriots earned a 14-10 victory that officially signals that they are the best team in the AFC East again.

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New England Patriots prove they're best in AFC East as Buffalo Bills are blown off course

The Evil Empire is back and the Bills are, once again, looking up.

Here are some quick thoughts I had on the terribly disappointing but pretty predictable outcome:

1. The Bills playoff chances are wobbling badly

It seems hard to believe that when they left Kansas City flying high after that big win that the Bills would be in the position they now find themselves.

This was a massive loss, and while they’re still sitting inside the top seven for an AFC playoff berth, if Bills don’t find a way to pull an upset Sunday in Tampa Bay, their record will be 7-6, they’ll be two full games behind the 9-4 Patriots in the AFC East, and they’re going to be in a death struggle just to secure a wild-card berth in the wide-open AFC.

Without a doubt, we overrated the Bills. Their flaws were hidden because of the incredibly easy schedule they’ve played this season, beating up on a bunch of tomato cans and registering just one impressive victory, the one in Kansas City.

Every other time the Bills have played a good team – defined as the Titans, the Colts and now the Patriots – they’ve lost. Sad to say, but it seems like the Bills are going to fall well short of the expectations that were heaped on them before the season began.

New England Patriots prove they're best in AFC East as Buffalo Bills are blown off course

2. The Bills couldn’t stop the run

My prognosis on what was going to happen in this game probably would have been different if Hurricane Highmark wasn’t roaring in Orchard Park. But once the weather forecast became a reality, it wasn’t too difficult to envision exactly what took place.

However, I could not have predicted that Jones would attempt just one pass in the first 50 minutes of the game. It was incredible, and even more incredible is that the Bills knew the Patriots were running on every play and still got manhandled. I mean they never even had to worry about a pass, yet the Patriots ran through and around their defense at will.

New England Patriots prove they're best in AFC East as Buffalo Bills are blown off course

New England’s excellent offensive line mauled the Bills’ front seven, and their running back trio of Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden performed a few excellent cutback plays to break big gainers, none bigger than Harris’ 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter which gave New England a lead it never relinquished.

I’ve harped on this point all season that the Bills lack of a running game was going to catch up to them. It never mattered last year because they had uncommonly good luck with late-season weather and they were able to keep throwing the ball like they did all year. Monday night their inability to run, and more important to stop the run, killed them.

3. In defeat, Josh Allen showed he can play in the elements

The way that wind was blowing, especially going toward the scoreboard, Allen’s performance was actually pretty impressive, even though the box score numbers – 15 of 30 for 145 yards – would tell you otherwise.

Unlike the Patriots who did not trust Jones to throw in either direction, Allen made a number of tremendous throws on a night when it was often impossible to be accurate.

He said it several days ago, the Bills drafted him first and foremost because of that cannon he has dangling off his right shoulder, and he put it to good use in this game. It just wasn’t enough to get the victory.

New England Patriots prove they're best in AFC East as Buffalo Bills are blown off course

Allen’s 26-yard laser to Stefon Diggs was eye-popping, and it got the Bills started on the drive that came so close to winning the game. And Allen’s night would have been even better, and may have ended in a victory, had Dawson Knox not had such a miserable night with dropped passes and then an awful false start with two minutes to go.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.

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