The Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival. Before playing the Colts, New England needed to win out to secure the coveted top spot. Now, the Patriots’ playoff chances are getting slimmer.
The Patriots’ season can be broken into three distinct parts. At the beginning of the season, the team played non-cohesive football and stumbled to a 2-4 start. The middle, when the team found its identity behind a stifling defense and a power running game to win seven straight. And now the end, where the team has reverted to its early-season miscues and overall poor play.
Against the Colts the team played flat through three quarters before giving themselves a chance to steal it late. Against the Bills, the Patriots again showed a lack of physical edge. A month after asserting their will against this very team it was the Bills who asserted themselves. The Patriots are in freefall in the standings. Once sky-high confidence surrounding the team is nowhere to be found. How the team responds will dictate the story of their season.
The Bills came ready to play on Sunday. It was apparent from the first drive that the magnitude of the game was not lost on them. A loss to the Patriots would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East. They did not play desperate. The Bills played confidently despite being down numerous starters due to injury and COVID isolation rules. They made a physical statement on their first drive and didn’t relent for the full 60 minutes.
The Patriots came out flat again. After losing to the Colts in a similar fashion a week ago, the Patriots noted that a lack of focus in practice led to their slow start. They were aware of the problem and wouldn’t let it happen again. But it did. The Patriots were flat in a game that would’ve all but guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a division title.
Where did complementary football go?
The Patriots of the seven-game winning streak were successful because of their complementary play style. That style has been missing in the last two losses. Against the Colts, the defense needed to make one final stop to give the offense a chance. Instead, Jonathan Taylor busted off a 67-yard house call to end it with two minutes left. Against the Bills, the offense and defense both failed each other.
In the second quarter, the defense held the Bills offense to a field goal attempt. The score gave the Bills a 10-7 lead. The Patriots got the ball back with a chance to at least answer, perhaps even take the lead. Instead, Mac Jones would throw his first of two interceptions three plays later.
The defense responded in an adversity situation. Defending a short field, they allowed the Bills to get to the 1-yard line before forcing a turnover on downs. The offense needed to at least gain some yardage to give the defense a breather and flip the field. Instead, a three and out.
Despite the poor play throughout the first half, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game, closing the score to 26-21. All they needed was a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to take the lead.
On the first play, after the Patriots closed the score, Allen and Diggs were on different pages. The result was an errant throw that hit ball-hawking corner JC Jackson in both hands. Jackson has made a name for himself by being a ball magnet, and on perhaps the easiest potential interception of the year, it was dropped.
That wouldn’t be the Patriots’ only chance to stop the Bills on the drive as they stuffed an Allen sneak on third down at their own 34-yard line. The Bills went for it again, as they had 3 times before in the game. A stop here would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time to score.
Instead, Allen ran a naked boot to convert. Never mind two Patriots defenders had a chance to drop him behind the line. The Pats just can’t get out of their own way.
What happened to the defense?
The Bills came into the game down both starting guards and lost their top back up early in the second quarter. Despite this, Allen wasn’t sacked for the first time since week 7. The Bills were also down two of their top three receivers. All usual return man Isaiah McKenzie did was go for 125 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.
The Patriots came into the game needing to limit wide receiver Stefon Diggs (85 yards and a touchdown on seven catches) and TE Dawson Knox (11 yards and a touchdown on two catches) but instead got burnt by a guy who usually doesn’t see much offensive action.
The defense was unusually conservative, sending four-man rushes at Allen throughout the game. They played afraid of Allen extending plays and taking off on runs. Even with an eye towards limiting the backyard ball, Allen consistently found ways to improvise and was the Bills leading rusher on the day. Allen was so impressive Sunday against the Pats; the Bills became the first team to never punt against a Belichick-coached team.
Despite showing up flat against the Bills and Colts, this team has fought their way back to a position to have potentially had a chance to win both games. The loss two weeks ago should have served as a wake-up call that showing up with anything but you’re a game at this point in the schedule is a recipe for disaster. It’s now happened twice, in potentially the biggest games of the year.
If the Pats want to make anything of this season, they must return to their complementary football style. All three phases of the game need to be capable of picking each other up. If not, it may become a season of “what could have been.” If they do get back to their winning formula, perhaps we see another seven-game win streak. Which would mean the next Patriots loss would be Week 2 — of next season. Fingers crossed.
Before we delve into this game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Tony Zanatian of Bills ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this Week 2 matchup article.
Week 1 Recap
TZ: “Week 1 was a big disappointment. The Bills were 6.5 point favorites but ended up dropping their home opener to the Steelers. The story of the game was the Steelers dominant pass rush. They rushed just 3 or 4 players on almost every snap but still generated pressure on over 40% of their plays. This allowed them to drop more players into coverage and force tight window throws all game. Josh Allen missed some throws and the receivers dropped some passes which just can’t happen when the defense is playing that tough.
A lot of the national talk is about Allen’s regression. but he didn’t look any different from last year’s Steelers game, so I’m not as worried as some. The real concern is that both tackles either got beat or held their man on what felt like every play. LG Jon Feliciano has never been good in pass protection but he was a complete liability that every team will now focus on. As for positives, the defense returned to 2019 levels. The Steelers couldn’t move the ball through the air or on the ground with rookie Najee Harris. The pass rush has new juice and the secondary is as good as ever. The run game also impressed with Devin Singletary rushing for 6.6 YPC. Check out my full recap if you want to learn more.”
Despite going 1-0 and atop the AFC East, many fans were not overly impressed by Miami’s performance. While some set their expectations too high going into the game about what too expect, from not just Tua but the whole team, the win flattered Miami’s performance against an unconventionally sloppy Patriots team.
The major disappointment in this game, was that the Dolphins struggled to generate any consistency on either side of the ball. From what was a near perfect opening drive resulting in Tua running for a TD, the next 3 drives resulted in 3 punts for a combined 17 yards of offense.
Receiving the ball to start the second half, the Dolphins like in the first half methodically drove the ball down the field in 9 plays for 75 yards ultimately resulting in a first receiving touchdown for rookie Jaylen Waddle. However, much like the first half, the rest of the game the Dolphins managed only a further 33 yards of offense. It may be easy to scapegoat Tua for the Dolphins offensive struggles, he was by no means bad. On multiple occasions he was let down by both his receivers and offensive line, while he had his struggles himself.
On the defensive side of the ball much remained much of the same from 2020. A turnover creating machine, but struggled to stop the run and create a consistent pass rush. The Dolphins continued to bend and not break and would have prevented the Patriots from scoring had it not been for an unfair roughing the passing call against Elandon Roberts. However, Miami’s defense allowed almost 400 yards mainly attributable to soft zone coverage, allowing Jones to stand in the pocket and find his check downs.
TZ: “I expect Josh Allen and the offense to get back on track given their recent history of success against Miami’s defense. I am hoping for a speedy recovery for Raekwon Davis but his absence will benefit the Bills run game. Where Pittsburgh was able to rush 4 and play zone to stifle the passing offense. I think Miami will take a more blitz heavy approach and play man with their talented corner and safety groups. This gives the advantage to the Bills receivers and the passing offense as it has in their past matchups
On the other side of the ball, I think Tua and the speed of the WR group will challenge the defense much more than the Steelers did. DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki have caused the Bills secondary trouble with their size advantage in the past. The pass rush should be able to make some noise if Austin Jackson is back in at left tackle. They will get somewhat exotic switching up pre and post-snap looks to try to slow down Tua diagnosing the defense, knowing that his performance suffers the longer he holds the ball. Overall I expect both offenses to have success despite the quality of the defenses.”
Coming into the season I had hopes that the Dolphins would split the Bills. Whether Miami can achieve that is another question. One thing is for sure the Dolphins will not be able to just put up 17 points and rely on their defense to neutralize Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Something has to change. Whereas Week 1 was as predicted a very defensively dominated game, I foresee this matchup as being somewhat of a shootout. In the 6 games Josh Allen has played against Miami, he has won 5, throwing for 17 TDs and 4 INTs, with a passer rating of 114.3.
It was hoped that the Dolphins would have the chance to play with their new toy in Will Fuller. Fuller missed nearly all of training camp through injury and has since been ruled out of atleast Sunday’s game due to a personal matter.This is a huge loss for Miami. The Bills’ secondary ranked top 5 in the league in 2020, and it was hoped that having Fuller, Parker, Waddle and Gesicki on the field together would create a matchup nightmare.
The composition of the offensive line is another key factor. With Austin Jackson set to return as starting LT this week, despite a strong showing by Liam Eichenberg. In his first NFL start, Eichenberg recorded a run blocking grade of 65.9 and pass blocking grade of 71.8, allowing only one pressure. The same could not be said for Jesse Davis at RT against the likes of Matt Judon and co. It is not ideal when Tua is being pressured heavily from his blindside and was obvious that he was uncomfortable. Tua seemed to be rather frantic in the pocket, rather than being cool and composed like we saw in preseason. Whether Flores is bold enough to switch out a veteran tackle for a rookie with significant upside remains to be seen.
Keys to Success
TZ: “For Buffalo to come out with a win, the offense needs to shake off last week and get in sync. Josh Allen has played his best football against Miami and he will need to continue that trend. Miami’s pass rush group isn’t quite Pittsburgh’s caliber, but the line needs to step up and keep Allen from getting pressured every play. Defensively, they need to make sure Tua can’t get comfortable. He will pick our zone apart with ease if he is able to diagnose plays pre-snap. The secondary also can’t let the speed receivers get loose behind them. Diontae Johnson was able to uncover deep a few times last week but Big Ben couldn’t get him the ball. Tua can and will be able to capitalize on those opportunities.
Finally, the Bills must win the turnover battle. Josh Allen and Devin Singletary both fumbled twice against Pittsburgh although only 1 was recovered by the defense. Miami’s defense is among the best at generating turnovers and will be on high alert for chances to take the ball away. A turnover for either team could really flip the script in this one.”
Contain Josh Allen– We all understand that Allen is a dual threat QB. Last season he ran for 421 yards and 8 TDs. In comparison, Myles Gaskin ran for 584 yards and 3 TDs. Even against a formidable Steelers’ front seven Allen was able to rush for 44 yards for 4.9 YPC. Miami historically always struggle against athletic QBs. If Allen is allowed to escape the pocket and extend the play, the task of the secondary will become ever more difficult.
Elite Secondary Performance – While the bitter taste of Week 17 may continue to leave a bitter taste among Dolphins fans, the game in Miami was much more tightly contested. Despite allowing Josh Allen to throw for 415 yards and 4 TDs, the Dolphins only lost by three points. While Allen did not have his best performance Week 1, I expect him to come out all guns blazing. With Xavien Howard and Byron Jones fully fit, they need to be able to shut down the likes of Diggs and Beasley as much as possible.
Protect Tua- to put it simply, we are not going to see the best of Tua nor the offense as a whole until the offensive line allows them to. The unit Week 1 was not horrendous by any means, when the whole offense was clicking the Dolphins were clinical. However, Tua was sacked twice and several instances including the interception where he faced considerable pressure in his face.
TZ: “Buffalo is relatively healthy going into this game. They do have some players on the injury report but there is no indication that we need to be worried about them missing Sunday. WR Gabe Davis has been limited with an ankle injury but is trending up. DT Star Lotulelei missed last week with a calf but should be ready to go on Sunday. Micah Hyde appeared as limited on Thursday with a neck injury but there is no cause for concern yet. The heat will certainly be a factor but McDermott has been stressing hydration and his frequent rotations on the defensive line will help mitigate the impact for the big guys.”
After a tough physical game against the Patriots, Miami came out pretty healthy. However, unfortunately young stud NT Raekwon Davis went down with a knee injury in the first half. Despite returning later in the game, Davis has since been placed on IR, with the extent of his injury as yet unknown.
As aforementioned, Will Fuller is OUT due to a personal issue. His return date remains in question with even some suggesting he is done for the season. The only other player in doubt is wide receiver Preston Williams, he remains questionable. I predict he will miss this week and then begin to ramp it up going into the Raiders game. Adam Shaheen is back off the COVID list and should feature in this game.
TZ: “I expect a fun game with more offense than you’d expect given the talent both teams have on defense. Miami will be hungry for revenge after being embarrassed by the Bills backups in Week 17 last year. Buffalo will be eager to get their season back on track, knowing that a loss would put them 2.5 games back in the division. For my prediction I will go with the same score as last year when the Bills came down to Miami in Week 2:
This will be Tua’s biggest stage to silence the critics. If the offense can keep up with that of Buffalo and the secondary do not dismantle like they did last season, then Miami can win this game. However it will be a lot to expect against a Bills’ team with it all to prove. I am going to think with my heart and not my head and predict the flip side of Tony. Miami wins 31-28. Check out the rest of the Dolphins ATB writers’ predictions below:
Tanner Elliott- 31-17 Buffalo
Tyler DeSena- 38-27 Buffalo
Hussam Patel- 33-20 Buffalo
Chris Spooner- 35-20 Buffalo
Rishi Desai- 27-23 Miami
Once again I would just like to thank Tony for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter. Miami are in rather a good position. If they can pull of the upset starting the season 2-0 whilst the Bills are 0-2, Miami would be in fantastic position to make a run at the division title. Even in the Dolphins infact lose the game they will be 1-1 equal with the Bills and most likely the Patriots who play the Jets. However, in order for this to happen the offense has to be more consistent in putting together drives. If Allen has the same time of possession that the Dolphins afforded to Mac Jones then this may get ugly. Fins Up!