4 big takeaways from Patriots’ 24-10 loss vs Bills
That wasn’t pretty.
A week after their inspiring loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the New England Patriots were defeated by their AFC East rival Buffalo Bills at home in a game that was much less competitive than the 24-10 final score indicated.
New England’s offense could barely develop any semblance of a rhythm against Buffalo’s tough defensive front, and the Bills’ offense was able to attack the Patriots’ defense both through the air and ground with relative ease.
The bright side of such a dismal Thursday night defeat is that the Patriots now have 11 days to prepare for their next game: a Monday night football matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
Here are four big takeaways from the game.
1. Run the offense up-tempo, at least to get things going
There were two points during the game where it seemed like New England’s offense was able to start clicking: right before halftime, and at the end of the 4th quarter. In both situations, the team was trying to move the ball downfield quickly and score some points before time ran out, but in doing so, they actually looked far better than they had at many other points throughout the game.
Maybe it is the fact that the Bills defense was more tired at each of these points and was more lenient in giving up yards against the struggling offense (especially at the end of the game). However, with a Patriots offense ever so desperate to find a spark, doing something, anything different to try and get them going would be better than how they are playing right now.
Other than these two periods, New England’s offense looked lifeless for most of the game. A 48-yard touchdown pass to cornerback Marcus Jones (more on him later) energized Gillette Stadium early in the 1st quarter, but after that initial celebration, the energy just seemed to fizzle out in the stadium like it did in the offense.
2. Stop it with the Jon Jones cover corner
Over the last few weeks, the Patriots have used cornerback Jon Jones as the primary cover corner against the opposing team’s top wide receiver. Last week, Jones was mostly on Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, who put up 139 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Minnesota victory. This week, Jones was on Buffalo’s top threat Stefon Diggs, who totaled 92 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.
Traditionally, the Patriots have taken away the opposing offense’s top receiving option by doubling them with a cornerback and a safety throughout the whole game, forcing the team to rely on their secondary weapons in the process. For some reason, the Patriots have taken a different approach this year, relying on one player to lock down that opposing threat all by themselves.
Jones is a great corner, one of the best that New England has had on its roster over the last five seasons or so, but he’s not Darelle Revis. He’s a 5-foot-10 corner that has primarily played in the slot up until this season, during which the Patriots have moved him outside to try and supplant the offseason loss of J.C. Jackson.
Unless the Patriots want to keep getting gashed by their opponents’ top receiving threats, they quickly need to change the way they are defending in the secondary.
3. The offensive line is to blame, not Mac Jones
While New England’s offense has certainly struggled under Jones this season, it is hard to point at him as the culprit of the struggles when he barely has any time to throw.
After a much-improved performance in Minnesota last week, the Patriots’ offensive line again underperformed their expectations on Thursday night. While the Bills only put up one sack and four quarterback hits, Jones was consistently moving around in the pocket and had to rely on shorter throws all game.
Despite these struggles, Jones was still able to put up 195 passing yards and a touchdown, though the low depth of target in many of his 22 completions resulted in a subpar 5.4 yards per pass.
Suffice it to say, this poor offensive performance isn’t wholly reflected on Mac Jones. He showed a bit of an improved pocket presence than earlier in the season (even laughably so later in the game as he ran 20 yards backward to avoid sacks), and only made one real mistake on a pass that would have been intercepted if Bills defensive back Jordan Poyer had maintained control of the ball going out of bounds.
Even Tom Brady would likely not have been able to play well behind that offensive line tonight.
4. The offense runs through Marcus Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson
When the Patriots decided to draft a slot cornerback out of Houston in the third round of April’s NFL draft, it was not likely that many fans thought that he would make a big splash in each phase of the game throughout this season. However, Marcus Jones is quickly becoming a player to watch any time he steps onto the field, and at whichever position he may do so.
While his primary role is at cornerback and as a kickoff and punt returner, Jones had played a bit on offense in college and even won the Paul Hornung Award for the most versatile player in the country last season, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss. And so, early in the first quarter, the Patriots decided to call his name.
Jones was on the field for a few more offensive plays and ended up leading the team with 51 receiving yards on the night.
Other than Jones, it was running back Rhamondre Stevenson that was carrying the heavy load for the uninspiring New England offense. On top of handling starting duties (10 rushes for 54 yards), Stevenson was heavily involved in the passing game once more, hauling in six receptions for 24 yards.
While the Patriots have had a tough time this season establishing offensive consistency, they have been able to identify a few key players that give their offense life. If there is one thing that the team has been getting better at over the past few games, it is getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers.
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