For the second time during the 2019 season, the Buffalo Bills have been edged by the New England Patriots, but this time around, with Tom Brady enjoying a much-needed efficient night and the home team's pass rush often throwing Josh Allen out of sync, the loss might sting a little more.
The Bills (10-5) are still bound for the playoffs, but Saturday's 24-17 decision, punctuated by an end-zone breakup of a fourth-down floater from Allen on Buffalo's late comeback attempt, guarantees the Patriots their 11th straight AFC East crown.
Coming out of the locker room at halftime, the Bills were able to carry the momentum of their last-second touchdown to close out the second quarter into the third. As New England settled for a field goal on their first offensive series of the half, Allen was able to connect with John Brown on a 53-yard touchdown pass to give them the lead. New England even struggled a bit offensively, especially amid Julian Edelman's brief stint in the locker room, but they ran the ball well and came through when it mattered.
Week 16 began with some action-packed Saturday games and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Let's take a deeper dive into how the Pats downed the Bills for the second time this year:
Why the Patriots won
They had the perfect game plan, and then they executed it. Buffalo has been stingy -- no, shutdown -- against the pass, but it's long been somewhat vulnerable on the ground, and the Patriots never wavered from keeping Sony Michel busy, giving him 21 touches on the ground to the tune of 96 yards. When they weren't running, they were staying patient, allowing Tom Brady to keep things simple and short for one of his best, most efficient performances in more than a month. Defensively, the Pats were almost equally impressive, surrendering a couple chunk plays -- several of which either lost New England the lead or threatened to send the game into overtime -- but stepping up when it mattered most. The D-line led the way by getting plenty of pressure, sacking Allen four times and forcing him out of sync at times. And outside all that, the Pats also saw some big, timely contributions from the bench, with Rex Burkhead recovering from an opening-drive fumble to log 97 total yards and Jakobi Meyers making a couple big-time catches while Edelman sought treatment in the locker room.
Why the Bills lost
There isn't really one gigantic reason, and that's indicative of a team capable of taking the Patriots to the wire, as they did back in Week 4. A couple that stand out, though: Coaching, for one. Sean McDermott is a good leader, but little things -- like refusing to use a timeout after Allen was sacked on third down with seconds remaining in the game -- affected their chances. Another issue: Running. Allen did his best to keep drives alive, extending plays with his legs and averaging six yards a carry, but he got no help from Devin Singletary or any other running back in Foxborough. Simple execution was also a problem throughout the day. While Allen, John Brown and Cole Beasley each had their fair share of big plays, they couldn't help Buffalo convert more than two of 11 third downs or even come close to matching New England's time of possession. Getting more than three points off the day's lone turnover would've been nice, too. At the end of the day, they didn't quit, and they came close to mounting a comeback, but they never had the full package.
There were a couple lead changes in this close contest, with Buffalo opening with a 3-0 advantage, the Patriots building a 10-3 lead and then the Bills coming back to retake a 17-13 edge. It was in the fourth quarter, however, when things really seemed to settle into place for New England. Down just one point after a long field goal drive and consecutive three-and-outs from Josh Allen and Co., the Pats opened at their 41 following a Bills punt with a chance to go up for good. Their very first play? A strike from Brady to Edelman, who had just returned to action, for 30 yards. What a killer. The big gain put New England all the way inside Buffalo's 30, prefaced a go-ahead touchdown by Burkhead and then catapulted the Pats ahead by seven, all while milking the clock.
Play of the game
Burkhead bowled over two defenders on an insanely powerful TD run to give the Pats their final lead. Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins hung on for a touchdown catch! Allen threw a laser while on the move late in the fourth quarter, showcasing his elite arm talent. But the Bills QB had an even better play just before the cannon-armed throw, somehow picking up a new set of downs on a fourth-and-1 sneak that was stuffed from about two different angles -- by throwing his whole body across the line after pulling back from the pile.
"It feels good to play games that mean something in December. This loss hurts, but we will use tonight as an example to learn from moving forward."
Those words are courtesy of Allen, who put forth a valiant effort against one of the NFL's top defenses. And he's right. All the Bills can do is keep their chin up and refocus on what lies ahead: A trip to the postseason.
The Patriots (12-3) will close their 2019 regular season back at home on Sunday, Dec. 29, against another division rival, the Miami Dolphins (3-11), with a 1 p.m. ET matchup. The Bills (10-5), meanwhile, will also stay at home for a showdown with the New York Jets (5-9) -- same day, same time.
Relive all the action from Saturday's rivalry clash right here: