The Buffalo Bills are now even further in the driver's seat to doing something they haven't done since 1995: Win the AFC East. A late fumble by Cam Newton that was recovered by the Bills all but clinched them the 24-21 win over the Patriots in Orchard Park, New York, on Sunday. Buffalo now sits atop the division at 6-2, while the struggling Patriots are 2-5 and losers of four straight.
Newton's fumble came deep inside Buffalo territory with just 31 seconds to play in the game as the Patriots were knocking on the door of either forcing overtime or winning outright. As the Patriots quarterback called his own number and tried to inch New England even further toward the end zone, the ball slipped through his grasp, as did the game. Newton finished with 174 yards passing and rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown. Even with the score so tight, Buffalo was clearly the superior team from wire-to-wire. Josh Allen showed tremendous poise in the pocket at times, completing 11 of his 18 throws for 154 yards in the win and added 23 more yards on the ground, including a touchdown. The ground attack for Buffalo was extremely effective, totaling 190 yards and three touchdowns as a team in the win.
The balance of power in a division that has long been ruled by Bill Belichick's Patriots seems to be shifting in the direction of the Bills for at least the 2020 season. Below, you can see our main takeaways for how Buffalo was able to fend off New England and see how all the action went down in real-time in a live blog from Sunday's AFC East head-to-head showdown.
Why Buffalo won
You certainly have to give credit to Buffalo for getting the win here, but they did let an inferior Patriots team hang around far longer than they should have. In reality, this was a game that came down to which team was going to make the big mistake and the Bills were fortunate enough to come out on the positive side of things.
After impressing with a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to begin the day for themselves offensively, Josh Allen's unit went silent for the rest of the first half, punting twice and then throwing an interception. Luckily for them, the Patriots offense couldn't do much with that opportunity and Buffalo was able to hang onto a one-point lead heading into the locker room. Where they really started to flip the switch, however, was coming out for the third quarter. It only took the Bills five plays to travel 75 yards and go up by eight. They dropped 17 points in the final two quarters and were able to make the biggest defensive play of the day by stripping Cam Newton before he could either tie the game or win it.
While Allen was serviceable through the air, the offensive MVPs have to go to the ground game. Zack Moss was particularly impactful, rushing for two touchdowns and 81 yards on 5.8 yards per carry in the win. New England's defense had no answer for his physical running and Buffalo was able to take full advantage.
Why New England lost
While it's easy to look at the Newton fumble as the reason why New England lost this football game, that would be a little shortsighted as there were a number of reasons why they are now losers of four straight that came much earlier than that turnover. For starters, the Patriots once again came into this game extremely cold. That's been a theme for Bill Belichick's club all season as the offense has yet to score a single point in the first quarter.
With Newton struggling coming into Week 8 and New England down a number of pass-catchers, Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick were extremely conservative with their offensive approach to start. In the first half, there were a number of third-and-long situations where the Patriots elected to run the football instead of dropping Newton back to pass. As a team, they were 0-4 on third down in the first half and that lack of trust in the passing attack was apparent in the final seconds before halftime. Instead of taking a shot to the end zone to possibly walk into the locker room with a lead, Belichick elected to kick a field goal on third-and-1 with 12 seconds on the clock to trail Buffalo 7-6. If that wasn't a clear sign that he doesn't trust the offense to make a smart play, then I don't know what is.
Defensively, poor tackling ran wild as the Bills ran over the Patriots front seven for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie Zack Moss and Devin Singletary gashed New England as both averaged around six yards per carry in the winning effort. New England was also rarely undisciplined, totaling a season-high five penalties in this loss.
The Cam Newton fumble clearly is what shifted the game in Buffalo's favor, but Jake Bailey's onside kick with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter was the first sign that even the Patriots knew they'd need a miracle to win this game.
After Damien Harris was able to rush for a 22-yard touchdown, Newton and Jakobi Meyers connected on a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 apiece. Bailey then lined up and booted a failed onside kick that the Bills recovered and would late turn into a touchdown to go up, 21-14. That's a decision that was a bit questionable even at the time. New England was finding its groove offensively and the defense had forced a three-and-out for the Bills offense on their previous possession. Instead of giving them the ball at the New England 45 yard line, it would have been interesting to see if the defense could've carried the momentum to force another quick drive by Buffalo.
As Belichick emptied out his bag of tricks with the onside kick and it failed, it did take a lot of the wind out of the sails for New England winning this game. The Newton fumble was just the dagger.
Play of the game
With around 37 seconds left in the game and New England down by three points, Cam Newton took a designed run from the Buffalo 25-yard line to the left side of the field. The veteran quarterback cut upfield behind Rex Burkhead and Isaiah Wynn before falling around the Buffalo 13 and fumbled. Bills defensive tackle Justin Zimmer was the one who was able to punch it out of Newton's arm and safety Dean Marlowe was able to scoop up the loose ball. Game over.
From here, the Patriots will continue to search for answers as they gear up for a Monday Night Football matchup with the New York Jets. Meanwhile, the Bills will look put their foot on the gas and maintain their lead in the division when they host the Seattle Seahawks at Bills Stadium.