Bills come up short against Patriots
ORCHARD PARK — Damien Harris scored on a 64-yard run in blustery conditions in which Mac Jones attempted just three passes, and the New England Patriots shored up their familiar place atop the AFC with a 14-10 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.
Defensive back Miles Bryant sealed the victory by batting down Josh Allen’s pass at the goal line with Buffalo facing fourth-and-14 at New England’s 18 with 1:55 remaining.
The Patriots leaned heavily on their ground game out-gaining the Bills 229 to 99 in yards rushing, with the cold, windy snowy night negating Allen’s strong-armed passing attack.
New England (9-4) won its seventh consecutive game, improved to 6-0 on the road this season and now has a two-win edge over the Bills (7-5) in the AFC East standings.
Harris finished with a season-best 111 yards rushing and opened the scoring on New England’s ninth play from scrimmage. Facing third-and-5, Harris burst though a gaping hole up the middle and was untouched on his way to the end zone.
With the Patriots facing winds gusting up to 40 mph, coach Bill Belichick succeeded on a 2-point conversion, with Brandon Bolden scoring just inside the left pylon.
The Patriots never trailed with Nick Folk hitting two field goals — both with the wind at his back — from 34 and 41 yards.
The Bills continued their inconsistencies by losing four of their past seven, and have not won consecutive games since capping a 4-0 run spanning Sept. 19 to Oct. 10.
Though the two teams meet once more in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Dec. 26, Buffalo’s path to repeat as division champions, never mind earn a third straight postseason berth, is suddenly muddied. The AFC’s wild-card race now features four teams with seven wins. The Bills also dropped to 5-5 against AFC opponents and 3-1 against division opponents.
The Bills defense continues to be susceptible against the run. The 222 yards rushing allowed on Monday came two weeks after Jonathan Taylor scored five times and gained 185 yards rushing in the Indianapolis Colts 41-15 win at Buffalo.
Jones was relegated to handoff duties in attempting one pass — a 12-yard completion in which tight end Jonnu Smith tipped the ball to himself– in the first half. According to Elias Sports, the Patriots had the fewest yards passing and became the first team to attempt just one one pass in the first half since at least 1978.
He finished 2 of 3 for 19 yards in becoming the NFL’s third quarterback to win nine games in his rookie season, joining Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and Dallas’ Dak Prescott in 2016. He also joined Roethlisberger and Prescott in becoming the NFL’s third rookie QB to win his first six road starts.
Each team capitalized on the other’s mistakes in trading touchdowns in the opening quarter.
Harris’ TD came three plays after New England’s Lawrence Guy recovered Matt Breida’s fumble at the Patriots 31.
Buffalo responded on its next possession which was extended after N’Keal Harry slipped had Matt Haack’s punt glance off his helmet, with Siran Neal recovering the ball at New England’s 14. Allen hit Gabriel Davis on a slant route on the next play to cut the lead to 8-7.
The Bills blew several scoring chances by managing a touchdown and field goal on four trips inside the Patriots 20. That included Tyler Bass missing a 34-yard attempt wide right into the wind midway through the fourth quarter.
The elements were at times overwhelming, including a wind-chill that dropped the temperature into the mid-20s.
One of New England’s Jake Bailey’s punts went sideways into the wind for 15 yards. Members of ESPN’s pre-game broadcast crew were blown off their chairs along the sideline, and the orange flags was ripped off the top of the left upright in the east end of the stadium.
At least the snow stopped falling before game time, after the field was covered by a white dusting two hours before kickoff.
ON THE RETURN
Hyde took over Buffalo’s kickoff- and punt-returning duties with both Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Marquez Stevenson inactive. Stevenson recovered his own fumble on a punt return against the Saints in his first game taking over the job for McKenzie, who was benched after his muffed punt led to the Colts scoring a touchdown two weeks ago.
Patriots: Safety Kyle Dugger, New England’s leading tackler, did not play after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last wek, while linebacker Jamie Collins returned after missing three games with an ankle injury.
Bills: Starting guard Jon Feliciano missed his fifth game with a calf injury despite returning to practice last week.
Buffalo welcomed back defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who missed four games, and right tackle Spencer Brown, who missed two, after both were cleared from the COVID-19 list.
Patriots: Enter bye week off, and return to play at Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 18.
Bills: Travel to play Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, with Tom Brady, 32-3 against Buffalo, holding the NFL record for most career wins by a quarterback against one opponent.