By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots need a win this weekend. They reallllly need a win this weekend.
Sitting at 2-4 and riding a three-game losing streak, the Patriots are in real danger of having their postseason hopes evaporate in a hurry. Climbing out of a 2-5 hole is not impossible, but it would create a real steep uphill battle for the rest of the season. Given what we’ve seen from the Patriots over the last few weeks, we’re not so sure they’re capable of making such a hike.
But while the Patriots need this win, the Bills kind of, sort of need it even more. Sure, Buffalo is sitting pretty at 5-2 atop the AFC East. They’re favored against the Patriots this weekend, which has been a rare occurrence over the last 20 years. Yeah, the Bills are set up pretty well in 2020 — and seemingly beyond. Sunday could be the first steps toward a changing of the guard in the AFC East.
But first, the Bills have to beat the Patriots, something they haven’t been able to do much of over the last two decades. They’ve lost seven straight to the Patriots, with Buffalo’s last win over New England coming in 2016 when Jacoby Brissett was under center for the Pats. Even with most things leaning in their favor last season, the Bills still dropped both games to the Patriots, mostly because they are the Bills.
If the Bills want to show that they’re now the top dogs in the division, they have to beat the Patriots. Sunday’s matchup is once again set up in their favor. Tom Brady is no longer around to stomp on their dreams, and the Cam Newton-led Patriots can’t seem to do anything right on offense. Buffalo continues to rise to the level of respectability, with an offense that has explosive potential and a defense full of playmakers. This game is in Buffalo, and even though Bills Mafia won’t be packing the stands, chances are there will be some outside of the stadium ready to give the Patriots a double freedom rocket salute on their way in.
Everything is turning up Milhouse for the Bills. This is their opportunity to grab the division and deliver a knockout blow to the team that has embarrassed them since the turn of the century. It seems like the only way the Bills will lose this game is if they beat themselves. And knowing the Bills, that can never be ruled out.
These Patriots are not the Patriots of the last 20 years, but are these no longer the Bills of the last 20 years? We’ll find out on Sunday.
Cam Playing For His Job
Remember when having Cam Newton at quarterback was fun? When he was the steal of free agency and images of Bill Belichick laughing menacingly in the shadows danced around the minds of New Englanders?
It all seems so long ago, because Cam has been hovering from bad to awful over his last three games. He’s flat out stunk. Newton’s struggles go back to Week 3 against Las Vegas, before he missed two weeks of practice with COVID. It’s all spiraled out of control since then, and another odiferous performance this weekend could cost him his starting job.
It all starts and ends with his turnovers. Cam has looked more like a baker than a QB and should consider trading in his fedora for a chef’s hat, with six interceptions in his last three games. (He’s also fumbled twice, but the Patriots managed to recover both.) He has five picks and no touchdown passes since returning from his stint on the COVID list.
But it hasn’t just been the turnovers. Newton can’t seem to hit his receivers, and making matters worse, he’s not even throwing to the ones who are open. His passes have been flying over their intended target’s head, bouncing in front of them, or on several occasions, bouncing off their fingertips and into the hands of a defender. Newton’s mechanics look off, and he’s mysteriously stopped throwing to the right side of the field.
Another full week of practice should help Newton’s cause, but not having Julian Edelman or N’Keal Harry — and the crummy weather expected in Buffalo — certainly won’t. Maybe Josh McDaniels will realize it’s time to get back to the basics with this offense. But Newton has to be better this weekend, or he may find himself falling down the depth chart.
Can Patriots Run Again?
While it will be imperative to get Newton’s passing game going for the Patriots to succeed this season, New England should focus on the ground attack this weekend. Like the Patriots, the Bills have struggled against the run this season.
Buffalo has surrendered 127 rushing yards per game this season, allowing 4.58 yards per carry. Both rank in the bottom third of the NFL.
The Jets averaged 4.5 yards per carry last weekend, with AARP-bound Frank Gore rushing for 60 yards on 11 carries. The Chiefs torched the Bills for 245 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry in Week 6. And we all remember when Derrick Henry did to Josh Norman on Tuesday night three weeks ago:
Long story short, the Bills are susceptible to the run.
The Patriots showed early in the season that they can be bullies on the ground, so it’d be nice if they could get back to that this weekend. And with the lack of options at receiver, and with Sunday set to be a rainy, windy mess in Buffalo, it may be the only way the Patriots can move the ball.
Unfortunately, Damien Harris was the only player who did much of anything on the ground in October. Some of that had to do with the slew of injuries along the offensive line, and the Pats may turn to a makeshift line again with Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney and Justin Herron all banged up at practice this week.
But if the Patriots can’t beat the Bills on the ground this weekend, then we’ll know that their early season success was just fool’s gold.
Speaking of bad run defenses….
The Patriots are going to want to force Josh Allen to beat them with his absolute cannon of an arm. The more he throws, the more he’s prone to make a mistake. (No interceptions on 43 passes last weekend doesn’t count since it was against the Jets.) And if Allen doesn’t rear back and send missiles downfield, he’s got weapons in Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley that can turn short passes into big gains. That’s been a huge problem for the Patriots, and something the Bills will likely exploit.
But if there is anything Sean McDermott should do with his QB, it’s let the kid run. Allen was Buffalo’s leading rusher last weekend with 61 yards, and now he’s facing a Patriots run defense that can’t stop a nose bleed. Allen is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this year, and nearly 5.5 yards on his 19 carries over the last two weeks.
Bill Belichick has spent the entire week praising Allen for his growth over his three NFL seasons, and said he isn’t as reliant on his legs. Belichick said that Allen has become much better at hitting his second and third targets, and isn’t as quick to take off out of the pocket.
But given how horrible the Patriots have been against the run, Allen should be looking to scamper as much as possible on Sunday.
First Quarter Scoring
The Patriots have scored precisely once in the first quarter this season, and it wasn’t because of anything the offense did. If it wasn’t for Devin McCourty pick-sixing Russell Wilson in Week 2, the Patriots would have a big goose egg next to their first quarter scoring this season.
That must change, especially for a team that has shown it’s incapable of coming back this season.
Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Bills matchup on WBZ-TV! Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and after the game stay tuned for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!