By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The first half on Sunday was a grind for the Patriots. The second half began with the Bills marching 75 yards on just five plays for a touchdown that gave the home team a 14-6 lead.
The Patriots’ offense hadn’t found the end zone in two weeks. Things were looking quite grim for the Patriots, who were in an absolute must-win game vs. the first-place Buffalo Bills.
But then the Patriots created a bit of life. Josh Uche tackled Josh Allen in the open field to force a Buffalo punt. Gunner Olszewksi returned it 15 yards to give New England good field position. Rex Burkhead made a dynamite effort to get 10 yards on a third-and-10, Damien Harris broke free for a 22-yard touchdown, and a Cam Newton pass to Jakobi Meyers for a two-point conversion tied the game at 14-all.
The Patriots — for the first time in really a month — were cooking.
That turned sour awfully quickly though, as Bill Belichick called for an onside kick from Jake Bailey. The big bouncer was intended to catch the Bills off guard; it did not. Tyler Matakevich recovered it with ease, gaining possession for the Bills at the Patriots’ 45-yard line.
The Bills capitalized on that gift, driving 45 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, in a game they’d eventually win 24-21.
After the loss — which dropped the Patriots to 2-5 and all but extinguished any prayer of winning the division — Belichick was asked why he called for the onside kick.
“We were trying to make a positive play,” Belichick said.
That was the full extent of Belichick’s explanation.
Really, the reasoning behind the call wasn’t too much of a mystery. Gaining a bonus possession late in the third quarter and flipping a 14-6 deficit into a 21-14 lead in a flash could have been a knockout punch for the visitors.
It’s just … the risk of giving a short field to Buffalo’s offense, which was running the ball at will for much of the game, when the score was tied and the Patriots’ offense had finally created something to feel good about? The risk was high, and it was very real. And the Bills made it hurt.
While a Cam Newton fumble on the final drive when the game-tying field goal was well within range was the ultimate killer of the Patriots’ chances on this day, the failed effort to “make a positive play” was still a significant contributor.