By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Things change in a flash in the NFL.
In the first half, the Patriots’ offense was in shambles. Moving the ball was excruciating.
In the second half, the offense was fully in gear but the defense was porous. A shootout ensued.
By the end, it looked as though the team that had the ball last was going to be the team that won the game. That team was New England, and a victory — or at least a tie to force overtime — looked like a guarantee.
But as you surely know by now, Cam Newton fumbled the football, thus losing any chance for a happy ending on this day for the visiting Patriots, who not only lost the game but also dropped to 2-5 on the season.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 1, 2020
We’ll go ahead and start right there with the Four Ups, Four Downs feature from the Patriots’ 24-21 loss in Orchard Park.
It was actually a great second half for the QB, who looked to be back to his early-season self. He was delivering darts for first downs and picking up chunk gains on the ground. The Patriots’ offense was revitalized, and that was entirely due to the play of Cam.
But then he fumbled. And that was that.
The Patriots were already in field-goal range. Cam wasn’t scoring on that play. Priorities one, two and three had to have been ball security. Yet Cam lost the ball, and the game. That’s a crusher.
(Cam actually got away with holding the ball far apart from his body on his 19-yard run earlier in the drive, so securing the football clearly was not on his mind in the critical drive of the game.)
After two weeks of offensive frustration, the Patriots finally mounted a touchdown drive. To cap it off, the team converted a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14. Things were looking up for the Patriots.
But then the head coach called for an onside kick.
It fooled zero people.
The Bills recovered … and then drove 45 yards for a touchdown to go up by seven again.
In a second half when the Patriots’ defense was struggling, potentially cutting the field in half for Buffalo’s offense wasn’t the best risk for Belichick to make at that point in the game. It proved costly.
The Patriots’ defense — and middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley — certainly won’t be pleased when they see the missed tackles statistics from this game. It wasn’t pretty.
Missed tackling was just one problem for the Patriots, though, as they lacked the size up front to prevent much of a hindrance to Buffalo’s running game.
Devin Singletary ran for 86 yards on 14 carries (6.1-yard average), Zack Moss ran for 81 yards on 14 carries (5.8-yard average), and Josh Allen chipped in with 23 more yards on six real carries (four kneeldowns) to give Buffalo a clean 190 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the day.
As Bill Belichick might say, you’re not going to win many games when you give up almost 200 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
If the team doesn’t have enough talent to thrive, that’s one thing. If it’s a matter of the team making mental mistake after mental mistake, then that’s a problem that shouldn’t be happening. Not for a Belichick-coached team.
Nevertheless, on a day when the officiating crew was only calling obvious penalties, the Patriots racked up five penalties for 35 yards. That’s not an obscene total, but the nature of the penalties — a delay of game on the opening drive, a false start, an illegal shift, and a pair of holding penalties that negated medium-length completions — showed a team with an offense that was a bit disjointed for the first half.
With no Julian Edelman, no N’Keal Harry and a Damiere Byrd who didn’t quite look to be at full speed, it was second-year receiver Jakobi Meyers who stepped up and assumed the rule of de facto No. 1 receiver.
Meyers caught six passes for 58 yards — plus two more for 31 more yards that got negated due to O-line penalties, and a reception for a two-point conversion to tie the game in the third quarter — in what was one of the best games of his young career.
Damien Harris (And Rex Burkhead)
Another second-year offensive skill player stepped up in a big way, with Damien Harris rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown on his 16 carries. He broke free for a 22-yard score late in the third quarter for the Patriots’ first touchdown in two weeks.
.@DHx34 goes 22 yards for the TD!
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 1, 2020
Fellow running back Rex Burkhead warrants a mention, too — first for his spin move to roll off a would-be tackle from Matt Milano for a 10-yard gain on a third-and-10 prior to Harris’ touchdown, and again for a tough run to move the sticks prior to Newton’s fumble on the final drive.
He had 26 yards on six carries, plus a five-yard reception on the day.
The kicker was a question mark last year but has come a long way since then, hitting both of his field goal attempts and his PAT in this game.
The field goals were from 43 yards and 33 yards, and there was little doubt that even on the windy day, he would have been able to drill a game-tying field goal to force overtime at the end of regulation.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 1, 2020
The cornerback made the biggest play of the first half for the Patriots, picking off a Josh Allen pass intended for Stefon Diggs and returning it 25 yards. That interception led to a field goal drive for the Patriots, who cut Buffalo’s lead to 7-6 before halftime.
The pick was Jackson’s fourth of the season, putting him into a tie for the most in the NFL.