By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Blowouts in the NFL are funny in that once they reach a certain point of silliness, it becomes difficult and somewhat ludicrous to break down or point at a specific moment that served as the bursting of the dam. Pointing to, say, a five-minute stretch in the first and identifying it as the moment the game tilted one way over the other is perhaps a foolish endeavor.
Fine. Maybe the Patriots were going to lose that Monday night game to the Bills 100 times out of 100, no matter the circumstances and no matter the decisions made. The Bills are that good.
Yet we can still look back at the Buffalo touchdown drive that stretched from the end of the first quarter into the start of the second quarter, and we can identify it as the lowest moment of the 2020 season for the miserable New England Patriots.
Sure, losing to Houston, or barely beating the Jets, or losing to Denver, or getting blown out by San Francisco … and the Rams, those are terrible moments. No doubt.
But in terms of a perfect encapsulation of the 2020 Patriots, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better window than that one drive. (The fact that we’re spotlighting a defensive drive instead of an offensive drive is the upset of the century.)
We should start with the end of the Patriots drive that preceded it. On second-and-7, Cam Newton threw a simple pass over the middle to Devin Asiasi. But when it comes to passes thrown to the rookie tight ends this season, nothing is simple. And Asiasi dropped this one.
And on third down, Cam Newton opted not to throw short to Damiere Byrd to beat the blitz and instead stood in the pocket as an avalanche of white jerseys collapsed upon him. He lost 13 yards.
The Patriots had to punt. And in a 3-3 game, the Patriots’ defense actually came up big. Jonathan Jones exploded to the line of scrimmage to stop Zack Moss for no gain on a reception on first down. Terez Hall stopped Moss after a gain of five on second down. And the secondary held its coverage on third-and-5, despite Josh Allen having more than five seconds to stand in the pocket and scan the field.
A three-and-out. The football game was competitive.
It was then, though, that the Bills did to the Patriots what the Patriots have done to countless opponents — including the Bills — over the past 20 years. They caught the opponent with their pants down, and made them look like a fool.
After lining up to punt, the Bills punt team noticed that nobody was in the same zip code as gunner Sirian Neal. What came next was the Bills looking like a champion and the Patriots looking like a 6-9 third-place team.
🚨 FAKE PUNT ALERT 🚨 @BuffaloBills
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 29, 2020
After the game, all Belichick could say was this: “They got us before we could make the play.”
That they did. So the drive continued. But the fake punt appeared to have been wasted, as Jones pushed Cole Beasley out of bounds a yard shy of the sticks — a play which resulted in one of the better replays you’ll ever see:
That, though, is neither here nor there. Facing a fourth-and-1 at New England’s 43, the Bills decided to go for it. Certainly it was a worthwhile gamble, especially after pulling off the fake punt.
Once again, a moment like this has been the point where championship-caliber Patriots teams have excelled for two decades. Bill Belichick has said 16,000 times that playing winning football is all about execution.
Yet on this one, instead of executing … Adam Butler jumped offside early, giving Buffalo a free first down. But Buffalo didn’t even need it, because nobody on the Patriots’ defense accounted for the running quarterback … running. Allen faked a handoff and took off to the right side. He was off to the races for 22 yards.
Patriots. Pants down. For two consecutive fourth downs. That has just never happened. Not under Belichick. Yet here we are.
A few plays later, the Bills were on the 10-yard line in a goal-to-go situation. They hurried to the line to catch the Patriots off guard as the final seconds of the first quarter ticked off the clock. Buffalo’s offense got set with 4 seconds left. Allen called out a hard count. Adam Butler, lined up directly in front of the football, jumped offside again.
From there, we could rightfully assume that Allen only threw a 50-50 ball into the end zone because he knew the flag gave him a free play. But Allen’s frustrated reaction to his interception in the end zone kind of indicated that he wasn’t sure of that offside penalty being called.
So all we have to go on is what happened. And what happened is that Adam Butler jumping offside cost the Patriots an end zone interception in a 3-3 game.
The quarter ended there, and after Dawson Knox dropped an easy touchdown, Moss ran one in from five yards out. The Bills led 10-3, and the Patriots wouldn’t regain a tie or a lead for the rest of the long, painful night.
Getting clowned on a fake punt, failing not once but twice on a single fourth-and-1 play, and then committing a completely unnecessary penalty to negate a game-changing play. This is not the Patriots franchise we’ve come to know since 2001. Even in the relatively “dark” days of 2005 or 2009, the failure in key moments was never quite this staggering.
But that’s what the Patriots are in 2020. People in New England stopped waiting for things to change weeks ago, probably some time around the loss in Houston, and certainly after the embarrassment in Los Angeles.
This is just who the Patriots are this year. It’s jarring to see, but to quote a famous coach, it is what it is.
Leftover thoughts from the 38-9 Bills whooping, coming at you now.
–The Bills are the story. They’ve taken such massive strides. Remember last year, when the Patriots went to Buffalo in September, and the head coach was far too excitable to perform his job well? Back then, McDermott was shooing Brian Belichick off the field, arguing for rules that don’t exist to be enforced, and making one of the worst challenges known to man. And do you remember when the Bills visited Foxboro, also in prime time of Week 16, only to blow a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter and lose by a touchdown?
Times have obviously changed, as the Bills are without a doubt the class of the AFC East. While losing is always bad in the NFL, I do believe last year’s losses to the Patriots helped the Bills to learn what they needed to know about themselves.
–Oh, and adding Stefon Diggs to the mix has worked out, too. That has definitely helped. Just my opinion, though.
–McDermott was asked about the long greeting and congratulations given to him at midfield by Belichick after the game. That’s not something Belichick is known for, as you surely know.
“Yeah, I mean, listen, I’ve been on the other side of it before. And so he was very complimentary, and I certainly appreciate that. And as you mentioned, a lot of respect for what he’s been able to do,” McDermott said. “Yeah, pretty cool. He’s a legend in terms of what he’s been able to do, and I certainly appreciate that and I’m humbled by it.”
This is the longest postgame handshake I’ve ever seen Belichick give an opposing coach.
McDermott after the game: “He was very complementary. …He's a legend in terms of what he’s been able to do. I certainly appreciated that and am humbled by it." pic.twitter.com/jCWAXo4wt6
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 29, 2020
Broadcasts and national shows love to throw out the tired cliches like “passing of the torch,” to the point where you want to light your hair on fire and run into a wall every time you hear the phrase. But, well, it’s clear what’s happened.
–You know, I wrote a lot of the words in the intro about the perfect picture of the 2020 Patriots. I don’t know why I did that. I could have just used a GIF.
Yup. That about does it.
Kind of reminds me of that infamous shot of Aaron Dobson from the rainy Thursday nighter against the Jets in 2013, come to think of it.
–Hey, speaking of 2013, it’s kind of insane to look back at the “bad” offensive years for the Patriots and compare them to 2020. I mean. Goodness gracious, good gravy, hachi machi, and all of that. Look at this.
2008, The Matt Cassel Year
Passing Yards: 12th
Pass TDs: 13th
Rushing Yards: 6th
Rushing TDs: 4th
2013, The Dobson/Thompkins/Boyce Year
Passing Yards: 10th
Pass TDs: 13th
Rushing Yards: 9th
Rushing TDs: 2nd
2015, The “Bombs To Slater In The AFCCG” Year
Passing Yards: 5th
Pass TDs: 1st
Rushing Yards: 30th
Rushing TDs: 11th
2019, The Year The Dynasty Died
Passing Yards: 8th
Pass TDs: 16th
Rushing Yards: 18th
Rushing TDs: 10th
OK, got all that? Good. Now look at the 2020 rankings. And hold on to your butts.
2020, The Cam Newton Season
Passing Yards: 30th
Pass TDs: 32nd
Rushing Yards: 5th
Rushing TDs: 5th
The Patriots have just eight passing touchdowns in 15 games. Say that out loud. Tell a friend. Try not to barf. That’s obviously the worst mark in the league, behind the Giants (10), Football Team (14), and the Jets (15).
There are obviously numerous reasons for the Patriots’ passing offense to not be great. But it’s unfathomable that a Belichick-McDaniels-coached team could be so, so terrible.
(Yet McDaniels will get head coaching opportunities this offseason? What in the wide world of sports?)
–Not much in the way of highlights from the home team on Monday night, but this juke by J.J. Taylor was something sick.
Where’s Chris Berman when you need him?
One more time, with feeling:
And now, because I’ve had maybe one or two opportunities to do this all season:
Maybe next year, those will come back. Outside of maybe one or two plays from James White and Rex Burkhead, the jukes have been very, very tame for the Patriots this year.
–If we’re out here playing the hits, then sadly it must be done …
Again, the role reversal is jarring. For years and years and years, it was the Patriots springing guys free — and, like, really good guys, like Rob Gronkowski — and making the opponents look clueless. Not in 2020.
–Cam Newton, obviously not very good at throwing the ball. That’s been covered six ways from Sunday. I did, however, like when he dropped a shoulder into Poyer. The entire Bills sideline lit up with excitement for the “big hit,” though they were all unaware at the time that the quarterback was the one delivering the shot.
Cam seemed amused at the sideline reaction.
Poyer then had to leave the game.
Poyer was cleared to return in the second half, which is good. It’s just not often you see quarterbacks send defensive backs off the field.
–One more thing on Cam: Multiple times this season he has gotten absolutely steamrolled in the backfield but somehow has not fumbled.
I mean, what kind of fingers does this man possess???
That reminded me of a play against the Broncos.
Mentioned it during the game, and yeah you don't want your QB to stand there for 4 seconds and get walloped by a linebacker. But I still can't comprehend the physics of how Newton held on to this ball. For as long as I've watched football, this hit results in a fumble every time. pic.twitter.com/40EliLeSu7
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 20, 2020
Hey when you’ve got strong hands, I guess you’ve got some strong hands.
–Unfortunately, those fingers might have gotten in the way on this one:
That pass before halftime technically didn’t end Newton’s night, but in his lone series of the second half, he handed the ball off three times.
Obviously, every quarterback in history has a misfire. Tom Brady had ’em. Peyton Manning. Joe Montana. It’s part of playing the game. Yet this was not an isolated incident, and it was seemingly the final straw for Belichick, who’s aggressively stood up for Newton all year long.
That’s not an acceptable throw in the NFL, in college, or in high school. A coach might let it slide in Pop Warner. Ugly stuff, and it makes you wonder how the 2015 NFL MVP is in this position right now.
–Bad loss, great hair.
You’ve got to take the wins where you can get them.
–Hey, one more week. It doesn’t really matter for much, outside of draft positioning. It’s what will come after Sunday that really brings a level of intrigue that none of us can predict and none of us can truly prepare to witness. It may be great, it may get worse. It’s all up to Bill.