The Buffalo Bills defeated their archrival New England Patriots 47-17 in the AFC Wild Card Round on Saturday at Highmark Stadium to reach the divisional round for the second straight season.
It was the third meeting between the two teams over the last seven weeks. While the Patriots took the first meeting 14-10 on Dec. 6 in Buffalo, the Bills have now defeated New England in two straight and have won four of their last five against Bill Belichick's squad.
Star quarterback Josh Allen and tight end Dawson Knox paired perfectly to attack a depleted New England secondary, which was without Jalen Mills because of COVID-19 protocols. In addition, it was one of Buffalo's most balanced performances of the season, with the defense, running game and special teams all coming up big.
Josh Allen, QB, BUF: 21/25 for 308 YDS, 5 TD and 6 CAR for 66 YDS
Mac Jones, QB, NE: 24/38 for 232 YDS, 2 TD, 2 INT and 2 CAR for 18 YDS
Devin Singletary, RB, BUF: 16 CAR for 81 YDS, 2 TD and 3 REC for 13 YDS
Kendrick Bourne, WR, NE: 7 REC for 77 YDS, 2 TD and 1 CAR for 14 YDS
Stefon Diggs, WR, BUF: 3 REC for 60 YDS
Damien Harris, RB, NE: 9 CAR for 30 YDS
Dawson Knox, TE, BUF: 5 REC for 89 YDS, 2 TD
Bills Show Super Bowl Ceiling
The Bills reached the highest of highs and lowest of lows during the 2021 regular season. They obliterated the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins early in the season, but they also suffered an embarrassing 9-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, got blown out by the Indianapolis Colts and lost in a heartbreaker to the Tennessee Titans.
On Saturday, Buffalo proved what many believed to be true entering the 2021 season: They are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
The Bills asserted their dominance early and entered halftime up 27-3 on the Patriots thanks to four consecutive touchdown drives. It was the first time New England had allowed touchdowns on four straight drives in the Bill Belichick era.
The Bills' defense also got the job done in the first half, limiting rookie quarterback Mac Jones to just 106 passing yards. In addition, Micah Hyde picked off the Alabama product in what was one of the most impressive interceptions of the year.
Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats
Micah Hyde covered 21.4 yards in 2.9 seconds to intercept Mac Jones' deep pass. Hyde was 14.4 yards away from Nelson Agholor when the pass was thrown, and 0.6 yards away at arrival.<br><br>» Hyde (since 2020): 31.2% ball hawk rate (3rd in NFL, min. 40 targets)<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NEvsBUF?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NEvsBUF</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BillsMafia?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BillsMafia</a> <a href="https://t.co/rIB9p7doOf">pic.twitter.com/rIB9p7doOf</a>
The Bills kept up the pace in the second half, too. Allen led three more touchdown drives, and the defense forced another turnover. Their performance could arguably be one of the best of Wild Card Weekend.
Based on how inconsistent the Bills have been this year, many took the time to acknowledge that if the team can just stay persistent, they'll have a great chance to come out of the AFC and play in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993.
It should also be mentioned that Saturday's game was one of Buffalo's most balanced of the season. From the passing game, to the running game, defense and special teams, everything clicked for the Bills. It's something head coach Sean McDermott had been looking for all season long.
Patriots Have Bright Future Ahead With Mac Jones
Jones didn't have the best game on Saturday night, but things could have gone a lot worse for the rookie in his first career playoff game. Facing Josh Allen and the Bills in freezing temperatures was a tough task, and while Patriots fans are undoubtedly disappointed, they should be very excited for the future.
Sure, the Alabama product tossed two interceptions at Highmark Stadium. However, one was an unbelievable pick by Micah Hyde, and the other was tipped.
Jones' arm looked pretty good as he completed 24 of 38 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He also showed the ability to get out of the pocket and make plays on the ground when necessary, rushing for 18 yards on two carries.
New England Patriots @Patriots
.<a href="https://twitter.com/MacJones_10?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MacJones_10</a> to <a href="https://twitter.com/BournePoly11?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BournePoly11</a> for the touchdown.<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/NFLonCBS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFLonCBS</a> / Patriots app <a href="https://t.co/vyYB9FPiiH">pic.twitter.com/vyYB9FPiiH</a>
We haven't seen Jones run much this season. It's not something he's particularly good at, but the fact he recognized moments where he could run for a first down and move the chains is a great sign that he's adjusting and developing.
As the game went on, and the Patriots offense seemingly woke up a little bit, many took the time to remind everyone that Jones has been very good this year, and things can only improve for New England moving forward.
Jeff Howe @jeffphowe
Looking to next season, if the Patriots can put a true No. 1 receiver with Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry, the passing attack should make some really big improvements. Mac Jones is for real, and so is the OL/RB group.<br><br>The defensive fixes are more complicated.
Evan Lazar @ezlazar
The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Patriots?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Patriots</a> roster and Mac Jones will get better. The most disturbing thing about these last two games against the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bills?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bills</a> is that Josh Allen is only 25 and will be in your division for the next decade.
Looking back on the regular season, Jones had one of the most impressive rookie seasons by a quarterback in recent memory. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
Obviously the 2021 season didn't end how he would've hoped, but Jones is expected to improve next season and once again lead New England back to the playoffs. If Belichick can bring in some reinforcements on both offense, like a No. 1 receiver, and defense, the Patriots will be a difficult team to play against in 2022.
The Bills will move on to the divisional round, while the Patriots will go back to the drawing board and begin preparations for the 2022 season.
Buffalo's opponent has yet to be decided. The No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans will face the lowest remaining seed in the AFC next weekend after this week’s games.