Bill Belichick's Patriots Take Bills' Soul, Along with Top Seed in AFC

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 7, 2021

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

The New England Patriots didn't give a damn about style points Monday when they realized a freezing evening with 20-plus mile-per-hour winds would drastically affect their meeting with the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. 

Instead, Bill Belichick and Co. concocted the perfect game plan to counteract the conditions while simultaneously crushing the soul of their division rival with a heavily adorned ground-and-pound gala. 

The Bills should come away supremely disheartened by their effort during the Patriots' 14-10 victory. 

First, New England now sits alone atop the playoffs standings as the first AFC squad with nine wins. Second, the Patriots have what may be an insurmountable 7-1 conference record, while every other AFC participant has at least three conference losses. Third, the division leader has yet to lose on the road. Finally, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called the type of game that haunts an opponent because the Bills knew what was coming and couldn't do anything about it. 

When the weather gets cold and windy, the approach simplifies: run the ball, play for field position and let the defense go to work. 

"Just a crazy game to be a part of," Patriots quarterback Mac Jones told reporters after the contest. "We knew if we didn't turn the ball over, we'd be good."

Jones did receive credit for participation, but that's about it. In one of the wildest stat lines in recent memory, the rookie signal-caller completed two-of-three passes for 19 yards. Historically, the Patriots achieved something special. They became the first team to win a game with three or fewer passes since Week 3 of the 1974 campaign, per ESPN Stats & Info. The two completions are the fewest in the Patriots' franchise history, with the three attempts now the least in any single game. 

Why throw the ball when a team doesn't need to do so? 

With that thought in mind, New England ran for 222 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry despite Buffalo placing eight to nine men in the box on nearly every single snap.

"I'm just trying to win," Jones responded when asked about his lack of passing. "It was good we scored more than the other team."

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

New England's performance harkens back to what Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who fielded the league's No. 1 defense last season as a Rams coordinator, said when asked why running the ball remains important in a pass-first league: 

"There's a physicality to the game that's real, right? If you're just a passing team, there's a physical element to the game that the defense doesn't have to respect. And that's the truth. Because the data will tell you that you don't need a run game to play pass. You don't need that.

"But what the running game does for you it brings a physical dimension to the football game. And what the running game does that the passing game does not, is the running forces the defense to play block and to tackle. That happens on a run play—you must play blocks, and you must tackle. In the passing game, those things don't need to happen, right? You don't have to play as many blocks. And you may not have to tackle based on incomplete or not. So what the running game does is it really challenges your physicality, and that's why I think the run game is important to a quarterback. It's literally going to allow him to have more space to operate when you do throw the football."

In this particular contest, Jones didn't need to throw the football but three times. Obviously, inclement weather played a significant factor. But the Bills' Josh Allen was able to cut the wind and make a few exceptional tosses throughout the evening. 

The importance of Staley's words revolves around the physical aspect. At its core, football remains a violent game. While it may not be entirely quantifiable, the idea of imposing one's will onto an opponent is taught to players at every single level. As the old adage goes, "The greatest feeling in football is moving a man from Point A to Point B against his will." 

McDaniels' approach during New England's latest victory—its seventh straight—took this idea and actually implemented it as part of the team's playcalling. Personnel packages consistently included a sixth offensive lineman plus the team's fullback, Jakob Johnson. 

Nothing the Patriots did was groundbreaking. If anything, their style of play invoked memories of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers with some of the sweep plays they ran. McDaniels called traps and powers. He also got his running backs on the edge to create a few chunk plays. 

Simply put, New England was much bigger and more physical at the point of attack. 

"For the offensive line to do what they did was incredible," Jones said

The performance didn't fall entirely on the offensive line, though the group played extremely well. The Patriots' wide receivers, particularly N'Keal Harry, helped set the tone by sealing the edge and laying some wicked crack-back blocks. The 227-pound Rhamondre Stevenson ran hard and through plenty of tackles once he took over for an injured Damien Harris, whose beautiful 64-yard-scamper served as the Patriots' lone touchdown. 


Damien Harris is GONE. 64-yard touchdown! #ForeverNE 📺: #NEvsBUF on ESPN 📱: https://t.co/wsVL8IokGf https://t.co/IzeJz7ucf2

The Bills' underbelly showed, and it's more prone to attack than the dragon Smaug from The Hobbit. Buffalo can't stop the run even when it knows it must. Against the Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts, Sean McDermott's defense allowed an average of 210.7 rushing yards per game. 

Buffalo is supposed to be one of the AFC's top squads, but everyone is finding out quickly the conference is being overrun by mediocrity. This places the Patriots in prime position as the postseason looms.

Among the other teams currently in playoff slots, the Titans are without Derrick Henry. The Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson has played poorly as of late with eight interceptions in his last four appearances. The Kansas City Chiefs have improved, particularly on defense, but Patrick Mahomes continues to struggle with certain defensive looks. The Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals are highly inconsistent. 

The Patriots are just plugging along with all of the tools to continue their winning ways.

Monday's performance is an aberration, of course. New England was prepared for the moment and willed its way toward a positive performance. But Belichick's current squad is more than capable of playing and beating every team in the NFL with an efficient (and likely NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year) operator behind center, a physical offensive front, weapons at tight end and wide receiver, a stable of talented backs and the league's No. 1 scoring defense. 

"This is not finished. We're not even close to being done. We haven't even hit our ceiling, as Coach would say," running back Brandon Bolden told reporters

New England couldn't care less about what anyone thinks regarding their style of play. The Patriots continue to win. Nothing else matters. They've re-emerged as the AFC's best team as a result. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.