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2022 NFL season, Week 13: What We Learned from Bills' win over Patriots on Thursday night

Buffalo Bills
2022 · 9-3-0
New England Patriots
2022 · 6-6-0


  1. Bills’ run game evolving as teams combat Josh Allen. The Bills came into Thursday’s game with their three highest rushing totals coming in the past three weeks. And though they could not quite reach that same sum against New England, it was another successful night on the ground for the Bills as they ran for 132 yards on 37 carries, possessing the ball for a whopping 38 minutes versus a ball-control team. At times early this season, the Bills would come out throwing early to set up the run game late. In recent outings, it has been far more run-heavy early as defenses go lighter in nickel and dime. The Patriots seemed to gamble that Allen wouldn’t take the easy checkdown yards every time and eventually would get antsy. It almost worked when Allen threw one up for grabs, but Kyle Dugger couldn’t snag the freebie. But on a night when Allen is throwing touchdowns while hugging the sideline and throwing lasers in the face of pressure (the third-quarter 19-yarder to Stefon Diggs was just dirty), there really wasn’t much the Patriots could do. If the first three quarters was their attempt at death by a thousand papercuts, then the Bills’ 15-play, 94-yard, 8:55 drive to make it a 24-7 lead was the hammer blow that put the Patriots away.
  2. Patriots offense once again hits the skids. The Thanksgiving loss at Minnesota had a bright side -- for three quarters, anyway -- when the Patriots offense actually got the downfield pass game humming a bit and hit the 400-yard mark for only the second time this season. But Thursday was a step backward, raising Patriots fans’ Mac Jones angst back to pre-Vikings levels. If you only saw the box score, you might have thought Jones (with some late padding) had a solid night as he completed 22 of 36 passes for 195 yard and a touchdown. But 48 yards came on a screen where the Bills defense froze, several more came with the Patriots down three scores, and Jones got away with an interception-worthy throw in the second half. We won’t get into a scheme versus talent debate here other than to say that Matt Patricia and Jones simply don’t look like they’re on the same page. Everything looks labored, such as the Patriots’ final first-half possession when they gained 29 yards on eight plays, using two (2) timeouts to gain one (1) yard. It ended on a missed field goal, summing up the night offensively. It goes without saying, but Mac is everything Allen isn’t. Allen can escape a sack, tightrope the sideline and throw a TD. Jones can escape a sack and throw a should-have-been INT by Jordan Poyer. If Jones was throwing to the Bills’ skill players, he might have more of a chance. But with the Patriots’ pass catchers, who often are running curious routes, and Jones’ off-script limitations, there’s almost no room for error against good teams like the Bills.
  3. James Cook’s coming-out party. When Cook fumbled his first NFL handoff back in Week 1, he was immediately banished to the Bills’ bench. And though he had an 11-carry game in Week 2, Cook pretty much had been relegated to RB3 duties for the Bills while Devin Singletary has enjoyed perhaps his best season. Cook also looked like he could be stuck there following the trade for Nyheim Hines, but the Bills have thought otherwise as they’ve ramped up the rookie’s workload offensively. Thursday night was Cook’s coming-out party, as he set a career high in carries (14) and totaled (105) yards from scrimmage. Singletary had an ordinary night running the ball early and couldn’t corral either of the two passes thrown to him; both were catchable. The two of them essentially split the work down the stretch, but Cook had more touches (20 to 13) and left less meat on the bone. Could Cook overtake the RB1 role by season’s end? Our best guess is that this one ends up with Cook in the 2021 Tony Pollard role, with Singletary getting the big touches but Cook used as the injection of life.
  4. Marcus Jones … wide receiver? The Patriots have never shied away from getting the most out of their players and using them in unusual ways; think Troy Brown playing cornerback or Mike Vrabel moonlighting as a tight end. But it has been a minute since we saw a play from them quite like Jones, a cornerback by trade, making his offensive debut Thursday night. On his first NFL snap on offense, Jones caught a quick screen and turned it into a 48-yard TD to give the Patriots an early lead. It was the second-longest pass play of New England’s season, just behind Jonnu Smith’s 53-yarder against the Browns, and Jones would actually go on to lead the Patriots in receiving yards (51). They need all the help they can get offensively, especially in the big-play department (although where has Tyquan Thornton been?). So it’s not stunning to see Jones unleashed in this way -- especially after he played some receiver in college -- now that he’s proven to be an ace returner who won the second Jets game with his last-minute house call. What value the third-rounder has provided early in his rookie season. He was one of the very few bright spots on a pretty dismal night for New England.
  5. Bills secondary does its job, but late Damar Hamlin penalty was dangerous. The Bills have welcomed Tre'Davious White back to the lineup, as he played 15 snaps last week in a warmup and started and played extensively Thursday night. He was rotated in different combinations with Xavier Rhodes and Dane Jackson. Whatever combo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier threw out there worked. The Patriots had the one 48-yard catch and run from Jones, but the Bills corners locked down the Patriots’ wideouts very well in the first three quarters before they went into a soft shell. It’s a pretty good sign that Buffalo can have this kind of performance with Kaiir Elam as the rare first-rounder healthy scratch. Having more of a veteran presence in the secondary will pay off when the playoffs come rolling in, especially with the gauntlet of AFC pass catchers they’ll be tasked with stopping.

Next Gen stat of the game: On Josh Allen’s 8-yard TD pass to Gabe Davis, Allen was 0.3 yards from the sideline when he threw it -- the second-closest pass to the sideline on a completion in the NGS era. Since 2016, there have been four completions with a release within one yard of the sideline; Allen has three of them.

NFL Research: Josh Allen now has four regular-season games against the Patriots with two-plus touchdown passes and zero interceptions, which is the most of any QB against the Patriots in Bill Belichick’s Patriots tenure (2000-present).

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