BOSTON -- The Patriots did not beat the Bills on Thursday night. They didn't really come close, either.
Despite taking a 7-3 lead into the second quarter, the Patriots were outclassed for most of the night by the Bills, who won their third straight game at Gillette Stadium, this time by a 24-10 final.
There wasn't a whole lot in the way of positives for the Patriots. And there were plenty of negatives. So the "Four Ups, Four Downs" portion of the program might be a bit imbalanced this week.
But, hey, let's start with the good news.
Up: The Defense Made Buffalo Punt
You might have heard that Buffalo didn't punt in their win at Gillette last year, nor did they punt in their home playoff win over New England.
But Buffalo had to punt on Thursday -- not once, not twice, but thrice.
Hey, that's progress.
Up: Marcus Jones
The electric punt returner can play offense, too, and he turned his first NFL offensive snap into a 48-yard catch-and-run.
The rookie won the game vs. the Jets two weeks ago, and he briefly gave the Patriots a 7-3 lead against the Bills.
Up: Josh Uche, Matt Judon
If the Patriots were going to have a chance to make it a game, it would have come before halftime, when Josh Uche strip-sacked Josh Allen and Matt Judon recovered the ball.
The Patriots were only down 10, and had a chance to cut it to three with a touchdown.
But the Patriots' offense sputtered after gaining a quick 25 yards on two plays, and they eventually had to settle for a field goal attempt. It was no good. The Patriots wouldn't score again until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand.
Up: Rhamondre Stevenson
His numbers may not pop. But he was essentially the entire Patriots' offense until the final drive. He broke a ton of tackles, absorbed a ton of contact, and carried the load with Damien Harris out due to injury.
FOUR (OR MORE) DOWNS
Down: Third-down offense
The Patriots went 3-for-12 on third down. They punted six times. That's largely why they weren't competitive.
Down: Mac Jones-Rhamondre Stevenson exchange
On a third-and-inches on the game's opening drive, Stevenson ran toward one hole, while Jones went to handoff at another. It led to a fumbled exchange. Stevenson recovered, but he did so behind the line of scrimmage, leading to a game-opening three-and-out.
It wasn't a crisp opening to the game. And Stevenson fumbled just before the Patriots' lone touchdown, too, but was fortunate enough to have Nelson Agholor in position to recover it.
Down: Timeout management before halftime
On the aforementioned drive following the Uche/Judon turnover, the Patriots let some precious seconds tick off the clock after Stevenson was stuffed on a second-and-1. Then they used their second timeout. Then they ran a QB sneak ... and called their final timeout. Instead of running a spike to kill the clock.
It was perplexing.
That left them with a first-and-10 at the Buffalo 33-yard line with 32 seconds left in the half.
That severely limited the offense's options, and Buffalo easily guarded the sideline and the end zone, leading to a 44-yard field goal attempt, which came up short.
Down: Nick Folk
The veteran was automatic inside of 50 yards not that long ago, setting an NFL record in the process. But now, he's clearly lacking the leg to kick what's become mid-range kicks in the NFL.
This time, it was a 44-yard field goal on a non-windy night that was right down the pipe ... but hit the crossbar pipe.
Two weeks ago vs. the Jets (on a windier day), he was also short on a 44-yarder, and he missed wide left on a 43-yarder.
It's possible that handling kickoff duties with Jake Bailey on IR has led to some leg fatigue, with the Patriots playing three games in 12 days. The Patriots have to hope the extra rest (from Thursday night to Monday night) before their next game solves that issue, because they're not good enough to be missing out on any scoring opportunities.
Down: The NFL for reviving "survive the ground"
A few years ago, the NFL got rid of the requirement for pass catchers to "survive the ground," because everybody hated it. Suddenly, it's back -- first with Hunter Henry in Minnesota on Thanksgiving, now with Jordan Poyer after toe-tapping an interception along the Buffalo sideline.
Poyer obviously bobbled the ball after hitting the ground, and he likely didn't satisfy the third requirement to complete a catch. But referee Shawn Hochuli announced to the crowd that Poyer didn't survive the ground, just one week after VP of officiating Walt Anderson referenced "surviving the ground" last week.
As a people, we moved on from this. Let's get back to that. Nobody likes it.
Down: Jonathan Jones
This one's not fair, because who can really cover Stefon Diggs? Nevertheless, that was Jonathan Jones' task for part of Thursday night, and he gave up a touchdown to give up the lead on the first play of the second quarter. It wasn't just Diggs either ...
Jones has assumed a No. 1 cornerback role this year, but the past two weeks -- with Justin Jefferson and Stefon Diggs -- shows that he's not the type of cornerback who can slow down the league's best receivers.
That may be more of a coaching and personnel issue than it is a mark against Jones specifically, though.
Down: Kyle Dugger?
This one's definitely unfair, as Dugger was laying the wood all night. But he had a near-interception in his grasp just after the Patriots took a 7-3 lead, and if he had made that play, who knows what happens?
OK, we probably know what happens. But for the Patriots to compete with good teams, they need to create their own breaks. That was a missed opportunity.
Down: Fourth quarter punt
The Patriots were probably on a path to losing in the fourth quarter, when they trailed 24-7. Yet ... they kind of waved a white flag early.
Facing a third-and-15 at their own 38-yard line, the Patriots dialed up a play that led to Mac Jones hitting Jakobi Meyers in the left flat for a meager gain. Meyers was able to make it an 8-yard pickup.
And on fourth-and-7, with the ball at the 46, the Patriots opted to punt instead of at least try to go for it and make a game of it.
Belichick said after the game that he was just trying to "stay in the game." It didn't help a ton in that regard, and it didn't help the Patriots try to win the game in the least.
Down: Damar Hamlin
With three minutes remaining in a 24-7 game, Bills safety Damar Hamlin decided it was the right time to try to knock Jakobi Meyers out with a concussion. It was a hit straight out of 1970, and after leaving Meyers dazed on the field, Hamlin popped up and flexed over Meyers' body.
A flag flew, and Hamlin was kicked out. Those hits on defenseless receivers are obviously illegal and have been for ... about a dozen years. The 24-year-old Hamlin has no excuse for that one, as it's the type of hit that messes with fellow players' livelihoods.
Down: Run defense
The Bills entered the night with Josh Allen serving as their primary rusher. But James Cook and Devin Singletary were able to run all over the Patriots, rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. That led to the Bills possessing the ball for 38 minutes and really grind the game down in the second half.
A 15-play, 94-yard drive that drained 8:55 off the clock and ended in a 1-yard touchdown run was the dagger on the night.
Down: Early penalties
The Patriots were only penalized six times, but they had a flurry of them early. A holding call on Trent Brown appeared to be a phantom call, but after that, rookie Jack Jones committed pass interference on a third down, DaMarcus Mitchell held on a kick return to start a Patriots drive at the 9-yard line, and a rare Cole Strange holding penalty/Mac Jones intentional grounding double penalty at the 1-yard line nearly gave the Bills a safety.
Then when the Patriots tried to punt (on fourth-and-1, after a nice 16-yard Stevenson run), they took a delay of game at their own 17-yard line. That moved the punt back five yards, and the Bills took over at their own 44-yard line before driving for a touchdown to take a 10-point lead.
The sloppiness continues.
Down: The quarterback
People always blame the quarterback too much, just like they give too much credit to the quarterback. So while it's not entirely Mac Jones' fault that he had another underwhelming night behind a busted offensive line in an offense being run by someone who clearly should not be running it ... he still wasn't great and could have been better. So the critics can have at it.
Down: The receiving corps
The Patriots' leading receiver was a punt returner/defensive back. That's not great.
Tyquan Thornton ranked second on the team in receiving yards with 31. A running back -- Stevenson -- ranked third. Jakobi Meyers had 22 receiving yards. Nelson Agholor had 17, and DeVante Parker had 16. The tight ends finally show up at the bottom of the stat page: Hunter Henry had 13 yards, and Jonnu Smith had six.
After last week, this was a crash back to Earth for the passing offense.
Down: The Patriots
Well, that was kind of a given. But it was a bad night for the New England Patriots, who spent a large portion of the evening soaking in the boos from the home crowd. It was a tough scene as they prepare to head on the road for a stretch that will either keep their season alive or end it before Christmas.
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