By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The NFL is the NFL, and we are ... us. So after a very entertaining, tightly contested, extremely memorable game between the Patriots and Bills on Monday Night Football, we are obviously tempted to do what we do best: Make grand proclamations about the teams, players, and coaches involved in Monday night's festivities.
On that endeavor, though, we really oughtta just ... not.
While the game ostensibly looked like any other game, the reality is that the conditions for Monday night's 14-10 Patriots win were wholly unique. The weather was extreme, the likes of which most of the 96 active players likely have never experienced before and are unlikely to ever experience again.
More than anything else, the game was a reflection of the conditions. So if there's an urge to shout "BILL BELICHICK JUST DOESN'T TRUST MAC JONES, I'M SORRY, HE DOESN'T!" on ESPN talking head shows or Boston sports radio or in your local delicatessen or haberdasher or apothecary, don't do it. (This advice will not be heeded. The heeding simply won't take place. There will be no heeding-ing.) Monday night's game plan -- which I don't think really was settled upon until after the game began -- has very little to do with Belichick's trust level of his rookie quarterback and everything to do with his voracious desire to win football games.
Beyond that, it was a lot of fun to watch. Seeing the tweets and videos and updates pour in throughout Monday afternoon about the wild winds, the snow squalls, the cold ... it was kind of awesome. The night felt like an event, and the game delivered. It was fun.
For the Patriots, it was huge. They're now borderline comfortably sitting in first place in both the division and the conference. Provided they can at least split their next two games (at Indy, home vs. Buffalo), they'll be in great position to finish the year with a 12-5 record, which will be good enough to get that No. 1 seed and the first-round bye and home-field advantage that comes with it. While yes, it could turn south with a couple of losses in the coming weeks, the fact that it's even being discussed is a testament to how far this team has already come. A tough win on the road in Buffalo in once-in-a-career conditions was the cherry on top.
Now, some leftover thoughts.
--ALL OF THAT BEING SAID ... sometimes a team just can't shake its DNA. That team, as you might have guessed in this instance, is the mighty Buffalo Bills.
The inherent Billsness came out in the fourth quarter, when the Bills had a first-and-goal the 6-yard line. After a run up the gut for no gain, the Bills ... just stood there, waiting for a play to come in to Josh Allen's headset. The call never came. Everyone stood around for 30-plus seconds before Buffalo had to waste its second timeout of the half.
(They burned their first timeout when Sean McDermott challenged the spot on Mac Jones' QB sneak, a challenge that had 0.0 percent chance of being successful, and a challenge that proved costly in the timeout department. Whoopsies.)
While the burning of the timeout due to what seemed like a lack of preparedness in the red zone was bad, it might not have mattered if the Bills managed to get the football into the end zone to take a lead against a team that was hell-bent on running the football 6,000 times in the game.
Coming out of the timeout, Allen ran a play-action fake, saw that his first read wasn't open, then got tripped up by his own tight end before eventually taking a nine-yard sack.
Dawson Knox, tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions, was wide-the-hell-open on the play:
A pop over the linebackers' head seems like the ideal play on a play-fake from the 6-yard line, but that's not where Allen looked.
Then on third down, the Patriots' D-line flinched but did not jump into the neutral zone. Allen saw the movement and assumed he had a free play. (A true artist in such scenarios like Aaron Rodgers would've glanced to the sideline to make sure that a dash of yellow flew through the air.) That assumption made a rear end out of Allen and the Bills' offense, as Allen just wasted the play by chucking the ball out of the back of the end zone.
Oh, and all of this took place on a drive when the Bills were driving into the wind. So Tyler Bass' 33-yard field goal attempt? It was obviously no good. Took a sharp right turn in the end zone.
So ended an 11-play, 42-yard drive that netted the Bills zero points.
It just felt like a series of events that is written in the Bills' DNA. And while a 60-minute football game is not decided by any one moment, this bungling of some football basics really did a number on their chances to win.
Throw in the Matt Milano injury in the final minutes (I have to imagine it was a real injury; surely no veteran player would fake an injury to try to stop the clock when his team has no timeouts, right???) that resulted in an excess timeout and an extra 36 seconds coming off the clock, and this was a poorly managed game all around for the home team.
--Sean McDermott also lost his composure several times. It wasn't at the level of his 2019 home date with the Patriots (that was historic), but his emotions were clearly heightened, and that seemed like the impetus behind his foolhardy challenge on a QB sneak where neither you nor I nor the Almighty himself could have actually seen where Mac Jones was in the pile of bodies.
According to McDermott, though, he kind of rocked.
ACTUALLY, I was good. Dummy.
--While the Bills hurt themselves, the Patriots also made some plaaaaayyysss, man.
What looked like a Dawson Knox third-down drop in the second quarter was actually a drive-ending PBU by Adrian Phillips:
That's a tremendously precise move to make at full speed. Heck of an effort.
Phillips was at it again in the game's final minutes, busting up another pass to Knox that came after a legitimately incredible escape in the pocket by Allen, a pass that could have gone for the go-ahead touchdown if not for Phillips:
(That play came on a third-and-14 because Knox jumped early for a false start on the third-and-9. The Billsness of it all.)
--Myles Bryant also made the PBU to essentially seal the win, and he showed a whole lot of instinctiveness for a guy who doesn't have the most experience in a raucous road environment with a whole lot on the line.
Belichick credited Bryant as an "instinctive" player on Tuesday morning, so I asked the coach a follow-up along the lines of that type of instinct being evident in practice, and whether a coach can't know a player will have the same level of instincts in a game ... until he knows.
Belichick said this:
"His instinctiveness shows up in practice a lot. It shows up in games a lot too. It's the kind of thing that, until you see it repetitively in games, sometimes it can be in practice and it's a little bit different in the game. Myles plays just as instinctively and fast in games as he does in practice. He's an excellent communicator. He anticipates well. He works well with his teammates so that he puts himself and his teammates in the best position we can be in on certain formations, looks, and coverages, and those things. He does a good job of understanding what we're trying to do and where the threats are. A lot of times, when he's not threatened, he's able to help out somewhere else. That's one of those traits that you teach, but some guys have a better knack and feel for it than others, and he has a really good feel for it, especially for a relatively young and inexperienced player, although, after two years here, I think everybody has a lot of confidence in him always doing the right thing in every situation."
To be fair, Bryant isn't completely green. He played in nine games last year, taking 27 percent of the team's defensive snaps. This year, he's up to 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
But clearly, a moment like this one -- fourth down, on the road, dangerous passer, first place on the line -- was new for him. He aced the assignment.
--The highlight of the game, for me, was the opening kickoff.
Heck yes! Look at that thing fly! Hope it hit someone right in the forehead. That'll get your blood flowing.
--I think Josh Allen is finally getting recognized for being a great running quarterback -- and I do mean GREAT. He's rushed for an Orwellian 1,984 yards with 28 rushing touchdowns in his 56 career games. For comparison, Cam Newton rushed for 2,289 yards and 30 touchdowns. Newton had 46 more carries to gain that extra 305 yards and score those two extra touchdowns.
After becoming the starter at the end of the 2001 season, Michael Vick rushed for 2,979 yards and 20 touchdowns on 427 carries in 56 games.
Josh Allen is ... kind of an all-time rushing QB thus far.
And you saw how dangerous he can be in the rare instances that the Patriots' edge rushers lost contain. Here's Matthew Judon giving up the right side, with Allen instantly making it hurt for a 21-yard gain.
Kyle Van Noy was good on the other side for almost the whole night, but on the one play when he went for a sack and let the QB slip, Allen escaped and took off for the pylon.
(Everyone watching hated that call. I'm not saying I liked it, but it does seem to be correct, based on the letter of the law, which essentially instructs officials to throw a flag when there's any possibility of unnecessary roughness. Shoving a QB who's hovering over the boundary line will draw a flag every time. It's kind of like roughing the passer calls, to me. Not even worth worrying about or arguing about anymore. There's not anything defenders can do sometimes, so you just have to chalk it up to that.)
Anyways. Josh Allen. Great runner. Just wanted to say that. Party on.
--The Patriots only threw three passes (you might've heard?), but one of their two receptions was incredible.
--Not the most important play of the game, but here's your weekly installment of rookie Christian Barmore treating an NFL offensive lineman like tackling dummy:
--Having N'Keal Harry back deep on the Bills' first punt? Having him behind Gunner Olszewski when Buffalo punter Matt Haack has the wind at his back?
Sorry, but going to have to bust out this GIF for the second time in a week's span:
Harry did do a great job on the Damien Harris touchdown run:
But, well, all he had to do on the punt return was ... literally anything except what he did. He could have taken a nap. He could have played with a GameBoy. He could have knit a sweater. He could have done pull-ups on the goal posts (though that may be considered taunting). He could have done literally anything except trip over his feet and then gently headbutt the bouncing football.
Alas, he did it, and the Bills scored their only touchdown of the night because of it.
--On this third down incompletion, we all obviously noticed that not blocking Matthew Judon is one of the dumbest ideas an offense could ever have:
But watching it back ... if Kyle Van Noy doesn't bat the pass down, Ja'Whaun Bentley is in position to do the same. And if neither of those LBs knock it down, Myles Bryant is breaking on the quick out with a chance to break it up or intercept it.
Any time you can get a clean shot at the quarterback while having three guys in position to break up a pass on a play that lasts about three and a half seconds, you've got yourself a defense that's functioning at a high level.
--Sometimes there are X's and O's breakdowns. Other times, there are instances where you just have to say, "Man ... that guy looks awesome." This is one of those times.
(Mort Crim voice) Whoooa! Was that Jalen Mills? Jalen Mills is so frigging cool.
(That reference was made for exactly 11 people. Eleven very cool people.)
--This catch was insane and deserves several more looks:
--I don't know why Brian Griese felt the need to insinuate that Jake Bailey was afraid to punt at the end of the game:
If the Bills didn't cost themselves all that time with the injury/no timeout situation, Jake Bailey would have kicked that freaking football to Ithaca.
Bailey had a 15-yard punt and a 71-yard punt in this game. Wind is fun.
--Speaking of the kicking game, did you think there was any chance Nick Folk would make his 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter after THIS graphic ran at the bottom of the screen?
I sure didn't. But I should know better than to doubt Big Kick Nick.
--The win was the 289th regular-season win for Bill Belichick as an NFL head coach. Including the postseason, it was his 320th win. In Buffalo, it was maybe his 6,000th win since 2000, or something close to it.
He certainly celebrates them all differently. Sometimes he doesn't even crack a smile. Other times he raises his arms and hoots and hollers.
After this one, on this unique night with a once-in-a-lifetime offensive game plan, Bill couldn't help but smile and celebrate with his son after the defense made the play to essentially seal the win.
Bill can play it cool with his poker face to the media as much as he wants -- just tried to win the game, got some things we can clean up, got a big one next week, etc. -- but he knew this was a big one.
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