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Patriots' defense not hiding from the challenge of facing Josh Allen and Bills

Sports Final: Is Thursday night vs. Bills a must-win for Patriots?
Sports Final: Is Thursday night vs. Bills a must-win for Patriots? 05:36

BOSTON -- Each week, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spends some time with radio commentator Scott Zolak to look at a few plays on film of the upcoming opponent in a video series called the "Belestrator." In this week's edition, Belichick's tape has a message in red flash on the screen before the Bills run a play from their own 2-yard line against the Steelers:

"Can score from anywhere on the field."

It's a message that figures to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the Patriots as they prepare to face Josh Allen and those Bills on Thursday Night Football.

Obviously, the last two meetings with Buffalo didn't go very well, with the Bills not punting once while winning the two games by a combined score of 80-38. Without the help of tropical storm force winds, the Patriots' defense has had tremendous trouble with limiting Allen, dating back to 2020. And certainly, the sting of getting blown out in Buffalo in last year's postseason has not worn off in Foxboro.

"I mean we went out there and it was, what, negative-1?" safety Adrian Phillips recalled. "And we went out there and basically got our face kicked in."

While the veteran Phillips admitted that such a loss will obviously be on their minds, he explained how the team won't be fixated on it as they prepare for Thursday.

"So you definitely think about that, but you don't harp on that. You look at what they did and how they were able to control the game and the plays that they were able to make, and you think about them not punting the ball for basically two games. It's a big deal. But at the same time, you can't let that consume you, because it's a whole different team, a whole different mindset," Phillips said. "It's our first time playing these guys, and we've got another one coming up soon. You go out there with a clear head and say, 'Hey, everybody do their job to the best of their abilities, and the outcome will be the outcome."

Matthew Judon, who had one sack in three games against Buffalo last season, said that forcing punts won't really matter if the Patriots are able to force turnovers instead.

'That just means we gotta get off the field," Judon said when asked about the Bills' lack of punting in the last two meetings. "And I'll be happy if they don't gotta punt and we get all picks or we force fumbles. I don't really care if we see a punter, as long as we're getting stops and turnovers. So the pride thing, you just kind of gotta flip it."

The Bills are near the top of the league in giveaways, as their 19 total turnovers (11 interceptions, eight fumbles) is the third-highest number in the NFL. Still, the Patriots know that when facing Josh Allen, they're going up against a rare, special football player.

"A special talent in this league and you usually don't see those type of players with that skill set with the ball in his hands at quarterback," Judon said. "It's only a certain few that's willing to take them hits how he does and bounce right back up and laugh and giggle about it and then go throw a bomb the next play."

"Josh can get loose whenever he wants to," Phillips added. "If he wants to run it 30 times a game, he can definitely do that if he wants to."

Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley was asked about linebackers coach Jerod Mayo's assertion that Allen is able to play "street ball" by improvising when certain plays break down.

"I would say that creates kind of like two plays in a way -- like you've got the first play and then the extended play that kind of happens as the play kind of breaks down," Bentley said. "So finding a guy in an area and trying to see what he sees and just being able to make the play when the ball is in the air. That's probably the main thing."

And if Allen does run on those plays, Judon spoke to the defense's duty in getting him down.

"You gotta continue to chase," Judon said. "You see what he does in the open field, and when he gets to the second level, he's a tough tackle -- very tough tackle -- and we all gotta converge. We all gotta converge, we all gotta come, bring our hard hats. Josh is a really good player."

Judon added: "I think quarterbacks like that are just unique. It's unique, he's going out there and he's leaving everything on the line. And you can't say that he didn't want it more, you can't say that he wasn't giving anything, because if there's a first down to be had, he's trying to go get that yard marker. And he don't really -- not that he don't care, but he knows his body, he knows what he can do, and he's trying to get it."

It won't just be Allen, either. Stefon Diggs has 1,110 receiving yards and nine touchdowns already this season, and he had no issues lighting up the Patriots' secondary when it still included J.C. Jackson. He caught seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown in Buffalo's win in New England, before catching three passes for 60 yards in the playoff win. Diggs even caught four passes for 51 yards in that memorable wind game in Buffalo.

Gabe Davis has 650 receiving yards and five touchdowns, including the 98-yard touchdown reception that was highlighted in Belichick's coaching tape. Isaiah McKenzie also had 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in Foxboro last year. Tight end Dawson Knox also caught a couple of touchdowns in the playoff win over New England, and he scored a touchdown in the regular-season win at Gillette.

"We definitely got our hands full," Bentley said when assessing all of the Bills' weapons. "But we're excited about the opportunity."

Surely, everyone on that defense knows what happened last year. And as Bentley said, Thursday presents an opportunity for the Patriots to try to prove that this year isn't last year. 

"Team defense. We need everybody. They've got good receivers, good tight ends, good quarterback, quarterback run game. It's not like one guy's going to be able to stop them," Belichick said. "[Allen] is very dangerous out of the pocket, he's dangerous in the pocket. So just team defense. Playing with our leverage, using our teammates' help, them being where they need to be, being aggressive. He's a hard guy to get and you can't just stand there and watch him throw, because he'll throw it pretty good, too. So it'll be a challenge for us."

It could be the challenge that defines the season. And seemingly everyone tasked with trying to stop it is aware of the stakes for this one.

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