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Carucci Take2: It’s the same old story as Patriots again cast a large shadow over Bills

WGRZ Bills/NFL Insider Vic Carucci shares his thoughts on the Bills 14-10 loss to the Patriots Monday night.
Credit: AP
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) carries the ball 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)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ 14-10 loss against the New England Patriots Monday night at Highmark Stadium:

1. There’s no denying it: After only one year as an also-ran, the New England Patriots are back in charge of the AFC East.

 With a 9-4 record, they’re also in a commanding position to end up with the top seed in the conference playoffs. That would be the spot the Bills were fully expected to be before the season and after their 4-1 start.

Now? They need to find their way well enough to even by a wild-card playoff team. At 7-5, they’re still very much in the postseason hunt, but this loss was a serious blow to their chances of playing after their regular-season schedule ends.

 “It’s a not a feeling like, ‘Oh, wow, the season’s over,’” tight end Dawson Knox said. “But it’s definitely a disappointment.”

Players made available to the media after the game wouldn’t say there was any panic in the air. But it’s there. Quarterback Josh Allen came the closest when he said, “There is a sense of urgency with us.”

 

2. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Bills can’t stand up against a physical opponent.

Perhaps there was no question about that after the 41-15 loss against Indianapolis on Nov. 21, when Jonathan Taylor ran for 185 of the Colts’ 264 yards on the ground. Or after the 34-31 loss against Tennessee on Oct. 18, when Derrick Henry ran for 143 yards, 76 on a touchdown carry.

But, man, did the Patriots take it to the Bills on both sides of the line.

They had little problem making the fact Buffalo entered the game ranked first in the NFL with the fewest yards allowed a blatantly misleading statistic. New England finished with 222 yards on 46 rushing attempts, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Three plays after the Patriots recovered a fumbled exchange between Allen and running back Matt Breida at the New England 31, Damien Harris ran 64 yards for a touchdown. Brandon Bolden ran for a two-point conversion to give the Pats an 8-0 first-quarter lead that felt much larger, given the whipping winds that made it difficult to throw and handle kicks.

The Patriots showed an incredible amount of respect/fear for the weather conditions by employing a bizarre game plan. They took the ball out of the hands of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the hands-down favorite to become NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was limited to three pass attempts, with the second not coming until just past the midway point of the fourth quarter. He completed two for 19 yards.

3. Here’s another misleading stat: The Bills’ 11th-ranked run game, one spot ahead of the Patriots.

The Bills simply can’t run the ball against any legitimate opponent. They finished with 99 yards, but only 60 were from their running backs. Allen had 39 and his 21-yarder was the Bills’ longest of the game.

4. Josh Allen’s strong arm wasn’t the factor in the extreme wind that so many of us believed would be the case.

He completed 15 of 30 passes for 145 yards. His 14-yard touchdown dart to Gabe Davis was impressive, but little else Allen tried to do through the air worked.

When the other team’s rookie quarterback is throwing only three times, an MVP runner-up with a recent $258-million contract extension should be able to outshine him – regardless of the weather.

5. Where do the Bills go from here?

The good news is they have five games left.

The bad news is that their next game is at Tampa. That will be their first opportunity to go against Tom Brady since he left the Patriots after the 2019 season and won his seventh Super Bowl last February.

Think he might look to take advantage of Tre’Davious White’s absence from the Buffalo secondary?

Equally bad, or so it seems, is the Bills have another game left against the Patriots, Dec. 26 at Foxborough, Mass.

If you’re looking for any sort of bright spot, it’s that the remaining schedule also includes Carolina, Atlanta and the New York Jets.