The Other McCain

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Patriots Win Smash-Mouth Football

Posted on | December 7, 2021 | Comments Off on Patriots Win Smash-Mouth Football

Damien Harris tramples the Buffalo Bills.

Let’s not mince words about what we witnessed Monday night. What the New England Patriots inflicted on the Buffalo Bills was not merely a defeat, but soul-destroying humiliation. The Bills were emasculated on prime time TV, as the Patriots ran the ball straight down their throats.

It was a brutal spectacle to behold. Over the weekend, I’d published a column at The American Spectator hyping up the game with the expectation that this key AFC game would be the occasion when New England’s rookie quarterback Mac Jones finally silenced the skeptics and haters who have underestimated him. Sure, I’d seen the forecasts for a blustery night in Buffalo, but I had no idea how bad it would actually be — flurries of snow blowing sideways with gusts up to 45 mph.

The goal posts were waggling in the wind like they were made of cheap plastic, and it was obvious that there would be difficulty attempting to pass the ball in such conditions. But the Greatest NFL Coach of the Century, the man with six Super Bowl rings, had a plan — run the ball, then run it some more, followed by run,run, run, ad infinitum.

In the end, New England ran the ball 46 times for 222 and only threw three passes — the fewest passes in a game by an NFL team in more than 40 years. As someone who loves the running game, and often shouts “run the damn ball” at the TV whenever my team is passing too much for my taste, this was like being force-fed a diet of my favorite food.

“No more, please,” I found myself begging, collateral damage in Belichick’s sadistic plot to psychologically destroy the Bills.

So here’s how it went: New England won the coin toss and chose field position that would put the wind at their backs in the second and fourth quarters. That meant they would be playing into the wind — almost impossible to pass, or even to kick a short field goal — during the first and third quarters. The Patriots took the kick off, then run, run, run, punt — three and out. Buffalo ran twice, then tried a third-down pass that fell incomplete, and punted. Then the Patriots — run, run, run, punt — another three and out, except the wind blew the punt sideways and it only went 15 yards, so that Buffalo took over at the New England 40. This looked like trouble, but the Patriots’ defense backed the Bills up to a third-and-nine before disaster struck: New England’s star outside linebacker Matthew Judon jumped offside, giving Buffalo a first down at the Patriot 29 with seven minutes left in the first quarter.

Buffalo’s threat was short-lived, however, as Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s handoff to running back Matt Breida was fumbled, and recovered for the Patriots by defensive end Lawrence Guy. And guess what New England did then? If you guessed “run, run, run,” you’re correct, but on third-and-five, Damien Harris broke through for a 64-yard touchdown.

It was the longest rushing touchdown for the Patriots since 1997, and it seemed to prove something I’ve always felt about the running game. If you keep pounding away — three yards here, five yards there, run, run, run — the defense will start “packing the box” at the line of scrimmage, so that when you finally break through, there’s nobody in the secondary to stop you. Once Harris found an opening, he was gone.

Because the wind made a point-after kick a doubtful proposition, New England went for the two-point conversion, and succeeded with a run by Brandon Bolden, taking an 8-0 lead. On the next Buffalo possession, the Bills got a first down but then stalled — a holding penalty on third down backed them up to fourth-and-17 — before disaster struck again for the Patriots. At no previous time in the season had tight end N’Keal Harry been used to return punts, and no one has yet explained why he was back deep for New England, when he let the ball bounce off his helmet, a fumble that was recovered by Buffalo at the Patriot 14.

On the very next play, Bills QB Josh Allen threw a TD, and with the extra point, the score was New England 8, Buffalo 7. The Patriots immediately answered, driving down to the Buffalo 23 where Nick Folk kicked a field goal to make it 11-7. It was during this drive that Mac Jones attempted his first pass of the game, a short flare to tight end Jonnu Smith which, under normal conditions, would have been a “gimme.” But these were not normal conditions, and the wind caused the pass to sail high so that Smith only caught it with a tremendous one-handed effort.

After that one pass, New England’s next 32 plays were runs. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Jones threw the ball again, ultimately finishing 2-for-3 for 19 yards. In the third quarter, Buffalo drove down to the New England 20 before stalling and settling for a field goal that cut the Patriots’ lead down to a single point. But on their next possession, the Patriots ran the ball 14 times, chewing up more than eight minutes on the clock before stalling at the Buffalo 16, where Nick Folks’ second field goal made it Patriots 14, Bills 10, with 13 minutes left to play.

Josh Allen and the Bills weren’t ready to quit, though. They drove all the way down to get first-and-goal at the New England 6, but then Judon sacked Allen on second down, Allen’s third down pass fell incomplete, and Buffalo went for a field goal. Hey, did I mention the wind was a factor in this game? The 33-yarder should have been a chip shot for Buffalo’s Tyler Bass, but a gust blew it wide right, and New England took over with a little more than seven minutes left to play. Three plays later, they punted, and Allen brought the Bills back driving down the field. On third-and-14 at the Patriot 18, Allen aimed for the end zone, but what would have been a touchdown pass was broken up by veteran safety Adrian Phillips. Then on fourth down, Allen’s final attempt at a touchdown pass was batted away by cornerback Myles Bryant.

A hard-fought and memorable game, and one that left Buffalo feeling bitter and embarrassed. There is something about getting pounded in the running game — when you’re stacking up eight, nine, even 10 guys at the line trying to stop it, and you can’t — that is just about the most demoralizing thing in the world. The Patriots imposed their will on the Bills, dominated and humiliated them on national television.

The Patriots were laughing when it was over.

ZING! You know you’re winning when you’re ragging on your quarterback like that. Having won seven in a row to run their record to 9-4, first in the AFC, the Patriots now have an 11-day bye week before their Dec. 18 game at Indianapolis. The Titans, Ravens and Chiefs are all 8-4, but even if all three of them win next weekend, New England would still be the top seed in the AFC by virtue of their 7-1 record against conference opponents. As for Buffalo, well, they’ve got to play Tom Brady and the Buccaneers at Tampa next, and it’s unlikely the Bills will be recovered by then from the psychological damage they suffered Monday.

Buffalo is done, finished, broken, and I doubt anyone now would bet against the Patriots taking the AFC East title.



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