Hurley: For The Patriots … That Was Embarrassing

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By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Things change quickly in the NFL. But not like this.

When the Patriots visited the Bills a little over a month ago, they bullied the home team so badly that local reporters were left to ask veteran defensive leaders if they were embarrassed by what had just happened. This time around, the story was flipped completely.

Only this time, the Patriots didn’t face any questions about being embarrassed. Because it didn’t need to be asked.

Longtime captain and three-time Super Bowl champion Devin McCourty volunteered that description on his own.

This was an absolute, no-doubt-about-it, thorough drubbing at the hands of the opponent. The Bills showed no mercy while aggressively and ruthlessly delivering knockout blow after knockout blow in every way imaginable.

The Bills played against the Patriots as if they had zero respect for their divisional opponent — because they probably had zero respect for their divisional opponent. From Josh Allen’s nonchalant flick of the wrist for the opening touchdown, to Hyde’s “Hey Why Not” 54-yard punt return, all the way to a touchdown pass to an offensive lineman, the Bills did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, for the duration of this ice cold night.

The final score may have read 47-17. But for the Patriots, it was infinitely worse.

From the start of the game until the final possession of kneeldowns, the Bills scored touchdowns every single time they possessed the football. None of those drives were cheapies, either; the first six touchdown drives averaged 76 yards. The final one was just 39 yards … after the aforementioned punt return.

Offensively, the Patriots weren’t wholly futile. But it was close. The opening drive ended with a deep shot for the end zone getting picked off. Two punts later, they finally mounted a field goal drive, but even that small victory was discolored by some questionable clock management and a failed fake spike. The second half began with an interception, leading to another Buffalo touchdown drive. By the time the Patriots finally found the end zone, the game had long been decided.

Those are the details, though. The broader picture is more blunt.

For instance, New Englanders may be surprised to learn that Buffalo does indeed have a punter. His name is Matt Haack. Outside of holding the ball on Buffalo’s copious point-after attempts, Haack’s been a spectator with a front-row seat for two straight games against New England. He punted zero times when the Bills won by 12 points in Foxboro in Week 16, a day when the Bills scored points on six of their seven real drives. He once again punted zero times in this one, when the Bills scored touchdowns every single time Josh Allen touched the football.

The Patriots’ defense has played two full games against the Buffalo Bills, forcing zero punts over 120 minutes. That’s the sting they get to take into the offseason.

No matter what the Bills needed — a third-and-1 or a third-and-long — they got it. They got it on the ground (174 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries), they got it through the air (Allen had a nearly perfect 157.6 passer rating to go with his five touchdown passes). They converted all six of their third downs (before kneeling on the ball on the final third down). They scored on all six of their red zone trips.

Unless you’re from Buffalo, it was tough to watch.

The previous low-water mark for Patriots postseason defeats under Bill Belichick came in 2009, when the Ravens walloped New England in Foxboro 33-14. This year’s margin of defeat was 11 points worse … and it was only that close thanks to a largely meaningless touchdown inside the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter.

This loss resonates much deeper than just the Belichick era, too. It’s the third-worst playoff loss in franchise history, slightly more respetable than the team’s showing in Super Bowl XX against the Bears as well as a 1963 playoff game, which they lost by 41 points.

For some real perspective: When Emmanuel Sanders hauled in a 34-yard touchdown reception on Buffalo’s first possession of the second half, the Bills became the first team in NFL playoff history to score touchdowns on their first five drives.

Then they went and scored touchdowns on their next two drives, too.

(A 5-yard kick return on the final play of the second half may technically bring that record into question … but we all know what happened.)

The rest of the jaw-dropping stats and figures are grisly, too.

Big picture, the Patriots made some obvious strides this year, after the 7-9 season with Cam Newton. They drafted someone who could become the long-term stalwart at quarterback. They added some much-needed skill on offense. They made the playoffs.

But the team remains a championship-driven organization. With most teams, that’s cliched coachspeak that essentially means nothing. In New England? We saw what it meant for 20 years. And this team has now failed to win a playoff game for three years running.

For as painful as the 2020 season was for New Englanders, the 2021 season ended with the same number of postseason victories.

So the progress and the baby steps and the restoration of respectability? That’s nice. But a 47-17 playoff victory has a way of muting much of the positive momentum.

While there’s technically no difference in losing in the playoffs by a single point or by a thousand points, this one came with the added sting of knowing that the former AFC East doormat is now firmly in control of the division — now and for the foreseeable future. The Patriots’ future won’t be completely dictated by what happened on Saturday night in Orchard Park … but it’s going to have to play a significant role as the Patriots determine how and with whom they want to play defense. And offense, for that matter.

Because outside of a once-in-a-lifetime windstorm last month, the Bills — now 4-1 vs. New England over the past 15 months — have spent the entire post-Tom Brady era making a mockery of the Patriots. Saturday night was simply the coup de grace.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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