The Patriots need their best game in Round 3, but the trends aren’t in their favor


The Bills are healthier, the better quarterback, and at home, while the Patriots have lost three of their last four.

Damien Harris scored the only Patriots touchdown in a win over the Bills in Week 13, and all three of them lost in Week 16. Trust him to lift the load once again. Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Welcome to Season 10, Episode 18 of The Unconventional Preview, a grim yet light-hearted, nostalgia take on the Patriots’ weekly matchup.

And so we have the winner-take-it-all, loser-take-the-fall third meeting between the AFC East champion Bills and the Patriots, who enter the playoffs as wild cards for the first time. 1998 season.

The Patriots won the first matchup, a spectacular 14–10 victory in Week 13 at Buffalo in which they ran the ball 46 times on 49 offensive plays in a thunderstorm. After quarterback Josh Allen’s Tour de force performance, the Bills gained their measure of sweet revenge three weeks later, winning 33–21 at Foxboro.

The teams are familiar with each other, and mutual contempt arose long ago. The specific matchups are certainly familiar too: Patriots cornerback Jesse Jackson against Bills receiver Stephen Diggs; Alan Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ No. 2-ranked defense against everything (17.8 points per game) could throw at him; Mack Jones against the double intercepts of the Bills’ #1-ranked defense (17 points per game) and the proverbial rookie wall.

The Patriots have had an assortment of recurring issues at the close of the season 1-3, including losses to the Colts, Bills and Dolphins. He had at least one puncture chance to win all three of those games late, but could not find a necessary stop for the defense in each defeat.

There have also been all-too-familiar self-inflicted mistakes, including the unforgivable violation of lining up in what was essentially the wrong place by Christian Barmore (encroaching on 4th and 7th against the Bills) and Lawrence Guy (illegal formation on a punt). dolphins). We’ve been saying it off and on all season, and we still have to say it as the playoffs begin: The Patriots need to clean up the undisciplined stuff if they have any chance of sticking around postseason beyond first. . Weekend.

Those are the most important issues. The most talked-about issue, if perhaps a little less important, given that the Patriots have already beaten the Bills in a game in which they threw for 19 yards, is Jones.

Overall, he has had an incredibly encouraging rookie season. If, back in August when Jones was battling scatter-armed Cam Newton for the starting job, someone had told you the Patriots would make the playoffs and that he would throw 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, and will meet his 67.6 percent. Had it passed, most Patriot fans would have been happy.

And they still should be. The current quarterback has a bright future. But what a surprise we would be if in August we had a functioning crystal ball as his season took. The reasonable assumption would have been that he would improve incrementally from week 1 to week 18.

But the reality is that his last month was his toughest, and his worst game as a pro came in that second matchup with the Bills, when he was just 14 for 32 for 145 yards and a pair of interceptions. .

Overall, he has had an excellent rookie year. But if the Patriots are to win Saturday night, it will have to reverse its recent trend.

Shut it down, Bailey, and let’s get this thing started…

Three players I’m looking for besides QB

Damien Harris: I think this season has a tendency to miss the Patriots’ ability to run the ball against the Bills as a single-game achievement. When you win a game, as the Patriots did in Week 13, running 46 times for 222 yards, it’s only natural that such an impressive performance would become a prime memory.

But the reality is that the Patriots were able to drive the ball closer to their will even in the loss of the Bills, with Harris delivering the best performance of his career. Passing out running mate Ramondre Stevenson, Harris ran for 118 of the Patriots’ 149 yards in the most recent meeting. He made all three Patriots touchdowns.

Harris conceded 111 yards on just 10 carries in the first meeting, including a 64-yard touchdown run to open the scoring, before Stevenson (78 significant yards) down the stretch after twisting Harris’ hamstring. Took the brunt of the work.

Hey, Josh McDaniel: Feed Harris, feed Stevenson, and watch the yards pile up.

Matt Judon: Don’t you dare compare his recent performances with Belichick, the last big-ticket free agent fired from the Ravens defense. do not do. Don’t even mention Adelius Thomas, you hear me?

The way Judon played for the first two-thirds of the season—through 13 weeks, he accumulated 12.5 sacks, 25 quarterback hits, and looked like a genuine defensive player—he deserves the benefit of the doubt. (Since you mentioned it – that’s right, You – Thomas had 14.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits in his entire three-year Patriots career).

That version of Judon – which looked like he could threaten Andre Tippett’s franchise record for sacks (18.5, 1984) – has been missing for a month now. Almost unbelievably, Judon hasn’t had a sack or a quarterback hit in the last four games.

And what sometimes looks like his desperation to move to quarterback, he has been escaping his edge-control responsibilities against the run. He was out of position on Duke Johnson’s 27-yard run late in a loss to the Dolphins, as well as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s first-time win-win scramble.

Come back, goodbye week ago Matt Juden. Patriots miss you.

Cole Beasley: It should be a significant concern for the Patriots that Allen tore his near defense apart in the second matchup without Beasley, who missed the game in COVID-19 protocol with fellow receiver Gabriel Davis.

Beasley is probably the most reliable slot receiver in the league, finishing this season with 82 receptions for the second year in a row. In his absence on week 13, the little-known Isaiah Mackenzie suddenly turned into 2007 Wes Welker, catching 11 passes for 125 yards.

Mackenzie’s role would be greatly reduced with Beasley Back; He has taken just two catches from 15 yards since his star turn. But Allen has a more reliable receiver this week than he did last time to crush the Patriots.

complaint of the week

Special teams coach Cam Accord has been getting a lot of televised face time this season, and that face is usually looking somewhere between annoyance and anger after his unit’s latest mistake. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Belichick this week into some sort of actual special teams coach, the deposed and apparently despised Giants coach that brought back the judge. But the time has passed for this group (and now its familiar coaches) to live up to the Do Your Job mantra.

matchups to watch

Bills Quarterback Josh Allen vs Patriots Pass Defense

Allen was statistically fine at the Week 13 meeting, completing 15 of 30 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in strong winds, and running for 39 yards. In the second meeting… well, he looked like the best-rounded quarterback in the league, and probably the most well-prepared, too.

Allen took what the Patriots defense had given him early on, and then he took whatever he wanted later, finishing with 30 completions in 47 attempts for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns. He resisted the temptation of the Patriots and tried not to make risky downfield throws, but to make perfect play from time to time.

His improvement since coming to the league – since his final season in Wyoming, when he completed only 56.3 percent of his passes – has been staggering.

In the second meeting Bill’s offense was so accurate that punter Matt Hack was discharged. Allen led the Bills to score points on six of their first seven possessions, and should have scored on the second. (Emmanuel Sanders dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone.) Allen turned Mackenzie into a star for a day—he had seven catches in the season entering the game—and Diggs with 85 yards and one Connected seven times for touchdowns.

As if his laser arm didn’t have enough problems, Alan also makes dynamic plays with his legs. He finished the season leading the team with 763 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. He won the Patriots with a fourth and a conversion in which he took an 8-yard lead away from Jamie Collins.

And the Patriots can be shorthanded in the defensive backfield. Cornerback Jalen Mills (COVID-19 protocol) and safety Kyle Dugger (arm), who will be needed to prevent Allen from improving successful ongoing plays, were both unsure of playing until the end of the week.

Prediction, or here’s hoping no one takes Bart Scott’s advice…

Belichick said twice this week that the Patriots have to play their best game of the season on Saturday. This is a fairly obvious statement given the opponent and the stakes, but it leads to a question that, when answered, will go a long way to determine how we ultimately view this version of the Patriots. :

Can they play their best game?

Are they capable of it now?

The trends are not in his favor. But we do know at least two things that are essential for them to win:

Patriots cannot start slow. He trailed the Dolphins 17-0 after the first quarter. He overtook the Bills, 17-7, at halftime. The Colts took a 20–0 lead at the start of the third quarter. The Patriots lost all three of those games. The offense needs to put points on the board quickly. Bills have been known to start off slow. Patriots should take advantage.

· They have to win the battle of turnover. The Patriots are 8-0 when they make more turnover than they do. But Jones has five interceptions and two fumbles (one loss) in the above three losses. The offense must defend the ball better than the previous month’s sloppy over of the regular season. And he should take full advantage of one or two off-target throws made by Allen. Those potential infractions have to hold up, Jesse Jackson.

So… what can the Patriots do? everything Required to win round 3? I believe Belichick really likes his team. But the Bills are healthier, have a better quarterback, and are playing at home. It’s hard to believe that the flaws the Patriots have had in their last four games will magically disappear on Saturday. Bill 22, Patriots 16.