Image Credit: © Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
It was the two-minute warning. The Bills trailed the Patriots 14-10 and were fourth and 14 from the Patriots’ 18 yard line. The Bills needed a big play.
Josh Allen trotted to the sideline.
“Kid,” Bill Belichick said, “I’m coming after you with everything I have. Let’s see if you can stand and deliver.”
Wait, what? Josh Allen was talking to Bill Belichick on the sideline? Of course not, but that is exactly what Belichick was thinking, and Allen knew it.
The Patriots came with their zero blitz, playing straight man-to-man. Allen didn’t have all day to study his options, but he had time. He stood but he didn’t deliver, and the Patriots won.
That’s not a knock on Allen. It’s simply what happened. In any sport, the star gets the ball and is asked to win the game. The star doesn’t always make the play, but if a guy wants to be the star, he has to make it more often than not. Monday night, Allen didn’t make the play. That’s all.
© Jamie Germano / USA TODAY Sports
Of course, Allen was the primary reason the Bills were in the game in the first place. In fact, Allen may be the only person on the planet who could have made the Bills competitive in that game. Why? Because Allen is just about the only person on the planet who can pass effectively in wind like that. Belichick’s not stupid; he had been watching the forecasts, and when he stepped on the field Monday night he knew – Mac Jones could not pass in that wind. Jones threw three times all night.
Allen is a different animal altogether. He throws with exceptional velocity, velocity that allowed him to be effective in the short passing game on Monday night. Well, sort of effective. He still had passes affected by the wind, and he threw some fastballs that his receivers, who are used to catching Allen’s throws, couldn’t handle. Dawson Knox, in particular, dropped a couple of incoming rockets.
In a game when it was assumed no one could pass, Allen could. He could pass with the wind, and he could pass against the wind. On top of that, Allen can escape the pass rush, and he can run. Put it altogether, and the Bills had a guy on offense who said, “damn the weather, LET’S GO!” And go they did, up and down the field, before repeatedly stalling in the red zone, where the Patriot defense is extraordinary.
So, it came down to one play, on fourth down with two minutes left in the game. And on that play, after a night full of on-target throws, Allen missed badly. He wasn’t beaten by a great defensive play, as the television announcers said. He badly underthrew Gabriel Davis in the end zone; a well-thrown pass would have been out of reach of the poaching defender. Was the moment too big for Allen? Did he misjudge the wind? Whatever, the ball was short and the defender knocked it away. And Allen had Beasley streaming across the middle, with certain first-down yardage and maybe the touchdown. Did Allen not see him? Did Allen decide that that throw would be in a cross wind and tougher to complete? Whatever happened, Allen didn’t get the ball someplace it had to be, and the Patriots won.
© JAMIE GERMANO-USA TODAY Sports
This was a great football game, old-fashioned football, two teams fighting it out in whatever the weather happened to be. It was the kind of football we played as kids in December. It was, as others have said, a heavyweight fight, two teams slugging their way to the finish. Defenses dominated. Both defenses held their opponents below their league leading averages in points and yards. The Patriots, not surprisingly, ran the ball well and often. The Bills, not surprisingly, couldn’t run that well, but their balanced offense had equal success – or lack of success – moving the ball.
Mistakes were even more or less even. Each team turned it over once, and each turnover was followed by a touchdown, the only touchdown each team scored. Penalties were even enough, and penalties didn’t determine the outcome.
Big plays were the difference in the game. The Patriots had one, a 64-yard burst by Damien Harris early in the game. In fact, but for that one play, the Bills did a good job controlling the Patriot running game. If the Bills had made the stop on that play, the outcome could very well have been different. One play.
The Bills, on the other hand, were 0-for-2 in the big play category. Allen’s misfire on fourth and 14 to end the game was one. The other was Stephon Diggs’ “drop” in the end zone in the third quarter. It hit him in the arm, so I guess it was a drop, but in those conditions it would have been a great catch. Diggs was running full speed downfield, tracking a ball that was on a flight path that Diggs had never seen before and probably never will again. Most receivers would have misjudged the ball, slowed and had no chance to catch it as it carried into the end zone. And Allen’s throw on that play was borderline miraculous. Given the wind, Allen was uncannily accurate most of the night. No throw was better than that ball to Diggs, 50+ yards in the air, hitting Diggs pretty much in stride, despite the wind pushing the ball downfield and to the left.
© Jamie Germano / USA TODAY Sports
A few miscellaneous observations:
1. The Bills couldn’t have asked for a better situation to start Dane Jackson in place of Tre White – Jones attempted only three passes. Bills will need a hurricane in Tampa Bay next week, so Jackson won’t have to worry about Brady.
2. Tremaine Edmunds looked to me to be overrunning gaps for the entire first half, running to chase down the sweep while the back was cutting upfield off tackle. Maybe that was his assignment, but it looked like the play was right in front of him and he simply didn’t react.
3. Harry Phillips was hard to miss. He was a major disruptor.
4. It looked like the fumble was on Allen, but who knows? Either way, it was a bad mistake in a game where there was no room for error.
5. I thought the unnecessary roughness call on Allen on the sideline was the correct call. Sure, Allen technically was not out of bounds and the play was not over yet, but the play also is not over when a receiver catches the ball and falls down. A defensive back can’t explode on the receiver while he’s on the ground, and that guy can’t blow up Allen on the sideline, either. The tackler was out of bounds when he hit Allen, so the instant he touched Allen, the play was over; a touch was all that was needed.
6. I can’t wait for the day they have a chip in the ball and determine its location. Jones was short of the line to gain on his fourth down quarterback sneak, but there is absolutely no way (1) any official could see it or (2) the call could be overturned on replay, because you couldn’t see the ball. But we all could see Jones’s helmet, and his helmet didn’t get to the line. The ball certainly was behind his helmet. That play cost the Bills three points.
7. Winning a game like that is all about making the play you need to make. Bass needed to make that kick, wind or no wind. He’ll be better next time.
8. It’s fun to see the evidence of how the coaches’ brains are working. Belichick clearly decided, in advance of the game, that he wasn’t likely to try any place kicks into the wind. He also knew that he had to be in desperation mode before he’d let Jones pass; fortunately for him, his run game delivered just well enough. McDermott knew he wanted no part of anyone returning punts except Hyde – get a sure-handed, smart guy back there.
That game was championship-level competition – put it all on the line every play. It was great to watch. The Bills showed they can play at that level; they still have to show they can win at that level. Allen has to make the throws, Diggs has to make the catches, Bass needs to make the kicks.
Right now, the Bills need a win in Tampa. Then a win in New England. That’s what champions do.
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