The New England Patriots 2022 season came to a disappointing end on Sunday when they fell to the Buffalo Bills, 35-23.
Despite losing by double digits, the regular-season finale was arguably one of the Patriots’ better efforts of the season as they went blow-to-blow with the 13-3 Bills until the final minutes of the game. Still, there’s plenty of blame to go around in the season-ending loss.
For our Patriots-Bills recap and head coaching carousel discussion, listen below:
Here are four players to blame for New England’s loss in its regular season finale.
The slot corner’s rough season finished with a poor performance in a game that the Patriots had a slim margin for error.
Bryant struggled to keep up with Buffalo’s speedy receivers, allowing a pair of receptions on both targets to Stefon Diggs for 22 yards and another reception to Isaiah McKenzie.
Oh, he was also responsible for a pair of touchdowns, too. Right after the Patriots took a 17-14 lead in the third quarter, Bryant whiffed on his attempt to tackle Bills returner Nyheim Hines around the Bills’ 30-yard line before he ran over 100 yards for his second kickoff return touchdown of the game.
ARE YOU KIDDING, @TheNyNy7?!
📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/ZgH7YChSD8
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 8, 2023
And just like that, the momentum and control the Patriots fought to have was gone.
Buffalo wasn’t done picking on Bryant there, either. On their drive following their kickoff return touchdown, the Bills looked like they were struggling a bit to move the ball down the field following a stagnant first half. On a second-and-10 from the Patriots’ 42-yard-line though, Allen remained in the pocket for a long time, which allowed speedster John Brown to break away from Bryant while running sideline-to-sideline before taking off vertically to haul in a 42-yard touchdown grab that put the Bills up 28-17.
Bryant probably wasn’t alone in the blame for that play as there appeared to be a miscommunication between him and safety Devin McCourty. But he still failed to keep up with Brown beforehand and the touchdown was the ultimate backbreaker for the Patriots considering their struggles to win high-scoring games since Tom Brady left in 2020.
Allow John Brown to reintroduce himself 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/tzDXzW7nKt
— Buffalo Fanatics (@BfloFanatics) January 8, 2023
In a game the Patriots needed their biggest stars to step up, their best player failed to do so.
The Pro Bowl pass rusher recorded just one pressure on 21 pass-rushing snaps in Sunday’s game, failing to sack Allen once. Judon certainly had an incredible season, recording a career-high 15.5 sacks, but the way he finished this season out was a bit too similar to last season. After failing to record a sack in the Patriots’ final four games a year ago, he didn’t record a sack in four of the Patriots’ final six games this season.
It should be noted that Judon briefly left Sunday’s game due to an injury, and that might have affected his performance when he returned. Still, he received the biggest contract out of any player the Patriots signed in their 2021 spending spree for a reason, and if Judon’s not going to show up when it matters most, it does beg to question if he might be overpaid by a smidge.
The veteran corner was picked on a lot on Sunday as Allen targeted him 11 times. While Jones allowed only six completions, two of those receptions went for at least 25 yards and four of them resulted in first downs for the Bills.
Two plays prior to Brown’s big touchdown reception, Jones actually collided with safety Jabrill Peppers in coverage that allowed Khalil Shakir to not only make an uncontested catch over the middle of the field, but also let him take off for a 28-yard gain on a second-and-11. That play might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for the defense as it played a good game up to that point, potentially allowing the Bills to play with more of an open field in the rest of the second half.
This leads us to the other big reception Jones gave up: a 49-yard touchdown reception to Diggs. On a third-and-10 at midfield for the Bills, Diggs just got a step Jones to get open in single coverage deep and make the touchdown grab that put them up 35-23 early in the fourth.
📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/9uXnx91reb
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 8, 2023
In some fairness to Jones, it was an incredible throw by Allen and he wasn’t burnt by Diggs, either. But it showed the difference between being good and elite – with Jones being the former and Allen and Diggs being the latter. That was one of the two key differences in Sunday’s game.
Special teams unit
The other key difference? New England’s special teams – and in particular, their kickoff unit.
You likely know by now they allowed two kickoff return touchdowns on Sunday, with Hines tanking the opening kickoff 96 yards to the end zone to provide one of the best moments of the NFL season.
But, for the Patriots, both kickoff return touchdowns were among their worst moments of the season. No team had returned two kickoffs for a touchdown in a game since 2010 and it was the third time that the Patriots had allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown this season. Take all three of the board and the Patriots have at least nine wins, which continued to show the very slim margin of error they had this season.
To add to their kickoff woes, Nick Folk’s squib kick after the Patriots made it a 28-23 game in the fourth quarter went out of bounds as they tried to avoid another long kickoff return touchdown. The poor kick set the Bills up at their 40-yard line before they scored their final touchdown of the game.
A self-inflicted blunder certainly seemed like a fitting way for the Patriots’ postseason hopes to end.