FOXBOROUGH – The last time the New England Patriots’ defense shared the field with the Buffalo Bills’ offense, it didn’t go well. Check that, the last two times New England faced Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Co. it went really bad.
The Patriots have failed to force the Bills to punt in their last two games against them. In the previous matchup, the Bills scored a touchdown on all seven of their drives to defeat the Patriots in the playoffs 47-17. A few weeks prior to that game, the Patriots were able to get a couple fourth-down stops but the Bills still dominated to win 33-21.
Thursday will mark the Patriots’ first meeting with the Bills since that historic playoff beatdown. And while they’re focused on the 2022 season, members of the Patriots’ defense can’t help but admit that what happened to them last season is being used as motivation for Thursday’s game.
— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 16, 2022
“I mean, definitely,” linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley said Sunday. “You obviously see that, and it gets you amped up for this game, for sure. But at the same time, you’ve got to go through the process. It’s a whole process of the thing. If you look too deep into it, you kind of let things slip through the cracks. I’m a person of the process. You can’t skip days.”
The Bills’ offense consists of many of the same dynamic players that they had last season, including Allen, who clearly is the motor for their entire offense.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows that in order to stop the Bills, it all begins with their quarterback.
“Allen’s the leading rusher, so that tells you all you need to know about what you have to defend every time he touches the ball,’’ Belichick said. “It could be any number of things and he does them all well. Great player, certainly an MVP candidate. He does a lot for their team in a lot of ways.’’
Allen’s continued his dominance as a passer this season, ranking second in passing yards (3,183) and passing touchdowns (23) entering Sunday’s slate of games. But the Bills have become more and more reliant on him in the ground game, too. As Belichick mentioned, he leads the team in rushing with 561 yards, which was also the 20th-most in the league entering Sunday’s games.
Allen had a lot of success gaining yards on the ground against the Patriots last season, rushing for 169 yards on roughly seven yards per carry over three games.
To me, this was the play that set the tone for last night's game. Patriots talked all week about not letting Josh Allen beat them with his legs, then let this happen four plays in: pic.twitter.com/4QJu6COjqx
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) January 16, 2022
Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley noted that Allen’s best ability is to extend plays, using his legs to create yards when there might not be anyone open on a passing play. Bentley also agreed with linebackers coach Jerod Mayo that Allen plays in a “street ball fashion,” describing what that challenge that brings to him as a linebacker.
“I would say what that creates is kind of like two plays in a way,’’ Bentley said. “Like, you’ve got the first play and then the extended play that kind of happens as the play breaks down. So, find the guy in the area, kind of try to see what [Allen] sees, and just being able to make the play when the ball’s in the air is probably the main thing.’’
Allen being an elite dual-threat quarterback can make it hard for defenses to determine how to exactly play him, especially when he’s moving around in the pocket. Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. said how the Patriots can determine when to play Allen as a passer and when to play him as a runner.
“Oh, well, you know, he still is a quarterback so we have to sure we have to follow and keep the rules,’’ Wise said. “But he is a big guy who loves [to] lower his shoulder. So, we treat him when he’s tucking the ball to run, like a running back.’’
As for how aggressive the Patriots will be when defending Allen, that might come down to something that’s out of their control.
“I would say you kind of got to go off of how the game’s being refereed in a way,’’ Bentley said. “Obviously I don’t want to speak too much on the referees or anything like that, but if they are calling it tight then you’ve got to kind of go by the rules and things like that, but if they’re kind of letting you play a little bit, then you’ve got to kind of push the envelope, but it all depends on how the game’s being called.’’
Thursday’s game against the Bills might be as close to a must-win situation as it gets for a game on Dec. 1 for the Patriots. They fell to 6-5 with their loss to the Vikings on Thanksgiving, providing the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers to pass them in the standings for the AFC playoffs while the Bills, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins gained an extra game on their respective leads over the Patriots.