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A nearly flawless night as Bills roll over Patriots to complete season sweep

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Nothing will ever make up for all the misery the New England Patriots inflicted upon the Buffalo Bills for nearly two decades. Nothing.

But that 38-9 blowout of Bill Belichick Monday night sure had to feel good for a franchise and a fan base that has dreamed of the day when the fortunes of these two teams finally turned.

“It feels great,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “It’s hard enough to win in the NFL regardless of who you’re playing. This is an organization, being the Patriots, that have given the Bills fits over the years. It’s a win in both games against the Patriots and then to win the way we did tonight, I think it just speaks volumes about our players and coaches and the team that Brandon (Beane) has put on the field.”

The Bills completed their first sweep of the Patriots since 1999, the year before Belichick arrived in New England, and they did it the way they’ve been beating everyone lately – their offense was virtually unstoppable and their defense continued its improved play, something that will be imperative once the playoffs begin.

Report card:Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs duo has been fun to watch, impossible to defend

“I think when you’re executing and scoring points, it’s hard to do in this league,” said center Mitch Morse. “It’s extremely gratifying to see your hard work put to the test. And our defense put us in some great situations. I thought they played red hot today. … It was just a total team win.”

If you wanted to pick one moment that stood out more than any other, sure, you could choose any of the four touchdown passes Josh Allen threw. But perhaps it was Belichick slamming down a phone on the sideline after his replay challenge early in the third quarter failed as badly as most of Cam Newton’s passes.

Imagine the Buffalo Bills making the greatest coach in the history of the NFL that frustrated.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, left, scrambles against the New England Patriots in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Things were so bad for Newton – 5 of 10 for 34 yards – that rather than try to score in the final two minutes of the first half down 24-9, Belichick waved the white flag and just ran out the clock. Midway through the third quarter, he yanked Newton and turned to Jarrett Stidham to close out the game. On Stidham’s first possession, faced with fourth-and-4 at the Bills 47, Belichick white-flagged again and punted. 

Yeah, it was that kind of night, just a total beat down for the Bills.

“Listen, I’ve been on the other side of it before,” McDermott said when asked about his post-game handshake with Belichick. “He was very complimentary, and I certainly appreciate that. A lot of respect for what he’s been able to do. I just think it says a lot about the way we’re doing things as an organization.”

The Bills improved to 12-3, their first 12-win season since 1993 which was the last of their four Super Bowl teams. It also vaults the Bills back into the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff bracket, and it will be interesting to see what McDermott does for the finale against Miami Sunday.

Will he play his starters and try to win the game, because if that happens the Bills lock up the second seed over Pittsburgh, or will he rest them and hope for the best against the Dolphins, or perhaps a Cleveland win over the Steelers?

When these teams played back in Week 8, if you looked at the game as a whole there wasn’t much difference in the play of the two quarterbacks, and if not for his fumble in the final minute, Newton may very well have beaten Allen that day at Bills Stadium.

Monday night – the first time in the 18-year history of Gillette Stadium where the Patriots were playing a game while officially eliminated from the playoff chase, a string of 318 games – the difference was wider than the Grand Canyon. 

Allen picked the Patriots apart even though they played defense much the same way they did in the first game, covering with seven and sometimes eight. He didn’t even play the final 12 minutes but still completed 27 of 36 passes for 320 yards.

In the first game, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll attacked by running and Allen threw only 18 passes. In this game, Allen attempted 21 passes in the first half alone and completed 15 including touchdowns to Lee Smith and Stefon Diggs as the Bills opened a 24-9 lead.

“Dabes called a great game,” said Allen. “Our guys executed, got open, caught the ball, blocked up front. It’s just guys making plays. That’s really what it comes down to.”

After each team settled for a field goal on its opening possession, Buffalo took the lead for good when Allen directed a 12-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Zack Moss blasting up the middle for a five-yard touchdown run. The Bills converted two fourth downs along the way, one on a fake punt when Jaquan Johnson threw a 13-yard pass to fellow defensive back Siran Neal, the other on a 22-yard QB keeper by Allen.

New England answered right back as the Bills defense looked much like it played early in the season. It was a brutal series as the Patriots ran it right down their collective throat before Newton scrambled in for a nine-yard TD with Tremaine Edmunds whiffing in the open field. Nick Folk’s missed extra point kept the Bills in front 10-9.

Unfazed, Allen put together a 75-yard drive that ended with him flipping a four-yard TD pass to a wide open Smith. And then three plays after the Patriots went three-and-out, Allen fired a laser on a crossing route to Diggs who turned it into a 50-yard TD that bumped the advantage to 24-9.

Coming out of halftime the Bills just kept rolling as they needed only three and half minutes to make it 31-9 as Allen threw an 18-yard TD pass to Diggs, the fifth play of at least 10 yards on that possession alone.

From there, the clock couldn’t have ticked fast enough for the Patriots, but not for the Bills. They just kept piling it on as Allen threw his third TD of the night to Diggs from eight yards out, capping a 95-yard drive during which Allen surpassed 300 yards for the eighth time this season.

That TD was also Allen’s 34th through the air which broke Jim Kelly’s record set in 1991, and at that point McDermott called off the dogs and sent in Matt Barkley with 11:56 still left in the game.

“It’s another check off the list of getting what we worked all week for and that’s a victory,” said safety Jordan Poyer. “I wouldn’t say this win is bigger than any other win we’ve had, it’s just the next one. We’re continuing to get better.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.