Patriots-Bills takeaways: Mac Jones comes up clutch in stunning upset originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The New England Patriots pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2023 NFL season by beating the rival Buffalo Bills 29-25 in Sunday’s Week 7 game at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots were anywhere between 7.5 and 9.5-point underdogs coming into this game, and very few people gave them a chance to even hang with the Bills, let alone beat them.
But the Patriots played fantastic on both sides of the ball in what was by far their most complete performance of the campaign.
It looked like the Patriots were going to lose in heartbreaking fashion. A turnover in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead touchdown by the Bills with 1:58 remaining. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones showed impressive resiliency by leading his team down the field for the game-winning score to improve New England’s record to 2-5. It was Jones’ first career win when the opponent scores 25-plus points and his fourth career fourth-quarter comeback.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Patriots. They travel to Miami to play the first-place Dolphins next week. But before we look ahead to that matchup, here are four takeaways from Patriots-Bills.
Patriots offense plays its best game
The Patriots offense ranked 31st in scoring with 12 points per game entering Week 7. They hadn’t scored more than 20 in any of their previous six matchups. New England finally broke out Sunday with a season-high 29.
Mac Jones played his best game of 2023. He was super accurate, completing 25 of 30 pass attempts for 272 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
His touchdown pass to tight end Mike Gesicki with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner. Jones was almost flawless on the winning drive. He completed seven of eight pass attempts for 71 yards and a touchdown. It was the type of late-game heroics we haven’t seen enough of from Jones throughout his career in Foxboro.
Jones hadn’t thrown for more than 250 yards in a game since Week 1. Sunday also was his first game with multiple touchdown passes since the season opener.
The Patriots rushing attack showed signs of life last week, and it was pretty good in Week 7 with 96 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (four yards per attempt).
The Patriots entered Week 7 tied for the third-most turnovers with 11. Mac Jones’ seven interceptions ranked No. 2 among all quarterbacks. The Patriots’ minus-8 turnover differential was tied for the worst in the league. New England took much better case of the football on Sunday. The offense committed just one turnover — a Kendrick Bourne fumble — in the fourth quarter. The defense also intercepted Josh Allen in the first quarter and recovered a fumble o the game’s final play. Jones didn’t throw a single interception after throwing five in the previous three games combined.
We also didn’t see any back-breaking penalties from the Patriots offense. That was a huge problem in last week’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Patriots finally have a good start
Bad starts, and poor first halves in particular, have sunk the Patriots for the majority of this season. New England trailed by double digits at halftime in five of their first six games. In fact, they were outscored 62-6 in the first half in the previous three matchups combined. It’s pretty much impossible for a team like the Patriots that lacks offensive firepower to overcome large halftime deficits.
One of the most encouraging aspects of Sunday’s performance for the Patriots was their stellar start.
The fast start the Patriots have so desperately been seeking has happened. Since Thanksgiving last year they’ve been glacial out of the gates (unless they were playing the Jets).
That’s encouraging progress especially with the defensive and offensive lines playing so well.
— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) October 22, 2023
They kicked a field goal on the opening drive, then the defense got an interception on the Bills’ opening possession. New England drove down the field and scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott.
All of a sudden, the Patriots were up 10-0, and they ultimately went into halftime leading 13-3. It was their first halftime advantage since Week 9 against the Indianapolis Colts last season.
Demario “Pop” Douglas needs more reps
Douglas is one of the most skilled playmakers on New England’s roster. He’s quick, athletic and has the agility to make defenders miss and rack up yards in the open field.
The rookie wideout caught four passes for 54 yards on six targets.
Douglas’ best play came in the second quarter when he hauled in a 16-yard diving reception on a third-and-1 play that put the Patriots into the red zone. They scored two players later on Elliott’s touchdown run.
The Patriots also found a way to get Douglas into the mix as part of the rushing attack. He took a jet sweep 20 yards on the team’s first drive of the third quarter. That drive led to a field goal.
Douglas made an impact as a punt returner, too. He juked a few Bills players for a 25-yard punt return in the second quarter that gave the Patriots great field position at the Bills’ 46-yard line. The Patriots kicked a field goal on the ensuing drive to go into halftime up 13-3.
There were some rookie mistakes as well. Douglas got open on a third-and-2 play late in the second quarter. But instead of sitting on the route, he turned and ran toward the sideline where a Bills defender was there to cover him (click here for a replay). As a result, Mac Jones had to pull up on his throw to Douglas and New England was forced to punt. These little details make a huge difference, and it sometimes takes rookies a little while to learn them.
New England doesn’t have any high-end talent at the skill positions. Douglas shows flashes of maybe being a true playmaker, but he has to play consistently to realize his potential. Now that he’s healthy enough to play after battling a concussion in recent weeks, Douglas need to be in the lineup full time. And it’s not like any of the other wideouts, except Bourne, have played well enough to deserve consistent reps over Douglas.
Offensive line shows much-needed improvement
A strong case could be made that the offensive line has been the No. 1 problem for the Patriots all season. This group has consistently failed to pass protect or run block at a high level.
Sunday was a different story.
Jones was sacked only once. The Bills defense, which has put loads of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, tallied just four QB hits. The Patriots have been looking for a regular starter at right tackle all season, and the best option might be to put Michael Onwenu there. Onwenu typically plays guard, but he was the starting right tackle Sunday and performed quite well. He provided excellent pass protection on Bourne’s 33-yard catch and run in the second quarter.
New England’s offensive line also did a nice job opening up holes for running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott. The Patriots ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
The Patriots have the potential to be decent on offense. They just need the offensive line to not be one of the worst units in the league. Sunday’s effort from the o-line was a huge step in the right direction.