Bills' stumbles open door for Patriots in AFC East

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·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4-min read
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The early slate of Week 9's games featured some highly unexpected results: the Denver Broncos held the Dallas Cowboys scoreless for almost 56 minutes en route to an impressive road win; the New York Giants pulled away from the AFC West-leading Las Vegas Raiders for their third win of the season; and the Atlanta Falcons got a last-second win over the rival New Orleans Saints.

No result was more surprising than the one from Jacksonville, as the Jaguars upset the Buffalo Bills, 9-6. The Bills have been considered the class of the AFC for a few weeks, touting a strong offense and defense, unlike, say, the Kansas City Chiefs, whose defense has been a dud for much of the year.

On Sunday, the Bills' offense, the one that came into the day averaging 32.7 points per game paired with a Jacksonville defense allowing 29 points ppg, was nowhere to be found. 

Josh Allen the Buffalo quarterback was tormented by Josh Allen the Jaguars linebacker, with the latter getting a sack, interception and late fumble recovery that helped clinch the upset. The Bills' line let its Allen get battered to the tune of four sacks and eight hits, and after opening with field goals on its first two possessions, Buffalo's offense turned in this line to close out the afternoon: punt, punt, pick, pick, punt, lost fumble, turnover on downs.

Yuck.

"I played like [expletive]," the Bills' Allen said. 

The line didn't help, but it's hard to disagree with him.

The Bills are 5-3, and a closer look at their five wins makes one wonder if they were paper tigers all along. Their victories have come against Miami (twice), Washington Football Team, Houston and Kansas City. Those opponents' combined record as Sunday began: 8-24.

Not only do the Bills have to regroup before next week's game at the Jets, the New England Patriots are suddenly hot on their heels for the AFC East lead. 

The Patriots have now won three straight after their road win against the Carolina Panthers, a complete-team win that included a pick-six from J.C. Jackson, one of two interceptions he had Sunday. New England held Carolina to just 3 for 11 on third downs and out of the end zone.

It was a classic defensive game plan for New England. With star running back Christian McCaffrey back after a hamstring injury, the Patriots did what it could against McCaffrey — he had 106 yards from scrimmage — and challenged Sam Darnold to beat them. Darnold, who has been struggling mightily in recent weeks after a strong start to the season, was just 16 of 33 (48.5 percent) for 172 yards and three interceptions. 

At one point, receiver Robby Anderson was seen shouting at Darnold on the sideline.

Patriots rookie Mac Jones' stat line wasn't impressive, but it didn't have to be given how the game played out. He was 12 for 18 for 139 yards with a touchdown and a pick. In last week's surprising road win over the Chargers, Jones completed just over half of his passes, but he didn't make any big mistakes.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 07: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots calls a play at the line during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Mac Jones has helped manage the game well enough to keep the Patriots in the AFC East race. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

New England is 5-4, with as many wins as the Bills, and has played its way into the third AFC wild-card playoff spot. And the Patriots and Bills haven't faced each other yet. 

The Patriots host Cleveland, go to Atlanta and then host the Titans before their first game against the Bills, which is the Monday night matchup on Dec. 6. That game is followed with their bye, which has historically been a significant week for New England, with a great deal of self-scouting and focus on what they need to do better.

The Bills play the Jets in MetLife Stadium, host the Indianapolis Colts, and then are in New Orleans, where they haven't won since 1998, before the game with New England.

The second Bills-Patriots game is Week 16, on Dec. 26.

Last year, the Patriots lost their hold on the division title — they won 11 straight and 16 of 17 dating to 2003 — and the 13-3 Bills won their first East crown in 25 years and advanced to the AFC championship game. It seemed like there'd been a lasting change. 

Tom Brady was gone of course, but Bill Belichick remained, and at the time it wasn't clear whether the Patriots had a long-term quarterback in place to succeed Brady. Conversely, Allen was a rising star, the Buffalo offense capable of explosive plays, the defense stout. 

We've seen shades of that this year, but losing to Jacksonville on Sunday, in the way they lost, the Bills have a lot of work to do if they're going to keep the division title and hold off their longtime nemesis.

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