5 takeaways from the Patriots’ loss of the season to the Bills

5 takeaways from the Patriots’ loss of the season to the Bills

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Special teams was once again a problem area.

Patriot's Bills
Mac Jones looks for Jakobi Meyers in the Patriots-Bills third quarter. Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Patriots lost 35-23 to the Bills Sunday, ending New England’s season in Buffalo for the second straight season. With other results not in New England’s favor, the loss meant the 8-9 Patriots will not play in the postseason.

It was a day when Damar Hamlin – who continues to show signs of improvement – was honored by the Bills as well as the NFL at large.

And in the game itself, New England struggled to the end but couldn’t get the away win the team needed.

It was also an emotional day for two Patriots legends who might have ended their careers with a few big games even in the midst of defeat.

Here are a few takeaways from the New England season finale:

Damar Hamlin was honored by both teams.

Fans and players showed support for Hamlin throughout the day, wearing gear or holding signs with his shirt number. The patriots were included in it, so to speak other teams around the NFL.

Hamlin himself has been active on Twitter, sharing a pre-game picture from his hospital bed as he continues to take steps towards his recovery.

As expected, Bills fans were vocal in showing their love for the 24-year-old, who was watching the game with his parents:

Special teams failed once again at the worst possible time.

There have been six kickoff returns for touchdowns in the NFL during the regular season. The Patriots allowed three of them.

There were two losses in Sunday’s loss alone, including one on the opening kickoff:

Especially given the context of the second kickoff return touchdown (which followed immediately after New England took the lead for the first time in the third quarter), it was a shockingly poor performance by the Patriots’ special teams.

Even the Patriots’ punt fumble recovery in the fourth quarter wasn’t enough to salvage the disastrous performance.

As in recent weeks, there were more bad punts (Michael Palardy netted just 28 yards on a try in the third quarter), and Nick Folk – usually reliable – falsely sent a squibbed kickoff wide.

Overall, special teams coordinator Cam Achord will no doubt face scrutiny for much of the season over a string of poor performances from his phase of the football team. Sunday in particular showed a lackluster level. In a must-win game, the Patriots lost by 12 points after giving up 14 points on kickoff return touchdowns.

Mac Jones and offense showed some quality but still committed costly turnovers.

After Mac Jones was fired by Bills defenseman Gregory Rousseau to put an abrupt end to New England’s opening drive, it looked like it was going to be a long day for the Patriots’ offense.

Yet Jones and his teammates persevered, putting together two touchdown drives for 9 plays and 74 yards in the first half. As he received protection, Jones showed he could move the ball at times.

It was one of his better performances of the year in many ways.

However, having managed to avoid losing possession in the second half of the season, bad habits returned on Sunday. Jones drove into the red zone on first possession in the second half and inexplicably threw a jump ball for Nelson Agholor near the goal line. Bill’s cornerback Tre’Davious White expertly intercepted and ended what appeared to be a promising goal threat.

Jones also threw two more interceptions in the fourth quarter as the desperation to force a comeback mounted.

It was a day when the Patriots offense was less to blame for the loss, for all of their numerous troubles throughout the season. That said, play-calling issues (which continued on Sunday, albeit less prominently) will be an ongoing subplot this offseason.

The defense was overwhelmed, but was able to hold tight.

A year ago, the Patriots’ defense was unable to stop Josh Allen and the Bills in anything but a literal snowstorm. In two games late in the 2021 season (including a wildcard playoff matchup), New England failed to make Buffalo punt at all.

From that perspective, Sunday’s game was a much better performance from Bill Belichick’s team. New England forced three punts and two turnovers, including a clutch Devin McCourty interception in the red zone just before halftime.

The problem for the Patriots was that many of the team’s more talented cornerbacks (Jalen Mills and Jack Jones) were still injured, forcing those substitutes to try to cover in tough match-ups.

Eventually, Buffalo was able to generate the offense required. Allen found both Stefon Diggs and John Brown for long touchdowns:

That, along with the special teams’ results, proved to be more than enough of a difference in the game. Despite having a pretty good defensive game plan, the Patriots couldn’t stop Allen from making big plays in time.

It may have been Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater’s last game with the Patriots.

Two Patriots legends could be at the end of their path with the team. Both McCourty, 35, and Slater, 37, effectively let their contracts expire at the end of the season (McCouty has extra years automatically invalid).

Both players played to their credit Sunday to remind Patriots fans what they meant to the team. McCourty delivered an Allen interception in the red zone and allowed New England a halftime break.

Slater, one of the great special teams players of his generation (and probably of all time in NFL history), was able to do that push Taiwan Jones the Bills returned to football with a punt in the fourth quarter, resulting in a fumble that the Patriots gratefully picked up.

If it was indeed the last game for a pair of legends — players who have only ever worn a Patriots uniform during their stellar NFL career — they finished it strong.

“My dad told me when I was young that if I played the game there was a certain way to play it… I tried to make him proud.” đź’™

An emotional Matthew Slater addresses the media after the Patriots season ends in defeat to the Bills #ForeverNE

— NBC Sports Boston Patriots coverage (@NBCSPatriots) January 8, 2023

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