Patriots look to build on offensive performance with some of NFL's most generous defenses up next

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The seat under Bill Belichick isn’t as warm as it seemed just a week ago. How long that remains the case is to be determined.

No, the Patriots’ 29-25 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday didn't save their season. At 2-5, New England is still at the bottom of the AFC East and would need to improve significantly over its final 10 games to move into playoff contention.

But for a team that entered the week mired in injuries, inconsistency and ineptitude on offense, Sunday’s victory offered the first real signs that the Patriots possess the potential — and personnel — to compete with the AFC’s better teams.

Quarterback Mac Jones built on the strides he showed in Week 6 against Las Vegas and completed a season-high 83% of his passes (25 of 30) for 272 yards and two touchdowns. His 126.7 quarterback rating was his best of the season.

“It’s just a crumb. That’s what I always say. And you’ve got to build off that,” Jones said. “I want to continue to do that and make people believe.”

The performance received a passing grade from his coach.

“I think it was one of our most consistent offensive performances of the year,” Belichick said. “We moved the ball, we scored points, we changed field position.”

It’s the kind of efficiency that New England will look to continue to cash in on over the next three games. They feature matchups against three defenses ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in points per game allowed: Miami (26.7), Washington (27.1) and Indianapolis (27.3).

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson said Sunday's win carries the same meaning across the locker room.

“Just getting back on track. Gaining some more confidence,” he said. “It just builds confidence and we’ve got to keep it rolling.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Offensive line play. The return of left guard Cole Strange from a three-game absence due to a knee injury and the shift of Mike Onwenu from right guard to right tackle paid dividends. It contributed to a much more efficient rushing attack and better protection for Jones.

“The offensive line gave me the time that I needed,” Jones said. “And when I have time, I can do and read the offense how we’re supposed to.”

The Patriots had only two offensive penalties, their fewest since Week 2. One of those was called on a lineman, an ineligible man downfield call on reserve tackle Vederian Lowe in the fourth quarter.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Turnovers. The Patriots forced a turnover when safety Jabrill Peppers intercepted Buffalo’s Josh Allen on the Bills’ first offensive play to set up New England’s first touchdown.

But through five games, New England’s defense has just five takeaways (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries), tied for last in the NFL. That’s well behind last year’s pace when the unit forced 30 turnovers, tied for second in the league.

STOCK UP

Receiver Demario Douglas. The rookie returned from a one-game absence due to a concussion and made an impact all over the field. He caught four passes for 54 yards and rushed once for 20 yards. He didn’t reach the end zone, but each of his touches put the Patriots in position to score.

Douglas had a 9-yard reception on the first play of the game. The series ended with a field goal. On the Patriots’ second drive, he had a 16-yard catch to put his team into the red zone. Ezekiel Elliott scored two plays later. And in the fourth quarter, his 19-yard catch got New England inside the 5-yard line, setting up a TD reception by Kendrick Bourne.

STOCK DOWN

Bourne. He also had one of the Patriots’ biggest mistakes of the game later in the fourth when he hauled in a 9-yard reception, then lost a fumble when he was hit from behind. The Bills took advantage of the short field and scored a touchdown that gave them the lead.

INJURIES

Linebacker Anfernee Jennings was able to run off the field after being shaken up following a hit on Latavius Murray in the third quarter. Left tackle Trent Brown left with a knee injury. Lowe left with an ankle injury.

KEY NUMBER

18 — The number of punts rookie Bryce Baringer has placed inside the 20-yard line this season, after landing two there on Sunday. That's tied for the NFL lead.

NEXT STEPS

The Patriots will look to avenge a Week 2 loss when they visit Miami on Sunday. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is 5-0 against Belichick.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl