Turns out the New England Patriots were more playoff pretenders than playoff contenders.
The Buffalo Bills proved that case true in the most convincing fashion.
The Bills emasculated the Patriots in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs Saturday night, throttling their AFC East rival, 47-17, at a frigid Highmark Stadium to bring New England's season to an utterly disappointing end.
Here are five thoughts from the most embarrassing postseason loss the Patriots have had during Bill Belichick's tenure:
Patriots' defense exposed
The Patriots' defense didn't even look like it made the trip to Buffalo. The Bills humiliated New England from the outset, gashing the Patriots by scoring touchdowns on their first seven possessions – five of those scoring drives covered over 70 yards.
The Bills didn't even attempt a punt for the second straight game against the Patriots. By the end of the contest, the Bills racked up 482 total yards of offense and averaged 8.9 yards per play.
Throughout the season, New England's defense showed an inability to get off the field and it couldn't stop Buffalo with the Bills going 6-for-7 on third downs – the only time they didn't pick up a third down came on a kneel down to end the game.
There were plenty of issues with the Patriots' defense. Cornerbacks Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams were outmatched and got burned in the secondary time and time again as did Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson. The Patriots' pass rush was also unable to get to Josh Allen, giving him plenty of time to carve up the defense.
But the most glaring problem facing New England's defensive unit is its severe lack of speed. The Patriots looked like they were moving in slow motion as Buffalo's speedy skill position players flew past them. In one instance, Isaiah McKenzie took a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage and bolted 19 yards down the sideline. That kick-started a drive in which the Bills covered 89 yards in four plays.
Just an absolutely deplorable performance from New England's defense.
Allen does whatever he wants
The Patriots had zero answers for Allen, who ripped apart the Patriots' defense. He looked as though he was playing in a video game as he completed 21-of-25 passes for 308 yards and 5 touchdowns. That isn't a typo; Allen had more touchdown passes than incompletions.
The Patriots talked all week about containing Allen and keeping him in the pocket and they didn't come anywhere close to accomplishing that. On Buffalo's first series, Allen left Matt Judon in the dust on a 26-yard scamper. Allen also picked up a third-and-3 on the drive with a 9-yard run. Allen extending plays with his mobility crushed the Patriots as he finished with six carries for 66 yards.
— NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2022
Allen's powerful right arm was just as deadly. He whipped the ball all over the field in the freezing temperatures, highlighted by a 34-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to Emmanuel Sanders. Allen is a massive problem Belichick and the Patriots will have to solve going forward.
Slow starts are fatal
It became a reoccurring script for the Patriots over the latter stages of the season. They routinely face sizable deficits early on in contests and then could never entirely close the gap.
It happened again in the playoffs with the Bills sprinting out to a 14-0 lead before the first quarter came to a conclusion. New England didn't look ready to play in a playoff game at all and in four of their final five games, the Patriots trailed by double digits in the first half.
With the Patriots looking to pound the ball with its rushing attack and have their rookie quarterback just manage the game, New England wasn't built to play from behind. Any deficit for the Patriots felt like an uphill battle, and trailing by two touchdowns might as well felt like climbing Mount Everest.
Mac Jones wasn't the issue
Rookie quarterbacks don't fare well in the playoffs. Coming into Saturday, they were 8-17 in the postseason since 1970. Mac Jones surely didn't have his best performance, completing 24-of-38 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but many times, Jones looked like the only Patriots player with a pulse.
On New England's first offensive possession, strong individual efforts by Jones helped the Patriots pick up two third-and-longs as he first escaped the pocket to hit Hunter Henry for a 30-yard gain before the far from fleet-footed Jones scrambled for 16 yards to move the chains.
That first series ended with Micah Hyde making an incredible interception in the end zone on a deep shot from Jones, who was looking for Nelson Agholor. It was more an exceptional play from Hyde than a poor throw from Jones.
— NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2022
Jones is clearly still developing into an NFL quarterback – his arm strength is definitely an area in need of improvement – but he has shown the competitiveness needed to be a leader going forward for the Patriots.
It is not expected for New England to field the most talented team, but it usually makes up for it by being well-prepared and playing solid, fundamental football.
Too many times that wasn't the case this season. The Patriots yet again had some head-scratching penalties, including having 12 men in the offensive huddle in the third quarter. Jones also had another delay of game penalty. Those penalties show a lack of focus.
The Patriots' special teams had a poor season and allowed a big punt return to Hyde, while the Patriots' defense, which in the past was a sure-tackling unit, looked disinterested in taking down Buffalo's ball carriers. From the routine mental mistakes to the special teams miscues, the Patriots were an undisciplined football team this year. That's something that can't be said often.
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Five thoughts from Patriots embarrassing playoff loss to Bills