ORCHARD PARK - As much as it might drive Buffalo Bills fans crazy, the reality is this: The New England Patriots are now in possession of the top seed in the AFC playoff standings when they walk into Highmark Stadium Monday night.
The Patriots, Ravens, Chiefs and Titans are all tied with 8-4 records and are leading their respective divisions, but because of the way the tiebreakers fall, New England technically sits in the No. 1 position.
Yep. Tom Brady is long gone, but the Patriots are not, and the Bills badly need to win this Monday Night Football showdown because if they don’t, it’s going to be awfully difficult for them to overtake New England in the final five weeks.
The Bills have an extremely tough test next week at defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay who just so happen to be quarterbacked by Brady, a man who has tortured the Bills for two decades.
In the worst-case scenario, losses Monday and next week would drop the Bills to 7-6 and two full games behind New England with just four games remaining. Those final four include a challenging trip to Foxborough the day after Christmas, and three very winnable home games against the Panthers, Falcons and Jets.
The Patriots have their bye next week, then have a fairly tough finish - at the Colts, home against the Bills and Jaguars, and then at the suddenly resurgent Dolphins in their finale.
Bottom line for the Bills: Beat the Patriots, and the outlook for the division title and a better playoff seed improves exponentially.
Instant reactions: Patriots prove they're best in AFC East as Bills are blown off course
Final: New England Patriots 14, Buffalo Bills 10
New England ran the ball 46 times and attempted three passes. Buffalo still couldn't stop the Patriots' rushing attack. The Bills gave up 222 yards on the ground and their offense turned the ball over on downs in the red zone with under two minutes left to fall 14-10 to the Patriots.
Mac Jones completed 2 of 3 passes for 19 yards.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
Bills squander chance to rally for win - 1:55 1st quarter
Buffalo has opened up its offense as it tries to rally even though it is going into the wind. Josh Allen threw a strike to Stefon Diggs along the left sideline for 26 yards. Allen completed short passes to Zack Moss for 5 yards and Dawson Knox for 7 yards. Devin Singletary ripped off a 17-yard run to get to the Patriots' 25-yard line.
Emmanuel Sanders made a catch over the middle for 6 yards and Allen scrambled for 5 yards and a first down.
Devin Singletary ran for 1 yard, Allen threw incomplete for Diggs in the end zone and Dawson Knox was called for a false start on third down. On third-and-14, Allen avoided a sack and threw to the end zone for Knox, who was unable to come up with the catch against safety Adrian Phillips. Allen's fourth down pass was knocked away by cornerback Myles Bryant. Buffalo turned the ball over on downs.
Patriots go three-and-out - 5:47 4th quarter
New England had the ball for less than two minutes. Rhamondre Stevenson lost a yard, Jones threw incomplete and then Jones completed a 7-yard pass to Brandon Bolden before Jacob Bailey punted 71 yards to the end zone. The Patriots squandered an opportunity to advance their lead or burn more clock.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
Tyler Bass misses field goal into the wind - 7:24 4th quarter
Matt Breida returned the kickoff 27 yards go give Buffalo a start at its 36-yard line. Josh Allen completed to Dawson Knox for 7 yards and two plays later hit Stefon Diggs on a play-action pass for a 10-yard gain into Patriots' territory. Allen scrambled for 21 yards and Zack Moss took a catch-and-run 7 yards that included a horse collar penalty to set up first-and-goal at the 6.
Moss was stopped for no gain on first down. On second down, Allen was sacked by Matthew Judon for a 9-yard loss on second down. Allen threw incomplete on third down and Tyler Bass missed a 33-yard field goal wide right into the wind on fourth down. It's the shortest miss of Bass' career.
Nick Folk hooks in 34-yard field goal - Patriots 14, Bills 10
Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano made huge tackles on back-to-back plays to start the fourth quarter. Milano dropped Rhamondre Stevenson for a 5-yard loss on first down and then tackled Stevenson for a 3-yard loss on second down Nick Folk made a 34-yard field goal to extend New England's lead to four points.
New England in the red zone as third quarter ends
Damien Harris, who left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury, opened New England's drive with a 22 yard run. Harris limped onto the Patriots' sideline after the play. Rhamondre Stevenson followed it with an 11-yard run and Mac Jones sneaked up the middle for a yard on fourth-and-1. Jones was given the first down and Buffalo challenged the first down ruling but the call was upheld.
Stevenson totaled 22 yards on four carries to conclude the third quarter. New England will open the fourth quarter with first down at the Bills' 10-yard line.
Tyler Bass pulls Bills within 11-10 in third quarter
The Bills inched a little closer as Tyler Bass kicked a 35-yard field goal with 6:35 left in the third quarter, but not getting a touchdown on that possession after they’d driven to the Patriots 17 could be costly.
The Bills have to go against the wind in the fourth quarter, so even if they remain just one point behind, it’s going to be awfully tough to kick a field goal to take the lead. They’re probably going to need a touchdown, so why not take that opportunity on this possession?
Sean McDermott decided not to. We’ll see how it plays out in the fourth quarter.
The Bills have only 121 yards of total offense, while the Patriots already have 168 rushing.
Patriots 11, Bills 7 - Halftime
New England heads into halftime with more than twice the total yards as Buffalo but just a four-point lead. Mac Jones has attempted just once pass and 149 of the Patriots' 161 yards are on the ground. It's the fewest pass attempts by one team in the first half since 1978. Josh Allen is 6 of 10 for 46 yards and a touchdown for the Bills.
Bills' drive stalls near midfield - 5:12 2nd quarter
Buffalo moved the ball going into the wind with two first downs but couldn't get past the Patriots' 49-yard line. Josh Allen completed to Gabriel Davis for 16 yards to convert a third down and three plays later Zack Moss rushed for 3 yards on third-and-2. Then Buffalo started going backward. The Bills were flagged for a delay of game, Allen was sacked for a 5-yard loss and then Allen threw incomplete for Dawson Knox. Matt Haack punted 33 yards to the New England 33.
Nick Folk’s 41-yard field goal give Pats 11-7 lead
New England’s ground game is becoming exactly the problem I knew it would be. They already have 120 yards as Mac Jones has thrown just one pass, completing it for 12 yards.
Following the Bills’ score, the Patriots marched 52 yards in nine plays, the big play a 16-yard run by Brandon Bolden on a third-and-4. The drive eventually stalled, and Folk hit from 41 yards out to put the Patriots up 11-7.
If the Bills don’t get things fixed up front, this is going to be a long night for their defense. The Patriots offensive line is mauling the Bills’ front seven.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
Josh Allen TD pass to Gabriel Davis gets Bills on board - Patriots 8, Bills 7
Moments after the Harris touchdown, the Bills offense did nothing thanks to a holding penalty on Spencer Brown that wiped out a first down. However, Matt Haack’s punt bounced on the ground and Patriots’ returner N’Keal Harry could not get out of the way and the ball glanced off his helmet.
Siran Neal quickly pounced on the muff, and after originally calling it Patriots ball, the officials reversed the call and Buffalo took possession at the Patriots 14. On the first play, Josh Allen rifled a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis on a quick slant, a huge turn of events for the Bills.
Rather than go for the two, Sean McDermott opted for the extra point because kicking to the tunnel end is far easier tonight, and Tyler Bass drilled it through.
Buffalo recovers punt after it hits N'Keal Harry's helmet - 2:07 1st quarter
The Bills got a huge break with a New England turnover. N'Keal Harry wanted to return Matt Haack's punt but slipped before it got to him. The ball nearly grazed Harry's hand before it bounced and then touched his facemask. Siran Neal recovered the live ball at the Patrtiots' 14-yard line.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
Damien Harris’ 64-yard TD run gives NE the lead - Patriots 8, Bills 0
The Bills had two great drive starts following a pair of Patriots punts, and wasted them both. The second fell apart when Matt Breida and Josh Allen messed up a handoff and New England recovered at the 31.
Three plays later, Harris ripped off a 64-yard TD run on a toss play, cutting it up the middle after Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds completely overan his pursuit and opened a huge hole.
The Patriots then went for two because kicking at the scoreboard end is nearly impossible, and Brandon Bolden swept in for the conversion and an 8-0 lead. That’s about as bad a start as the Bills could have had, especially since they’re the team with the wind at their back in the first quarter.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
Bills turn ball over on fumbled exchange - 6:55 1st quarter
Buffalo gained the game's first first down on a Josh Allen completion to Matt Breida on third-and-4 from the Patriots' 34. The two couldn't secure the ball on the next play. Allen tried handing the ball off but Brieda dropped it and was recovered by defensive tackle Lawrence Guy.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
New England has horrid punt - 9:09 1st quarter
The Patriots mustered 5 yards on their second possession then Jake Bailey punted 15 yards. You read that right. The wind and cold has been a huge factor already. It was the shortest New England punt since 2007.
— NFL (@NFL) December 7, 2021
Teams trade punts - 11:16 1st quarter
Tyler Bass' opening kickoff with the gusty wind at his back went into the stands and the football didn't travel much after that. New England went three-and-out and Jake Bailey punted 36 yards to the Bills' 40-yard line. Buffalo had great field position and a third-and-7 but Dawson Knox couldn't handle Josh Allen's pass. Matt Haack punted into the end zone.
Both Bills return men are inactive
In an interesting decision by Sean McDermott, both of the players who have returned kicks and punts for the Bills, Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson, are inactive for the game.
With neither player on the injury report, this is a strategy move that might indicate McDermott wants someone to merely catch the ball safely, particularly on punts. Both McKenzie and Stevenson have had ball security issues.
Micah Hyde has been used on punt returns in the past and he could be the man deep because he has sure hands, but on kickoffs, it's unknown what the Bills might do there. Maybe Matt Brwill be deep.
The other inactive players are defensive linemen Efe Obada and Vernon Butler, offensive guard Jamil Douglas and fullback Reggie Gilliam. Both Gilliam and Obada were questionable going into the game with injuries.
Not on the inactive list but out for the game are linebacker A.J. Klein who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, and offensive guard Jon Feliciano who remained on the injured reserve list as he’s not ready to return from his calf injury and thus is missing his fourth straight game.
Back in the lineup are offensive tackle Spencer Brown and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, two key additions for the Bills.
Dawson Knox growing accustomed to cold weather, to a point
The Bills tight end, who grew up outside Nashville and played his college ball at Mississippi, has had to adapt to western New York weather in his nearly three seasons with the Bills. And for the most part he has, at least when he’s at work.
“I think playing in it for sure (I’m used to it),” Knox said. “I still haven't gotten used to living in it. Where it's like every day now, it's either gonna be cold, windy, rainy, snowy.”
Having played at Ole Miss, Knox played several early season games in intense southern heat which he said is worse than playing on a frigid day.
“I actually like playing in the cold,” he said. “It's one thing playing down in the 100 degrees humidity where you're cramping up at halftime. I'd rather play in 30-degree weather where you're getting warm and feeling good. It's almost refreshing at that point how the cold can kind of amp you up a little bit, too. But the amount of stuff we got on the sidelines like the heated benches, those big jackets, the big jet engine heat blowers, they do a very good job of keeping us warm.”
You are looking live at Buffalo… pic.twitter.com/nJTCm37VrG
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 6, 2021
Yes, the weather is going to be a factor
There was never really a doubt about this. The forecast had been calling for a cold, ridiculously windy night and that’s exactly what is happening.
It is blowing consistently, I would guess anywhere from 20-30 mph, the goalposts are swaying, and it’s literally batten down the hatches on the sidelines.
The wind appears to be mostly from the main scoreboard end of the stadium toward the tunnel, but that’s up at the top of the stands. As is often the case, once the wind gets into the bowl, it swirls at field level.
As for snow, there have already been two bursts of flurries in the past half hour, though it appears snow won't really be a problem as it's supposed to be gone well before kickoff. Of course, we all know that could change in a heartbeat.
Throwing the ball is going to be an adventure whether you have a cannon for an arm like Josh Allen, or a lesser arm like Mac Jones. It’s almost a certainty that the team that can move the ball more effectively on the ground, and the defense that can force a critical turnover to produce a short field, stands a much better chance of scoring.
“That's why I'm here, that's why I was drafted, to come here and play in these types of elements,” Allen said a few days ago.
As for the game plan, Allen said he didn’t think the Bills game plan would change much because of the wind, but that’s simply not true. It will have to, but Allen insisted, “I think they've got some trust in me and I've got trust in them. If it turns into just outrageous conditions, obviously you're gonna see more run-heavy from both sides of the ball.”
Monday Night Football features big AFC East rivals fighting for division supremacy. Tony Anderson and @salmaiorana take a closer look at Patriots-Bills, courtesy of @tipico. pic.twitter.com/n1xNAAn1MC
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) December 6, 2021
More COVID problems for the Bills
Backup linebacker A.J. Klein became the latest Buffalo player to test positive for COVID-19 and he was placed on the reserve/COVID list earlier Monday. Fortunately for the Bills, both Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds - who play the vast majority of linebacker snaps in the team’s base nickel defense - are both good to go.
The Bills haven’t played a single snap of defense with three linebackers on the field at the same time since Week 6 against Tennessee. Of course, that night they used three linebackers more than normal because they were facing Derrick Henry.
Monday night, that may have been an option the Bills would have considered on a night when stopping the running game of the Patriots will be critical. But, Klein is not available.
Two players were elevated from the practice squad: Defensive tackle Eli Ankou and linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, but we’ll have to wait to see if they’re active for the game.
As for offensive guard Jon Feliciano, he was not activated off the injured reserve list this afternoon and thus will not play. The Bills do expect to have right tackle Spencer Brown available after he missed two games on the COVID list.
For the Patriots, it appears they will be without their outstanding safety, Kyle Dugger, who has been on the COVID list all week and did not practice.
How to watch, listen to Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots game
When: 8:15 p.m. Monday
Where: Highmark Stadium
TV: ESPN (Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, Lisa Salters)
Satellite radio: Sirius 83, XM 225
Radio: 96.5 FM/950 AM
Series: Patriots lead 76-45-1 counting playoffs
Tipico betting line: Bills -2.5
Total offense: 389.3 yards (5th); 353.3 (14th)
Rush offense: 118.3 yards (11th); 115.3 (12th)
Pass offense: 271.0 (7th); 240.0 (14th)
Points scored: 29.6 (T2nd); 28.0 (7th)
Total defense: 275.2 yards (1st); 316.7 (4th)
Rush defense: 96.6 yards (6th); 115.8 (20th)
Pass defense: 178.5 yards (2nd); 200.9 (3rd)
Points allowed: 16.5 (2nd); 15.8 (1st)
Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots individual leaders
Bills: Devin Singletary 98 carries, 459 yards; Josh Allen 69-383; Zack Moss 75-265; Matt Breida 21-109; Emmanuel Sanders 2-31; Mitchell Trubisky 10-27; Isaiah McKenzie 5-27.
Patriots: Damien Harris 154-643; Rhamondre Stevenson 76-351; Brandon Bolden 26-141; Kendrick Bourne 6-78; Mac Jones 27-71.
Bills: Josh Allen 274 of 410, 3,071 yards, 25 TDs,10 interceptions.
Patriots: Mac Jones 268 of 381, 2,850 yards, 16 TDs, 8 interceptions.
Bills: Stefon Diggs 67 catches, 847 yards; Cole Beasley 62-530; Emmanuel Sanders 36-559; Dawson Knox 31-415; Devin Singletary 26-118; Gabriel Davis 17-312; Zack Moss 18-166; Tommy Sweeney 9-44; Matt Breida 6-67.
Patriots: Jakobi Meyers 59-620; Kendrick Bourne 42-623; Hunter Henry 35-394; Nelson Agholor 32-416; Brandon Bolden 31-296; Jonnu Smith 25-259; Damien Harris 13-84; Rhamondre Stevenson 12-117; James White 12-94; N’Keal Harry 8-117.
2021 Buffalo Bills schedule
9/12 vs. Steelers, L 16-23
9/19 at Dolphins, W 35-0
9/26 vs. Washington, W 43-21
10/3 vs. Texans, W 40-0
10/10 at Chiefs, W 38-20
10/18 at Titans, L 31-34
10/24 Bye week
10/31 vs. Dolphins, W 26-11
11/7 at Jaguars, L 6-9
11/14 at Jets, W 45-17
11/21 vs. Colts, L 15-41
11/25 at Saints, W 31-6
12/6 vs. Patriots, 8:15 p.m.
12/12 at Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m.
12/19 vs. Panthers, 1 p.m.
12/26 at Patriots, 1 p.m.
1/2 vs. Falcons, 1 p.m.
1/9 vs. Jets, 1 p.m.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: New England Patriots 14, Buffalo Bills 10: Final score, recap, highlights: