Hidden in New England’s Ugly Win Over Buffalo Were Some Concerning Signs for the Playoffs

The Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but their rookie quarterback was relegated to handoff duty in Monday's win

Mac Jones of the New England Patriots hands the ball off to Damien Harris
Mac Jones of the New England Patriots hands the ball off to Damien Harris.
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty

Riding a three-game losing streak into a 2019 game against Army in Philadelphia, Navy fell behind by a touchdown but were then able to rip off 31 straight points to earn a decisive 31-7 victory over the Black Knights as Midshipmen quarterback Malcolm Perry set a series record with 304 yards on 29 caries. While racking up nearly 400 yards of total offense, Navy attempted a single pass — and Perry didn’t throw it.

Perry, who now plays receiver and spent time with New England in the fall, wasn’t under center for the Patriots during their 14-10 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, but he may as well have been, as head coach Bill Belichick opted to rush the ball 46 times and only had rookie quarterback Mac Jones throw it three times. For comparison, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen finished 15-of-30 for 145 yards with a touchdown. Per ESPN, New England’s three pass attempts were the fewest by any team since the Bills attempted just two in Week 3 of the 1974 season against the New York Jets.

“We played kind of the way we felt like we needed to play to win. In the end, we scored enough points,” Belichick said. “Just have to give the players a lot of credit for being tough, being disciplined, being resilient and dealing with a really good football team and conditions that were somewhat challenging.”

In a game that was significantly impacted by inclement weather in Buffalo (read: 40 mph wind gusts that did this to a 33-yard field-goal attempt), New England racked up 222 yards on the ground while Jones went 2-of-3 passing for 19 yards. It was an offensive game plan right out of the Navy playbook, and Belichick, who grew up watching his father serve on the Naval Academy’s coaching and scouting staff, was probably giddy to run it, if for no other reason than to prove that he could. But relying on game plans that don’t feature Jones and putting up just 14 points is not a realistic long-term plan for success for New England.

Resorting to ground-and-pound football in Buffalo in a game that was just as much of a battle against the elements as it was the Bills might work out during the regular season, but it won’t work in the playoffs against better, smarter and better-coached opponents.

The Patriots, whether Belichick likes it or not, are going to have to throw the ball if they are going to do anything of real consequence this season. And Jones, who is in the middle of the pack amongst starting NFL QBs with 2,869 passing yards (13th), 16 touchdowns (tied-14th), eight interceptions (tied-14th) and a QBR of 51.4 (14th), needs to be the guy slinging it.

Given what Jones has shown thus far this season, it probably won’t always be pretty: he does not possess a rocket arm and there’s no plethora of top-tier targets at his disposal. The same could have likely been said about Tom Brady when he took control of New England’s offense in 2001, and that worked out pretty well for the Pats. Jones, to be clear, is not Brady, but Belichick is still Belichick, and he must know reverting to a throwback offense dependent on runs from Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden and field goals from Nick Folk was a short-term fix for a victory in Buffalo, not a long-term solution for winning in the NFL. Jones must throw it. Period.

“Hats off to the offensive line for doing what they did; knowing we were going to run the ball and just putting their nose in there every play and making it happen was incredible,” Jones said. “I’ve never been a part of something like that. I don’t think there will be a game like that in a long time.”

For the Patriots to have a shot at getting back to, let alone winning, a Super Bowl, there better not be.

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