Patriots Bills Football

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary, left, is tackled by New England Patriots defensive end Lawrence Guy, center, during the first half of Monday’s game in Orchard Park, New York. Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The New England Patriots’ latest win will burn into the collective memory of the NFL as a historic rushing performance.

After all, the Patriots didn’t just run over Buffalo.

They steamrolled the idea of modern football, rushing 32 straight times over the middle quarters, attempting the fewest passes in franchise history and the fewest of any victorious NFL team since 1974. At the literal center of it all was David Andrews, who snapped the ball on every play and could already sense Monday night would stay with him forever.

“What a memorable game that’ll be for me in my career,” he said.

And for that, Andrews can thank … his defense.

Because on any other night when the Patriots score just 14 points, Andrews, a captain, would typically lament a lackluster performance.

The Patriots had averaged more than 28 points per game and failed to reach half that Monday. They had scored on 50% of their offensive possessions this season, a figure that fell to 30% against the Bills. Of course, the Pats won anyway.

And the swirling winds overhead affected their planning, with Coach Bill Belichick and players later revealing inclement weather forced them to audible hours before kickoff. However, in that wind, the Patriots and Bills still averaged more yards per dropback than run.

And Belichick admitted the winds in a comparable Buffalo game, when the Pats won 13-0 behind eight completions from Matt Cassel in 2008, were “way, way worse” than Monday’s.

Which leads one to believe the Patriots did not want Mac Jones throwing the ball as much as, if not more than, they wanted Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to run with it.

Jones, one of the NFL’s highest-rated passers over the past six weeks, passed all of three times Monday. Three. Three! Belichick chalked it up to adapting to circumstances.

“We played the way we felt we needed to play to win,” he said.

It’s fair to wonder whether playing with a 94% run rate was a constraint forced upon the Patriots by poor conditions or shackles willingly worn. But either way, it is undeniable that plan would have resulted in a loss were it not for Matt Judon. And Devin McCourty. Or Myles Bryant.

Together, they repelled Buffalo’s last three drives, all of which reached the red zone. Bryant knocked away Josh Allen’s final pass on fourth-and-14, recognizing Allen would fire quickly in the face of all-out pressure. He even left his assigned receiver to break up the pass, veteran instincts shining through a second-year player.

“I was actually on (Cole) Beasley, and then I saw the ball end up going to (Gabriel) Davis. Then I was just able to get my hand in there,” Bryant said. “I think I should have picked it, it would have put the game away a lot quicker. But I was glad I was able to make the play and we were able to get a win.”

McCourty later said Bryant’s ability to play both corner and safety allowed the Patriots to flex in and out of different packages without changing personnel, an effective tool to confuse Allen. Naturally McCourty would much rather that Kyle Dugger, stuck on COVID-19 reserve, had been healthy and available. But Dugger failed to test out of league protocols in time.

Enter Bryant.

The 5-foot-9 defensive back played almost every single snap, just a few months after calling the practice squad home. He and current practice-squad safety Sean Davis patched the secondary on that final play, with starter Adrian Phillips sidelined by a knee injury.

Another unsung hero Monday night, Phillips finished with two pass breakups, both against Bills tight end Dawson Knox, who entered with seven touchdowns.

In light of Dugger’s injury, Phillips’ coverage was essential. With his top weapons limited, Allen posted his lowest completion percentage and yards total of the season.

As a unit, the Patriots allowed only two plays of 20 yards or more: an Allen scramble and a spectacular sideline completion to Stefon Diggs, an All-Pro. Belichick recognized Buffalo couldn’t move the ball against his defense consistently in small chunks, so if the big-play well ran dry, so would the Bills’ offensive hopes. That is, so long as the Patriots rehabilitated their run defense.

And that’s precisely what they did. Their top three tacklers were all run-first players: defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (10) and linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley (eight) and Dont’a Hightower (seven). Buffalo averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per carry on traditional handoffs; a simultaneously dominant and yet forgettable defensive performance that allowed the Pats’ own rushing attack to steal the spotlight in primetime.

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