Bills dominated by Patriots at line of scrimmage, lose pace in AFC East

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills knew the New England Patriots were running the football. Every person sitting in Highmark Stadium knew they were running the ball.

But the Patriots (9-4) were still able to do it, milking the clock and controlling the game to maintain first place in the AFC East and the conference's top seed for the playoffs. The Bills fell to 7-5 with a 14-10 loss as the offense was unable to string together sustained drives and settled for field goals or no points despite several scoring opportunities.

Buffalo will next travel to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) on Sunday with another matchup against the Patriots in two weeks. The Bills are now 3-4 since starting the season 4-1.

"I think frankly, we're pissed off because we want to be great," quarterback Josh Allen said. "When we don't play the way we know how we can play, it could be angering at times. But again, with the makeup of the guys that we got, I've got no doubt in our ability, in our team ability to turn this around and start winning games here towards the end of the season."

The Patriots were able to do what they wanted and dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for 222 yards. That meant quarterback Mac Jones only had to attempt three passes, completing two.

Overall, it still wasn't all bad for the Bills defense. A significant amount of the Patriots' offensive success came on a few plays, and eight of New England's 10 drive were five plays or less.

New England attempted one first-half throw, the fewest by any team since at least 1978, as far back as the data was tracked, per Elias Sports Bureau. Despite that, the Patriots were able to run for 96 yards in the first quarter alone, including a 64-yard touchdown by Damien Harris. That score followed a fumble by Buffalo's Matt Breida.

"The biggest one was the big run, 64-yard run, toss," McDermott said. "That can't happen."

Allen finished 15-of-30 for 145 yards and one touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis that came after a turnover. Outside of that, Allen threw some impressive passes in the wind but struggled to connect with his receivers. The Bills scored one TD in four trips to the red zone.

Tight end Dawson Knox dropped two passes, and receiver Stefon Diggs dropped a deep pass to the end zone, his first drop of the year. Knox, who did not have his best game, was called for a pivotal false start on third down on the Bills' final drive. The tight end finished with two receptions on six targets for 14 yards.

"I think it's just the familiar topic of shooting ourselves in the foot," center Mitch Morse said. "We just seem to tend to do it at the absolute worst time."

While the defense allowed the Patriots to run the ball up and down the field, the offense's longest drive was its last -- 67 yards -- but finished with no points. Buffalo struggled to establish any sort of consistent running game, averaging 4.0 yards per carry and finishing with 99 yards on the ground.

Coach Sean McDermott's clock management in the second half also ended up being a factor. He challenged the spot on a Jones fourth-down rush and the call stood due to a lack of evidence to overturn. That cost the Bills a timeout and Buffalo burned another before Allen was sacked in the red zone. That left the Bills with one timeout for the key final minutes.

Troubling trend: Opponents know that they can run on the Bills' defense. The Titans did it, the Colts did it and the Patriots relied on it. Overall, the run defense’s numbers aren't the worst in the league, and most games it has done enough to win, but despite the return of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei after missing three games on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, the run defense continues to have issues. The Patriots attempted three passes and won. Enough said.

"Once they got the run game going, we knew they were going to be running the ball a lot," safety Micah Hyde said. "And then from there, it was just getting into negative situations. They've got good backs. They were running downhill, mixing up a little bit on us and whatever was working for them they were going right back to it. ... In the second half we were able to get off the field and make some stops. It was just unfortunate."

QB breakdown: Allen played well, all things considered, especially with the role that the wind played. Most of the plays that were off with his receivers were drops, but Allen also had moments when he placed the ball too high or out of his receiver's reach. Interceptions had been a major issue for the quarterback as of late, but Allen did not throw one against the Patriots. It was his first game without an interception since Week 8.

Pivotal series: On the Bills' first drive of the fourth quarter, starting with 13 minutes left in the game, they had a chance to take the lead. But with the ball at the New England 6-yard line thanks to a horse-collar tackle, the Bills proceeded to get zero points. After a gain of no yards on a Zack Moss run, McDermott called timeout, leaving Buffalo with one left.

Allen was promptly sacked for a loss of 9, and then threw an incomplete pass to Knox in the end zone. Kicker Tyler Bass then missed a 33-yard field goal into the wind, giving the Patriots the ball back.

"I didn't think we honestly took advantage of our opportunities tonight," McDermott said when asked about offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "I honestly didn't. The ball's at the 40-yard line and we're 1 for 4 in the red zone. We gotta figure that part of it out."