Orchard Park, N.Y. – The joyous screams were loud coming from the visitor’s locker room inside Highmark Stadium. The Patriots couldn’t hold back their emotions. Meanwhile, across the hall, the Buffalo Bills were melting down following the Pats 14-10 win in what was an odd game that resembled nothing like football is played in today’s NFL.
The Patriots went into the Bills’ house and were up against gale force winds with a rookie quarterback at the helm. Josh McDaniels called just three passing plays on the day, which are the fewest thrown by an NFL team since Buffalo accomplished that feat in 1974. The Patriots ran the ball down the Bills’ throat, with 46 rushing attempts for 222 yards. Buffalo knew what was coming and they still couldn’t stop it.
That’s why there was a rush of emotion when the clock hit zero. After starting the season 2-4, the 2021 Patriots have won seven-straight games. These Patriots are 9-4 and currently the AFC’s No. 1 seed. They’re also heading into their bye week.
Life is good. The Patriots are real. They look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. What’s scary for the rest of the NFL is that these players still aren’t satisfied.
“It’s not finished. We’re not even close to being done. We haven’t even hit our ceiling as coach would say,” said Brandon Bolden. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re trying to get on top of it.”
The Patriots have four games left in the 2021 season to cement a spot in the postseason. At this point, it seems like a foregone conclusion they’ll get in. It’s remarkable they’re in position to get the top seed in the AFC, but this winning streak and their performance on Monday has shown us why they’re Super Bowl contenders.
First, it starts with coaching.
Bill Belichick is the greatest NFL coach of all-time. He’s putting together a season that should net him the NFL’s Coach of the year honor. Josh McDaniels is also proving to be one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL and is showing why he deserves another head-coaching job in the NFL.
Take Monday, for example. It takes guts to run the ball over and over and over again. When it was second-and-17 or third-and-12, it didn’t matter. The Pats lined up six offensive linemen, a tight end, through a fullback in there and let Damien Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson have at it.
It was painful at time. That contest started with the offense going three-and-out twice. But due to the weather, it worked. Harris’ 64-yard touchdown run was the marquee play, but the two other scoring drives that led to field goals gave the Patriots enough points to secure this win.
“It takes a village. The coaches have been in a lot of games like this,” said Mac Jones. “Coach Belichick and coach Josh have been in every type of element there is. They know what it takes to win.”
“I’m extremely proud of this team,” added Matthew Judon. “The way we prepare. The way we go out there every week and work, there’s not a team more prepared in the league than us.”
The Patriots are showing us they can win in several different ways. We’ve seen different receivers (Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor or Kendrick Bourne) take the lead. We’ve seen different backs (Harris, Stevenson or Bolden), lead the team in rushing. We’ve seen Jones throw between 30-50 passes in a game in six different games.
We’ve seen the defense win by playing man coverage. We’ve seen them win by playing zone coverage. We’ve seen them lock down opposing receivers, force turnovers, shutdown running backs and make life miserable for quarterbacks.
“That’s why I love playing here. This team isn’t about one person. It isn’t about ego,” said Devin McCourty. “It isn’t about ‘this is what we do so we do it.’ It’s about winning. We’re going to adjust and finding a way to win.”
As McCourty mentioned, the Patriots have taken ego out of the question.
Jones completed 2/3 passes for 19 yards on Monday. This could very well be one of the worst box scores of his career. Do you think he cared that he handed the ball of 41 times? Do you think he lamented that he wasn’t throwing the ball more?
“It took all 11 guys,” said Jones. “It doesn’t matter how many times you run it or throw it, as long as you win, everyone’s going to be happy.”
The Patriots are operating like a well-oiled machine. It’s scary for the rest of the NFL. As Bolden said, players and coaches have been focused on reaching their true potential. That means playing a perfect game and let’s be honest, that’ll likely never happen. However, it forces players to focus on what they did wrong or failed to do every week. That mindset forces them to move on quickly from nice wins and ugly losses.
That’s why Bolden said they hadn’t hit their ceiling yet.
“We haven’t. We haven’t,” said Bolden. “We don’t know how good we can really be just yet. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to get back to work. Sky’s the limit.”
Meanwhile, the AFC is crumbling. Baltimore lost to Pittsburgh this past weekend. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs don’t look right offensively. Tennessee is without their best player, Derrick Henry. In Buffalo, the Bills have lost three of the last five.
Their coach, Sean McDermott took, multiple shots at Belichick after the game. At one point saying, “Let’s not give more credit than we need to give Bill Belichick in this one.” Bills safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde also lashed out at a reporter after the loss.
While that was happening, the Patriots were celebrating inside the same facility. They’ll enjoy the win and quickly turn the page.
“Have to give the players a lot of credit for being tough, being resilient… Good to get the win,” Belichick said. “Time to move on.”
The Patriots are searching for that ceiling. They’ll only find it at the Super Bowl. At this point, you have to like their chances.