Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and the Buffalo Bills made an emphatic statement. In the Monday Night Football finale, Allen led the recently crowned AFC East champions past the Patriots in resounding fashion with a 38-9 win. The division’s new blood reigned supreme, while New England clinched its first losing season since 2000.
Buffalo Bills 38, New England Patriots 9
1) A division had been decided and a run of postseason prosperity had concluded, but this was the AFC East changing of the guard for all the NFL world to drink in on a prime-time stage. Bill Belichick had a prideful Patriots group on the field, but the Bills were and are the much better team. New England came out full of energy and intention, but just couldn’t keep up. The teams each had some bad drops and stumbled here and there, but as the game settled in, it was clear there was no way the Pats (6-9) were keeping up with the Bills (12-3). With the AFC East title having already been wrested away by Buffalo and the Patriots’ NFL-record streak of 11 straight playoff berths having been stopped, the Bills went out and used Monday to reaffirm that times have changed. The Bills are the best team in the AFC East now, they have the division’s best quarterback in Josh Allen and the best receiver in Stefon Diggs. It’s a new dawn in the AFC East and, if you didn’t get the memo, the Bills released an emphatic statement on the final Monday night of the season.
2) Blowouts happen all the time in the NFL, but it’s still going to take some time to get used to the Patriots losing in this fashion. Or just losing, for that matter. With Monday’s dreary showing, New England clinched its first losing since 2000 — Bill Belichick’s first at the Patriots helm. It breaks a string of 19-straight winning seasons, which is the second-longest in NFL chronicle behind the Cowboys’ 1965-1985 run, per NFL Research. It was the latest streak of success to crash into the reality of the Patriots’ 2020 campaign. No longer the AFC East’s reigning titlist, no longer a postseason club and no longer a winning team, the Patriots are no longer the Patriots we have known for so long. There are certainly many rejoicing in Belichick and the Patriots’ misfortunes after six Super Bowls’ worth of fortune. However, there’s one week left before the Patriots’ reclamation project commences. Is this really the end for the Patriots? Was Monday night the symbolic final nail in the coffin of the league’s greatest dynasty? Or is this merely the valley from which Belichick and the Pats emerge from. 2021’s going to be interesting.
3) There is a new top gun in the AFC East and a new burgeoning star in the NFL’s quarterback ranks. Allen was congratulated by Bills legend Jim Kelly after breaking the Bills’ single-season TD record on Monday. He’s drawing praise from many more, as the third-season standout, who was once a one-man roller coaster capable of puzzling miscues as much as jaw-dropping feats of athleticism, has become one of the game’s best quarterbacks. While Allen’s four-touchdown night gave him 34 for the season and a new franchise record, perhaps even more impressive on Monday was that Allen joined Steve Young as the only players in league chronicle with 4,000 passing yards, 30-plus passing touchdowns and five rushing TDs. He is a do-it-all dynamo who’s leading a franchise rebirth, just as responsible for the Bills’ renaissance as general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott. Allen’s connection with Diggs has been sensational. They are rewriting the Bills’ record books (and penning some NFL records, as well) in their first season together. But Allen also got blocking tight end Lee Smith involved and Dawson Knox has become a contributor. Cole Beasley left the game early, but if he’s OK, he’ll continue a career year and John Brown is set to return. The Bills offense — which scored on its first four drives and five of its first six with halftime the only interruption — is blazing along just as its defense is playing the best it has all season. Buffalo’s primed for a playoff run that will add to this historic campaign. And a year ago at this time, Allen was viewed as perhaps a liability and most certainly as a question mark, but now he is the biggest reason the Bills are one of the most dangerous — and best — teams in the AFC.
4) On Allen’s big night, Diggs commanded the spotlight, as well. For four quarters, the Patriots were left scratching their helmets at how to contain Diggs, a riddle that confounded New England to the tune of nine catches for 145 yards and a career-high three touchdown receptions. Diggs has made a huge and instant impact on this franchise and the franchise quarterback. It’s not just superlatives, it’s statistics. His 120 catches lead the league, they’re a franchise record and they’re the most by a player in his first season with a team in league history, per NFL Research. His 1,459 yards receiving are a career-high for the first-time Pro Bowler, as he’s become just the third player in league lore to top 1,400 yards and 100 catches in a campaign. Diggs is being mentioned among the elite of the elite this season, as he should. It’s arduous to fathom anyone’s better than Green Bay’s Davante Adams right now and DeAndre Hopkins is up there and on and on. But it’s even more difficult to think that any receiver would be a better fit for the Bills right now. He’s the perfect Buffalo No. 1 receiver and his addition trails only the maturation of Allen as the largest reason the Bills’ offense has ascended to its current heights.
5) In a microcosm of the season, Cam Newton had some success with his legs, had awful struggles with his arm and Belichick went to Jarrett Stidham in the third quarter, because he might as well give the youngster some run. Newton was 5-for-10 for 34 yards. It was ugly. His line drives skipped off the field in what has become an unfortunate standard. Stidham looked better passing the ball, but not by much and certainly not enough to provide any comfort for the Patriots’ quandaries in regard to their quarterback of the future. That’s a question left for the offseason. Another will be what becomes of Newton. Newton escaped a sack, scrambled, juked a defender and then ran through a pair of would-be tacklers for a sensational 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. It invoked memories of the Cam of yesteryear. There’s hardly a scenario one could imagine in which Newton will be back with the Patriots next season, but plays like those and the flashes of brilliance and reminders of just how phenomenal he can be makes you think somebody will give him another shot. Overall, Newton had another horrendous game, but there are still those glimmers and those lasting impressions he’s made. Newton doesn’t go down easy.
6) The Patriots were eliminated in Week 15 by the Dolphins and routed in Week 16 by the Bills. Lost in those losses, Sony Michel had promising outings. Michel, who was on injured reserve earlier this season with a quad injury, had 10 carries for 74 yards against Miami and another 10 carries for 69 yards versus Buffalo. Michel has looked good and also bestows another interesting question for a Patriots offseason that will be brimming with them. Will the Patriots pick up the fifth-year option for the 2018 first-round pick? He’s given them some reason to want to keep him around even if it hasn’t garnered much attention.
7) Upon this December evening in Foxborough, the Bills and Patriots played the last Monday night game of the regular season. It’s been a regular season unlike any we’ve witnessed prior and this was more evidence of that, as the Buffalo-New England game stands as the record-setting 20th NFL contest played on a Monday in 2020, per NFL Research. The Steelers-Bengals Week 15 game broke the previous record of 18 and the final (provided more histrionics aren’t ahead) Monday game added to it. Three days prior, the Saints and Vikings competed on Christmas Friday, marking the first season in which a game was played on each day of the week. Buffalo and New England finalized a Monday slate that was a haven for rescheduled games this year due to COVID-19 issues. On multiple occasions, Monday wasn’t the conclusion of an NFL week as it’s scheduled to be, but came ahead of Tuesday and Wednesday tilts. Twenty games on Monday in 2020, what a season it’s been.
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