ORCHARD PARK, NY. – Here it rained all morning, it snowed as night fell, and in between, the Patriots 2020 season turned to mud and slipped into the nearby Lake Erie.
Yes, the bills (6-2) beat the Patriots (2-5) on Sunday, which is no small matter. They play twice a year and this was the first time Buffalo won any of the games since 2016. It was the first time the Bills beat the Patriots under current head coach Sean McDermott. It was only the sixth time in 41 games – FORTY ONE!!! – that Bill Belichick lost to Buffalo as head coach of the Patriots.
It was nerve-wracking as curse-busting games always have to be. No Bills fan over 5 felt good at this thing until Cam Newton’s fumble, 31 seconds ahead, gave Buffalo the ball for good. But the first place Bills won, and they’re 3½ games ahead of the Patriots, and there is half a season left to play. And while their October wasn’t as brightly windy as their September – and their November looks anything but easy – the Bills have exorcised an annoying demon. For now, you have earned the right to call yourself the class of the AFC East.
The patriots … not so much. You have lost four in a row. The total number of touchdowns on Sunday (two) was the sum of the last three games combined. Newton and the running game led by Damien Harris looked better than in a while, but too little, too late, and the story of the next two days will be whether the Patriots are close of trade sellers about to give up a season for the first time in two decades.
These are two teams going in opposite – and rather unusual – directions. If we hadn’t seen one dominate the other since the turn of the century, this result wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. It would only have been a team with first place that would have thrown a team with third place in the bin and switched to the second half of the season.
But instead it was Patriots-Bills, turned upside down, and so we have this week’s overreaction column with …
The AFC East race is over
Look, at this point the only reason to believe the Patriots are going to win this thing is that you can’t count Belichick until the math says you can. But there is only so much a genius can do. The Patriots had five active recipients on the roster on Sunday. All five were vacant, three within the last two years. Seriously, think about it the next time you get on the Packers case and wait until round two to design receivers for Aaron Rodgers.
I’m not saying Newton was perfect – far from it, and he admits it. But that New England team is overstaffed on at least one side of the ball every week, and when cornerback Stephon Gilmore isn’t playing (as he didn’t on Sunday), it is both.
The rest of the Patriots’ schedule doesn’t look difficult – aside from the Ravens game in two weeks – but let’s be real. You don’t look like a difficult situation on other teams’ schedules right now. Buffalo does, with a 3.5 game lead with a head-to-head win. The pats are cooked. However …
The verdict: overreaction. Because the dolphins, people! Even if you’re willing to admit the Patriots can’t return, remember that there’s a team between Buffalo and New England, and it’s Miami that embarrassed Jared Goff and the Rams for Sunday improve to 4 -3 and stay within a game and a half.
Buffalo defeated Miami in week 2, but with only one field goal, and looked at the remaining schedules. The Bills have Seattle and Arizona in the next two weeks, then an emotionally straining fourth quarter comeback win against the Chargers, followed by games against the 49ers and Steelers. The Dolphins still have games against the Chiefs and Raiders and Bills, but they also have a really juicy stretch to go between Chargers / Broncos / Jets / Bengals while the Bills deal with their glove.
If rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can play – and he really wasn’t tested on Sunday as the Dolphins’ defense kept turning Goff – then Miami has a real shot to turn the 17th week Buffalo game into a Sunday night. Time division title game. Don’t rule out Brian Flores’ bunch.
The Rams are the worst team with five wins in the league
The downside of Miami’s victory on Sunday was the Rams’ defeat, and an ugly one. Los Angeles won Miami 471 yards in 175, had 36:29 ball possession time, and had 31 first losses to the Dolphins Eight … and it wasn’t even in the game in the second half.
Four turnovers from Goff in the first half sank LA into a 28-10 hole at halftime, and Miami is playing defense well enough that the Rams wouldn’t come back from it. Goff’s total QBR for the game was 12.9 – and remember, that’s on a scale of zero to 100. The Rams were as bad as any team in the league on Sunday.
The verdict: NO OVER-REACTION. Their only competition for this honor comes from the Browns and the Bears. Coincidentally, the Bears are the only non-NFC East team the Rams have beaten this season. You won’t see the Browns unless they both do the Super Bowl and I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Sunday’s game could not have gone better for the Rams, especially after Aaron Donald forced a Tagovailoa fumble in the Dolphins’ second game and the Rams scored the game’s first touchdown a few games later. But then Goff turned it around and the dolphins ran a boat back for a touchdown. And the Rams watched the game get away from them.
LA is in third place in the toughest league in the league, and the bad news is that there are no more games against NFC East. It gets the Seahawks, Buccaneers, 49ers, and Cardinals in the next four weeks. If we are wrong about the Rams here, they have a chance to prove it. But they’ll have to play a lot better than they did in Miami.
Sorry Steelers – the Chiefs are still the best team in the AFC
The Steelers held reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens back on Sunday to improve to 7-0. It is the only undefeated team in the league. His win is far from dominant, but given the difficulty, a decent case is more impressive than the Chiefs line-up over the winless Jets.
It comes a week after the Steelers defeated the Titans, who were undefeated prior to this game. There’s nothing about the Steelers season that you can’t dislike, and choosing the league’s only undefeated team as the best in the league is never going to be a terrible idea.
Patrick Mahomes throws for 416 yards and ties up with four players on five touchdowns while the Chiefs put the Jets to flight 35-9.
The verdict: NO OVER-REACTION. Layups count too, and the chiefs looked almost immaculate, which was what they had to do about the jets. Pittsburgh’s defense is a dominant unit, but Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t look nearly as dominantly sharp as Patrick Mahomes, who threw five touchdown passes on Sunday. The Chiefs are pretty much doing calisthenics right now, staying relaxed for January and trying another run for the title. You are on cruise control.
What Pittsburgh is doing is impressive and it could be the best team. But it’s also possible that we’re rethinking these things, and the only reason the Chiefs don’t beat every team at 28 every week is because the regular season doesn’t get the full attention. I’m still taking Kansas City until I see a good reason to feel different.
The 2-5 Vikings can still make the playoffs
The Vikings victory over the Packers was one of the strangest on Sunday. Race back Dalvin Cook returned from injury with a total of 226 yards of scrimmage and four touchdowns. Minnesota fell behind Aaron Rodgers & Co. twice in the first half and kept coming back, using Cook as a cudgel against a constantly stunned Green Bay defense who looked like they’d never seen him before.
The Vikings are still in last place in the NFC Nord but they are the only team in their division to win this week and they beat the first-placed team to do so. Green Bay has lost two of its last three.
The verdict: NO OVER-REACTION. The Vikings are just one example of why this matters, but their victory makes them a worthwhile one: for the first time, seven teams from each conference will play the playoffs. That means a 2-5 record isn’t as daunting as it used to be. If the season ended today, the NFC wildcard teams would be the 5-2 Cardinals, the 5-2 Buccaneers and the 5-3 Rams, whose legitimacy we have already questioned here.
Mathematically speaking, the Vikings aren’t impossibly behind the Rams, and the only team between them that currently has a record are the overrated bears. Chicago, in two weeks’ time, is the only team the Vikings will play until December 13th that currently has a record.
I don’t know if they can get there. Heck, you were just trading big off-season commercial acquisition Yannick Ngakoue and couldn’t even be technically “going” at this point. However, in the second half of the season, it is important that you consider the point about the extended playoffs. And “Whoa, the Vikings aren’t out yet?” is as good as any other way of accommodating this.
The 49ers need a quarterback
Seattle’s pass defense is by far the worst in the NFL. On Sunday, the Seahawks allowed an average of 57.3 more yards per game than any other team. In their first seven games, Minnesota was the only team in Week 5 that didn’t throw at least 300 yards against them. The Seahawks allowed 7.71 yards per try and without their best safety and cornerback.
And Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers couldn’t throw it at them. Garoppolo was 11:16 and walked 84 yards before retiring in the second half with an ankle injury. Nick Mullens relieved him and went 18-on-25 for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
Yes, the games were more or less in hand at this point. But the big difference between the difficulty Garoppolo had in moving the ball and the ease with which Mullens moved it cannot be explained by simply shrugging shoulders and saying “garbage time”. One wonders if the Niners would have had a better chance of winning this game if Garoppolo hadn’t injured his ankle sooner.
The verdict: NO OVER-REACTION. Garoppolo is fine and obviously the Niners have won a lot of games with him – he’s 22-8 as a regular season starter. The injury situation in San Francisco this season is unrivaled in the league and it could be unfair to judge anyone as a result. But Garoppolo’s inconsistencies – whether performance or availability – have grown too big for an otherwise stable team to ignore.
Are they going to Green Bay with Mullens on Thursday whether or not Garoppolo’s ankle is okay? Are you thinking about switching in the second half of the season? It feels inevitable that they at least Consider Off-season alternatives and the way Garoppolo’s contract is structured make it easy for them to replace it if they choose.
Again, he’s not her biggest problem. But they have given him enough opportunity to prove that he can be the constant, constant presence they need in the position. That the jury stayed out for so long could tell them all they need to know.