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Breaking Buffalo: Belichick Sends Bills Back to the Drawing Board

New England handed Buffalo a frustrating, demoralizing defeat on Monday night that the Bills may have issues shaking the rest of the season.

Bill Belichick isn’t the first coach to have heard of wind, or to have taken it into consideration as a significant factor in his game planning process. But he is the first coach in more than 30 years to have gone an entire half with just one passing attempt, and the first coach since Lou Saban in 1974 to call three or fewer passing attempts throughout the entirety of a game.

During one of the fastest renditions of Monday Night Football we’ve ever seen, Belichick was called both arrogant and painfully conservative. Even when the Patriots had the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter, even with lead running back Damien Harris hobbling with a hamstring injury he re-aggravated after the half, rookie quarterback Mac Jones was only allowed to unholster a handful of times. Bills fans may have called him fortunate, too, the beneficiary of a few non-calls. Josh Allen was begging for flags all night that remained pocketed.

But we’ll call Belichick terrifying, because that’s how the remainder of the AFC should see it right now, looking up at New England as the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Belichick spent the week building a game plan around knifing the league’s fourth-best rushing defense at the heart of their scheme. He fantasized about embarrassing a divisional opponent in the most humiliating fashion: daring them to stop plays they knew were coming, but in critical moments, could not. It was the boxing equivalent of twirling your dominant hand round and round in a looping circle before delivering a shot square at the other person’s nose.

Belichick doubled down on his final defensive play of the game, showing something resembling a full-house blitz (and actually sending significant pressure) on a fourth-and-14, begging the league’s strongest-armed quarterback to beat both the rush and the wind, with just a handful of defensive backs there to stop him.

If the Patriots could treat the Bills like this, showing them that their very foundation is wobbling, what else are they capable of?

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reacts to a call against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Highmark Stadium.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick won on Monday night in a way that not even he had previously dared to try.

If one thinks this loss isn’t going to stick with Buffalo like a lingering, psychological head cold, just look at the way safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer responded to a reporter asking about their run defense after the game. While they may have been reacting more to the tenor of the question, which, after a brutal game played in the equivalent of a comically exaggerated 1950s movie tornado, probably didn’t hit their ears kindly, it was clear they walked to the podium already chapped at the idea of having to talk about 46 rushing attempts at nearly five yards per carry. Sean McDermott was also asked about the mental warfare between coaches before rattling off average field position stats and red zone attempts in an effort to downplay any psychological impact from the opposite sideline. In a well-meaning but likely regrettable moment, he said: "Let's not give more credit than we need to give Bill Belichick in this one." There's a good chance he spends the next two weeks answering questions about this.

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The Bills gave up just 14 points. If you remove Harris’s 64-yard touchdown run, they would have surrendered a little more than 3.5 yards per carry, which would be better than the league’s best run defense in football this year (the Saints give up an average of 3.6 yards per carry). And yet, it creates a head game. It creates a generalization about some kind of Achilles heel. It creates a litany of possibilities for the team’s next matchup just two weeks from now. It sends a dejected division rival down to Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers have already downloaded the film, along with Derrick Henry’s 143-yard performance from Oct. 18 against the Bills and Jonathan Taylor’s 185-yard, five-touchdown game just three weeks ago. It is a wound Buffalo has to carry around. What can Tom Brady accomplish against a completely gassed opponent on truncated rest? In what shape will the Bills return to Foxborough?

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And there was Belichick after the game, in perfect deadpan, calling the weather “somewhat challenging.” At his best, he is so subtly evil in this way (even if the little jabs only exist in our imagination) and we have not been able to see him at the height of his powers in the post-Brady era. In the years prior to Buffalo’s revival and the teardown of the Patriot dynasty, Belichick could play three-dimensional chess with all teams in the division simultaneously. Watching a franchise try and compete with the Patriots, trying to draft players specifically to stop their best players, trying to hire coaches who could compete intellectually, was like observing an ant hill after it gets stepped on. Chaos. Dejection. Repeat.

Sean McDermott’s presence in the AFC East has halted the vicious cycle. While Buffalo won’t crumble entirely after a loss like this, they have a steep ascent ahead of them made more difficult with the baggage they’ll carry from Monday.

Meanwhile, Belichick reminded everyone that, even without the quarterback, or any quarterback, really, he is still a singular force the likes of which can upend a division like a gust of wind. 

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