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Worth the Watch: Yay or Nay — Wild Card Weekend, Patriots vs. Bills

In the wake of the New England Patriots’ loss to the Buffalo Bills in the opening round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs, Patriot Maven provides analysis for the players on whom Pats fans might have wanted to keep watch. Were they worth the attention?

The New England Patriots finished the 2021 NFL Season with a 10-8 record, following a demoralizing 47-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Wild Card Weekend in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

Though quarterback Mac Jones finished the game completing 24 of 38 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, the story of the night for New England would be the inability to make plays when most needed on both sides of the ball. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen finished 21 of 25 for 308 yards, setting a team playoff record with five touchdown passes, including two to tight end Dawson Knox. Running back Devin Singletary also rushed for two scores, en route to a dismantling of the Pats by the reigning AFC East division champions.

Prior to this postseason matchup, Patriot Maven highlighted three players on offense and three players on defense on which the fan base might have wanted to keep watch.

Let’s examine whether this six-pack of Patriots was ‘worth the watch’ on Saturday night:

Mac Jones — Yay

Jones became the first rookie quarterback in New England history to make a start in the postseason on Saturday. On a positive note, the Patriots’ rookie made athletic plays to convert two third-and-longs on their opening drive. He impressively evaded pressure, with both his legs as well as his eyes, to find tight end Hunter Henry for 33 yards on third-and-14. Shortly thereafter, Jones used his wheels to pick up 16 yards on a key third-and-ten to earn the first down. It was his connection with wideout Kendrick Bourne which allowed New England to add two touchdowns to the scoreboard at Highmark Stadium. Jones also had his share of mistakes on Saturday. Despite being saddled with two interceptions on the stat sheet, only one of them was overtly his fault. While he was far from perfect, Jones’ positives outweighed the negatives on Saturday.

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Damien Harris — Nay

Declining to give Harris a ‘worth the watch’ nod is a bit unfair, considering that the Patriots allowed four touchdowns to the Bills before putting their first points of the day on the board. However, the Pats feature back amassed only 30 rushing yards on nine carries. Perhaps the metaphor of the night was provided when Harris was chased out of bounds in the first half by Bills’ defensive end Mario Addison. The Alabama product was stopped just short of the first down, preventing the Patriots from continuing a crucial offensive drive.

Justin Herron — Yay

Starting at left tackle in place of the injured Isaiah Wynn, Herron proved to be up to the task. Herron did not allow a sack, nor was he penalized. Overall, the Wake Forest product framed his opposition well, and kept them at the end of his reach. While there were very few bright spots for the Patriots on Saturday night, Herron was one of them. He finished the night as the fourth highest-graded Patriot by Pro Football Focus (with a minimum of 25% of the team’s snaps) with an overall grade of 78.1.

Matt Judon — Nay

The Patriots linebackers collectively looked to be a step behind all night on Saturday. While Judon was credited with six quarterback pressures by Pro Football Focus, he finished the game logging only one tackle and one quarterback hit. For the fifth straight game, Judon failed to register a sack. With the Patriots in dire need of putting pressure on Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen, the lack of a presence in the pass rush made that nearly impossible. Unfortunately, Judon’s struggles greatly contributed to New England’s futility on defense during Wild Card Weekend.

J.C. Jackson — Nay

Though it was billed as the individual matchup to watch on Saturday, Jackson-Diggs II ended up being more of the same. Jackson allowed four receptions on four targets, for 98 yards. The Patriots’ top cornerback (who was recently selected as a second-team All-Pro) allowed Diggs to get behind him on multiple occasions. He also allowed a big gain to tight end Dawson Knox, which led to a Bills touchdown early in the third quarter. While Jackson’s season had more ups than downs, his struggles against the Bills are likely to be a factor in New England’s plans regarding his free agency.

Christian Barmore — Nay, by association

The Patriots defensive line had one of its worst outings of the year on Saturday. The unit generated zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and zero tackles for a loss. To be fair, Barmore was playing on an injured knee that threatened to keep him sidelined earlier in the week. The rookie logged two total tackles, one of which was of the solo variety. Still, the injury looked to affect Barmore’s ability to push the pocket, as well as moving into position to assist in run stoppage. Though his individual performance was not poor, Barmore was unable to help save a front seven that was copiously sub-par on Saturday.