Monday’s game between the Patriots and the Bills felt like the final lines in the 2008 film, “Burn After Reading.”
“What did we learn, Palmer?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“I don’t (bleeping) know, either.”
Ahead of the Week 13 showdown, we looked forward to finally receiving answers to many lingering questions about New England and Buffalo: Have the Patriots truly established themselves as the beasts of the AFC East, or are the Bills the team to beat? Can Mac Jones perform well in cold weather? Has Josh Allen actually conquered Bill Belichick’s defense? Are the Patriots ready to win a tough, close primetime game on the road against an upper-echelon opponent?
Well, Monday’s wind-chilled, sub-freezing grinder at Highmark Stadium yielded no such insights. Instead, we got as many Nick Folk field goals as Jones completions (two), a combined 71 rush attempts, good-not-great play from Allen and in- and postgame meltdowns from Bills players and coaches. One punt went 15 yards; another went 71 yards. If you drank every time someone said “with” or “against” the “wind,” you probably called out of work Tuesday.
Ultimately, the Patriots earned a 14-10 win in a game that had stat geeks sifting through decades to find comparables. It was heavy on nostalgia but light on substance.
That’s not to say New England’s victory, which strengthened its leads atop the AFC East and conference standings, taught us nothing. We received further confirmation that Belichick’s Patriots are more well-coached than Sean McDermott’s Bills — in every sense. New England is more poised, more mature and more willing to do whatever is necessary to win than Buffalo. We learned that last Sunday’s run-stopping disaster against the Tennessee Titans was a one-off. With the Patriots’ game-winning blitz call on fourth down, we learned that Belichick still doesn’t believe Allen can keep his wits about him in a bit spot.
Also, we learned the Patriots don’t believe in Jones’ ability to air it out in swirling winds as much as the Bills do in Allen’s. Whether that’s a reflection of New England’s overall confidence in the rookie quarterback is for the Nick Wrights of the world to decide.
But that’s mostly it.
The Patriots’ defense is very good. It might be (probably is) the best in the NFL. But we still don’t know whether it can limit a dynamic, multi-dimensional offense over four quarters. Due to injuries, weather and overall quality of opponent, New England has faced nothing during its seven-game winning streak that compares to what it saw when Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys put up nearly 600 yards in Week 6.
That the Patriots won the trench war and suffocated Buffalo’s running game indicates they should be able to do the same in the Dec. 26 rematch and thus put that game on Allen’s shoulders. However, New England’s struggles in coverage on the final drive should make fans concerned about what Allen and his weapons could do in a more normal game.
Obviously, Monday’s game taught us nothing about whether Jones can step up in either a hostile environment or inclement weather. Jones only threw the ball three times, and Bills Mafia rarely was a factor. The Dec. 18 game against the Colts could give us an idea of how well Jones can handle a loud crowd in a pivotal moment.
Or the Patriots could blow out Indianapolis and we’ll have to wait until the playoffs, or something.
As for the Bills, they should feel miserable about how Monday night went. They got Belichick’d on their home turf with first place in the division on the line. But Buffalo should have no issue throwing its performance in the trash and looking toward the rematch at Gillette Stadium, which, hopefully, will feature more favorable conditions. The Bills’ offense remains (occasionally) explosive, and the defense is on par with New England’s. Buffalo is capable of exacting revenge in New England, provided McDermott can stay composed for an entire afternoon and not allow Belichick to run circles around him.
It’s hard to envision that last part happening, which might be Monday’s most salient lesson.