Adrian Phillips believes the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills are closer than Saturday’s lopsided scoreline would indicate.
A lot closer.
In fact, the veteran Patriots safety said Monday there is no gap between his team and the AFC East rival Bills, who are moving on to the divisional round after routing New England 47-17 on wild-card weekend.
“Buffalo’s a great team, and what they’ve got going over there is great,” Phillips said in an end-of-season video conference. “They built up a nice roster. But I don’t think the gap is huge at all. They just made the plays that were out there to be made, and we didn’t make ours. It’s going to be fun for the next few years, and we’ll look to see how it is at the end of those years.
“But I don’t think it’s a gap at all. I will always ride with what we’ve got on this side, and I think we’re better than everybody else. We’ve just got to go out there and prove it.”
So, what went wrong Saturday night, when Josh Allen carved up New England’s once-lauded defense and the Bills became the first team in NFL history to go an entire game without a punt, field goal or turnover?
Phillips blamed that miserable defensive showing — which fellow safety Devin McCourty called “embarrassing” — on a lack of focus, saying the Patriots didn’t have the mental readiness they needed.
“I think physically, we were there,” said Phillips, who was in coverage on one of Allen’s five touchdown passes. “I think mentally, we just weren’t in the right space and go out there and make those plays. I think Buffalo was, and that’s why they got us — at least their offense. I can’t speak for the other side of the ball. Their offense was there mentally and physically, and for us, we just dropped the ball on that part. I think that’s what the difference was.
“But kudos to them. They showed up, and obviously, we didn’t.”
This season provided reasons for optimism for the Patriots, who won 10 games with rookie quarterback Mac Jones and returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence. But they have work to do to catch the high-powered Bills, who have won each of the last two AFC East titles and now are one win away from their second straight AFC Championship Game appearance.
New England and Buffalo split their two regular-season meetings, with each winning in the opponent’s home stadium. The Patriots held the top spot in the AFC in mid-December before dropping three of their final four games, then bowing out in the opening round of the playoffs.
“The next few years are going to be exciting,” said Phillips, who signed a team-friendly three-year contract extension earlier this month. “But at the same time, I think it’s going to be a lot of hard work.”