FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have looked up at the Buffalo Bills since the day Tom Brady departed from the organization.

That was the last time the Patriots truly held an advantage over the Bills. Remember, before Sunday, New England hadn’t defeated Buffalo at Gillette Stadium since a division-clinching 24-17 victory in Week 16 of the 2019 season. That game also marked the final home win for Brady in a Patriots uniform.

The 2020 season marked a changing of the guard in the AFC East. Since then, Buffalo has won three straight division titles and entered Sunday with a 5-1 record against the Patriots during that span, plus a 47-17 beatdown of New England in the 2021 AFC Wild Card round. Buffalo outscored New England 164-98 in those six regular season games.

The lone win for the Patriots since 2020 came in Week 13 of the 2021 season in a 14-10 victory in Buffalo in a game where Mac Jones threw just three passes, the offense ate the clock and historically chaotic winds changed the complexion of the game. As a result of the conditions, that win lacked respect for the Patriots and discounted the Bills’ defeat.

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So when the Patriots finally broke through for an upset 29-25 win over the Bills on Sunday, the victory gave New England an answer to so many narratives that devalued the franchise over the last few seasons.

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In the Mac Jones era of football in New England, the Patriots hung around during each season by picking up wins against bad quarterbacks, failing to convert on game-winning drives and consistently falling to the top teams in the league.

In dramatic fashion, the Patriots did all of those things on Sunday.

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They beat a team that had truly dominated them for nearly four seasons. They forced a turnover and defeated an elite quarterback in Josh Allen, who entered with a passer rating over 100 in five of his last seven matchups with New England.

It’s hard to find anyone who needed this victory more than Mac Jones, who can now mark this game down as his signature win in the NFL in his third season. That even comes after making the playoffs and filling in as a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie.

For a game inside the game, Jones eventually had to find a way to show he could lead a true game-winning drive. To this point in his career, the only game-winning drive on his resume came in Week 5 of the 2021 season as the offense ran down the clock in a tied game before kicking a field goal to narrowly defeat a bad Houston Texans squad.

On Sunday, Jones got another chance to show his abilities in a key spot against a key opponent. This time, the third-year quarterback finally delivered. On the drive for the go-ahead score, Jones went six-for-seven through the air for 64 yards, ultimately finding Mike Gesicki for a one-yard touchdown with 12 seconds to play.

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The Patriots had certainly come close to breaking through against the Bills before. In last year’s season finale in Buffalo, Jones showed efficiency on three scoring drives with three passing touchdowns while the defense forced three turnovers. Ultimately, the Bills made just enough plays with their stars to down New England once again.

Based on those improvements, New England entered 2023 with signs that they could play with Buffalo for real. Injuries and a string of embarrassing losses wiped any of those hopes away prior to Sunday’s matchup at Gillette Stadium. In the end, the Patriots showed that those signs could have tangible results against the team they needed to beat the most.

The win over Buffalo truly has been one in the making for New England. Unfortunately, the impact of the win may be dampened by the overall horrific struggles of the season, given that the Patriots had lost three straight games and entered Sunday at 1-5. Of all the New England teams with talent and playoff hopes of the last few seasons, it really is fascinating that this team became the group to finally emerge victorious against Buffalo.

Regardless, Sunday could mark a day to eventually look back on for the Patriots, whether that be after a potential turnaround this season or the first steps sometime down the road of what it truly takes to compete in the AFC.

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Will there be a long-term positive impact from the thrilling comeback win? For the Patriots, time will tell.

For now, Sunday marked a first in this next era of Patriots football that the team could stand up against its most daunting opponent and earn a convincing win against the odds of its recent past.

Featured image via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images