These aren’t your father’s Patriots, yet you worry

Buffalo

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton smiles in the huddle against the Las Vegas Raiders during an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 in Foxborough, Mass. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

Shortly after he was hired as the Bills’ head coach in 2017, Sean McDermott said the challenge of catching up to the New England Patriots kept him awake at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Well, it’s not as if McDermott could ever take anything for granted. His team has been struggling of late, and he’s lost all six of his meetings with the Pats during his time in Buffalo.

But Prof. Process might be sleeping a tad better nowadays, knowing that the mighty Patriots have become a shell of their former selves. In fact, they’re trending to have their worst season since Bill Belichick’s first season as the head man back in 2000.

The Pats fell to 2-4 on the season with a 33-6 loss to the Niners on Sunday. It was the worst home loss in the Belichick era, and the second-worst defeat overall under the hooded genius — behind that famous 31-0 loss at Buffalo in the 2003 opener. 

This is the first time New England has been under .500 in late October since 2002, the year a 3-4 Pats team came to Buffalo and thrashed a 5-3 Bills team, 38-7, in the infamous “Bledsoe Bowl” against former quarterback Drew Bledsoe. 

The Bills haven’t been two games ahead of the Pats after seven games since the 1995 season. 

The Pats have won at least 10 games in every season since finishing 9-7 in ’02. They have won 11 consecutive AFC titles and a winning record 19 years in a row. They’ve won six Super Bowls and reached the AFC title game eight years in a row before losing in the wild-card round last January.

But all of that is in jeopardy now, as the Pats struggle to overcome Tom Brady’s departure, eight Covid opt-outs, a depleted defense, and an offense that was recently described by one AFC executive as “the worst group of skill players” in football.

Wow, and consider what we saw from the Jets’ offense on Sunday. This could be the worst New England team in 20 years. They’re not as bad as the Jets, but Bills fans have every reason to be optimistic going into Sunday’s game at the Ralph.

The Pats have lost three games in a row for the first time since that ’02 season. The loss to San Francisco gave them two straight home defeats for the first time in 12 years. 

And yes, the offense is terrible. In a year when the NFL is on pace to shatter league scoring records (at 25.5 points a game), the Pats are trending the other way. They’re averaging 19 points a game. Only the Jets have fewer points this season.

It has been getting worse the past two weeks. In the last two games, the Pats have put up 288 and 241 yards of offense. They have 529 yards and 18 points over those two games. 

The Seahawks (572) and Cardinals (519) both went over 500 in Arizona’s 37-34 overtime win on Sunday night. Keep in mind, those two offenses play against the Bills later this season.

Imagine that, the Pats offense as a breather. Quarterback Cam Newton is a mess. The former league MVP was 9-for-15 passing for 95 yards and three interceptions against the Niners. The Pats are last in the NFL in passing touchdowns (1) and have thrown the most interceptions (11).

Newton was benched for Jarrett Stidham on Sunday, so it’s unclear who will start at the Bills. Whatever the case, he will be operating with a receiving corps that rivals the Bills’ dysfunctional units of the early Brandon Beane-McDermott era.

Veteran Julian Edelman, the top wideout, has three catches for 18 yards over the last two games. Damiere Byrd, an undrafted free agent of the Panthers during McDermott’s Carolina days, is their second-leading receiver with 18 catches. Ryan Izzo has one catch, the only one by a tight end all season.

No doubt, Belichick will try to run the ball against a vulnerable Bills front. But his top rusher, Sony Michel, is hurt and Newton leads the team in rushing. Damien Harris, who had 17 carries for 100 yards against the Chiefs, has 77 yards combined in the last two games. 

Defensively, the Patriots still have a strong secondary, though they’re near the bottom of the league in sacks and yards per pass. The run defense is allowing 132 yards a game, 37 more than last year. The Niners had 197 rushing yards, including a career-high 112 by backup Jeff Wilson Jr.

Remove the name of the opponent and you’d assume this was an easy win for the Bills, who opened as a four-point favorite. But this is the Patriots, and there’s a shadow that will hover over this “rivalry” until the Bills cast it away for good.

The grim history, if you will:

The Bills have lost eight in a row at home to the Patriots, going back to the 34-31 win in 2011 when FitzMagic was at its apex. They’re lost seven in a row overall. Belichick is 35-5 against the Bills in his 20 seasons in New England.

In the six losses under McDermott, the Bills have averaged 9.1 points a game. They haven’t scored more than 17 points in any of them. But with the team averaging 25 points a game, and with Allen on pace to break the team records for passing yards and TDs, it’s reasonable to expect at least 24.

The Bills should be 6-2 a week from now. Bizarre things have a way of happening against the Pats, but a lot of that was Brady. The last time the Bills beat the Pats — 16-0 in New England in 2016 — Brady was on Deflategate suspension.

It’s still New England, though, and Belichick has no peer when it comes to preparing in a crisis.  At least once over the next few days, McDermott will likely bolt awake at 3 a.m., worrying.

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