Bills, Patriots set for Monday night battle for AFC East lead
Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills had their way against the Cam Newton-led New England Patriots one season ago en route to their first AFC East title since 1995.
Now the Patriots have a new X-factor at quarterback as rookie star Mac Jones leads New England into a Monday night matchup in Buffalo with the AFC East up for grabs.
New England (8-4) enters as the hottest team in football with six straight victories. Jones had his best statistical passing game in last Sunday’s 36-13 rout of then-AFC top seed Tennessee, throwing for a career-high 310 yards and two touchdowns.
Buffalo (7-4) won four of its first five games before alternating losses and wins in each of its next six games. Last Sunday, the Bills were 31-6 winners at New Orleans behind 260 passing yards and four touchdowns from Allen.
Entering their first of two meetings down the stretch, the Patriots hold a half-game lead over the Bills atop the AFC East standings.
“It’s two great franchises going against each other, so a lot of football history,” Jones said. “This game coming up, both teams are going to be excited.”
Much of New England’s success during its winning streak has come via the ground game, but the Patriots’ rushers were held in check against a staunch Titans’ defense. Rookie rusher Rhamondre Stevenson, who has led the team in rushing in each of the last four games, had just 46 yards on nine carries.
Defensively, New England held an opponent to 13 or fewer points for the fifth time in six games during their streak. The Patriots’ defense has allowed 316.7 total yards per game this season — good for fourth-best in the NFL — while holding teams to a league-best 15.8 points per game.
Defense has also been the calling card for the Bills. Buffalo ranks first in the league in total yards allowed (275.2 per game) and is second in points allowed (16.5), meaning the likelihood of a high-scoring Monday night shootout isn’t very high.
However, the Buffalo defense took a major hit in the form of a season-ending injury to star cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee against the Saints and was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.
“(Everyone has to step up) collectively as a team, really,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “Not just on that side of the ball, but … when a guy like that goes down it is next man up, regardless. But I think collectively as a team just overall we’ve got to take our game to another level.”
Buffalo won both meetings with New England last season, securing a narrow 24-21 home win in Week 8 before rolling to a 38-9 rout at New England on a Monday night in Week 16 behind Allen’s passing 320 yards and four TDs.
McDermott said Thursday that it was too soon to tell if left guard Jon Feliciano, tackle Spencer Brown and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will be ready to play by Monday. Feliciano (calf strain) missed the game in New Orleans while Brown and Lotulelei were recently removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
New England placed a pair of players on the COVID list in the build up to Monday’s game. Leading tackler Kyle Dugger landed on the list on Wednesday after running back J.J. Taylor was added to it on Monday.
A second-year safety, Dugger has 80 tackles and three interceptions this season. Dugger’s availability for Monday’s game remains uncertain.
–Field Level Media