Perry's Report Card: Pats implode in almost every facet when it mattered most originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Matthew Slater wanted to provide perspective with his usual dose of candor. Such is his wont. For more than a decade after wins or losses -- often losses -- he's been relied upon by reporters to step to the microphone for insight on the pulse of a given team in a given moment.
When Slater strode to the podium Saturday, after a blowout loss to the Bills in the Wild Card Round, it might've been his final time as a player. The 36-year-old admitted he's "closer to the end, we all know that." But that didn't alter his standard approach.
Did he feel good about what the team built this year, he was asked? The Patriots made it back to the postseason with a new team and a rookie quarterback. But they lost four of their last five. They went 3-8 against teams with winning records.
"Yes and no," he said. "I think you have to keep proper perspective. For those of you that have been covering this team for a long time, this is not reality. What we've experienced here, to have the runs that we've had, the expectations for this football team. Nobody else in this league has done that. That's not reality. That's not the reality of the NFL. I think perspective is important.
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"You look at what happened last year, the regression we had to get to this point. Certainly we should be proud of that. But the other edge of that sword tells us that the expectations and the demand are high here. And the standard is never gonna change. So certainly we aren't pleased with the way we ended the season. We're also not pleased with tonight's outcome.
"You gotta keep a good balance there. You gotta realize what you're talking about. You gotta realize who this football team is and where they're headed. We'll see what the future holds."
There's plenty of time to assess what the future holds for this team. How will they reshape the roster? How many of the veterans who helped form championship cores -- Slater, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower and others who aren't under contract -- will be back? How do they build to stop Josh Allen for the next decade?
But for now we stick with the result from Saturday night, which featured a number of the same types of mistakes that plagued the Patriots late in the season.
Penalties. Turnovers. Vanishing attention to detail. Slater saw them and called them out weeks ago.
"We have some choices here," he said after the Patriots lost to the Bills in Week 16. "One of the choices is to let this just spiral out of control. And the other choice is (put) our feet in the ground and make a stand and fight."
The Patriots will tell you they fought. This wasn't an effort issue as far as they are concerned. But it spiraled on them nonetheless. And never was that more apparent than in Orchard Park in below-freezing temperatures this weekend.
Let's get to this season's final installment of the grades ...
Mac Jones fought. You can safely say that. One moment that served as a window into his resolve came at the end when he was willing to stand in the pocket and take a hard shot -- it led to a roughing the passer call -- just to keep a meaningless drive alive. His best throw of the night might’ve been his last as he floated a touchdown to Kendrick Bourne in the back corner of the end zone.
Of course, it was far from a perfect night. His first pick was a good throw but not a perfect one. It dropped a hair inside and short, giving Micah Hyde an opportunity to make a tremendous interception. It’d be interesting to hear the coaching point from Josh McDaniels for Jones on that play. The quarterback pump-faked in the direction of Nelson Agholor before throwing -- presumably to help sell Agholor’s double-move -- but it may have led Hyde in the direction of the throw and perhaps ultimately helped lead to Hyde making the play.
If Jones doesn’t pump and simply stares down the middle of the field, maybe Hyde is held off for a split-second and allows that ball to be completed. Not sure how much the pump did to make the corner in coverage bite on Agholor’s first move.
Jones’ second pick looked like it was headed into traffic from the jump. He also picked up a delay-of-game penalty that turned a third-and-long into a third-and-longer and might’ve taken the Patriots out of the ability to go for it on fourth down on the next snap. Fourth-and-manageable turned into fourth-and-long because of that penalty and the Patriots punted.
It wasn’t a clean-and-tidy game for Jones. But he competed. He made plays early when the Patriots offense couldn’t get out of its own way with a penalty, a drop and a pass broken up by Jonnu Smith that wasn’t targeted for him. Jones was not the problem Saturday.
Running Back: D
Bad time for one of this team’s most consistent position groups to have a bad night. Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry, and though that was due in part to the Bills aggressively attacking the line of scrimmage against the run, this unit didn’t do enough when it had opportunities at key plays.
Brandon Bolden dropped what would’ve been an explosive gain along the right sideline early on. He also had a double catch later in the game that may have limited his yards after the catch in a third-and-long situation. Harris also had a rough play on third down when he was chased out of bounds from behind by defensive end Mario Addison. The Patriots punted on the resulting fourth-and-short and we’re soon down three scores, 20-0.
Wide Receiver: C+
Kendrick Bourne might’ve been the best player on the field for the Patriots in this game. He clearly has the trust of his young quarterback. He got open for two late scores. He also leaked behind the defense on an unlikely third-down conversion and then quickly accelerated to eat up yards after the catch. It was one of the only moments of the night -- in any phase -- when the Patriots looked like they had some speed to challenge Buffalo.
But this grade can’t inch any higher here after a drop in the end zone by Jakobi Meyers and a 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty they absorbed when there was confusion with a wideout substitution. Agholor finished with just one catch on two targets. The Patriots should be looking to somehow upgrade this unit in the offseason as only Bourne and Meyers have proven to be reliable targets.
Tight End: D
This group gets dinged because, as is always the case here, the fullback’s performance is included here. Jakob Johnson began the game with a false start. He later had a drop. And in the running game, the Patriots couldn’t find much room at all to run behind their usually-reliable lead blocker.
Hunter Henry had a touchdown opportunity dropped when Jones sent him a low pass as he backpedaled in the end zone. He finished with only one catch for 30 yards that came in an unscripted scramble-drill scenario.
The only time Jonnu Smith got his hands on a football was when he deflected a pass intended for Meyers. One has to wonder whether or not that was even where Smith was supposed to be on that particular route as the spacing between him and Meyers was tighter than McDaniels probably would’ve liked.
Offensive Line: C-
Mac Jones was sacked three times on the night, with only one coming due to good Bills coverage down the field. Shaq Mason was beaten cleanly by Star Lotulelei on one. Trent Brown was twisted around by Jerry Hughes on a fake-spike play near the end of the first half on another.
This unit also had a hard time dealing with the speed and aggressiveness of Buffalo’s defense in the running game. On 17 running back carries, this unit only helped their running backs pick up an average of 3.4 yards per carry.
Special Teams: C-
Deatrich Wise and Lawrence Guy both had blocks on extra points, which help this grade. And Nick Folk drilled a 44-yard field goal to extend his streak to 56 attempts made from under 50 yards, matching the record set by Ryan Succop in 2017. Folk hasn’t missed a field goal attempt of 49 yards or less since the 2020 season opener.
But on a night when the Patriots could’ve used an explosive play from their kicking game, there weren’t any to be found. The kick return game provided the Patriots little in the way of momentum with no Gunner Olszewski return attempt going beyond the 24-yard line. Jake Bailey plopped two of his punts inside the Bills 20-yard line, but the Patriots gave up a 52-yard return to Micah Hyde that would’ve been a house call had Hyde not been tripped by a teammate.
Defensive Line: F
The Patriots became the first defense in NFL history not to force a punt, turnover, turnover on downs or a field goal attempt in this one. Dubious distinction. This unit didn’t notch a sack, quarterback hit or a tackle for loss. Lawrence Guy was able to bat an Allen pass at the line of scrimmage for one of only four incompletions on the night, but it was just about the lone positive moment on the night for this group.
Bills running back Devin Singletary rushed for 81 yards on 16 attempts (5.1 per carry) and two touchdowns. The Bills were also perfect on third down -- the only one of their seven official attempts they didn’t convert was when the kneeled on the ball at the end of the game -- with many of those first downs coming as a result of third-and-short conversions when the defensive line couldn’t hold its ground.
Allen’s longest run of the night, a 26-yard scramble on the first drive of the game, seemed to be the result of an undisciplined rush up front. Nightmarish performance here, as it was for the rest of the Patriots defense.
The only time the Patriots got their hands on Allen in this one was when Matt Judon got to him for his first official quarterback hit since the Patriots visited Buffalo back in Week 13. There were no sacks from this group -- nor the rest of the team -- and Allen had plenty of time to throw all night. According to Pro Football Focus, he had an average time to throw of 2.96 seconds, which would’ve led the league had it been his average over the course of the regular season.
With an inability to bother Allen, and getting consistently sealed in the running game -- at times by wide receivers -- this group helped allow the Bills to pick up 8.9 yards per play and 6.0 yards per rush. On Allen’s long scramble, Judon was lost in the open field trying to track him down. A few plays later, on a designed quarterback power call -- with a guard pulling to lead Allen -- Dont’a Hightower appeared to overrun the play, leading to a 15-yard gain on third down.
Depth in the secondary appeared to catch up with the Patriots on Saturday. Without No. 2 corner Jalen Mills (COVID reserve), this unit simply did not have the bodies to match up with the Bills in coverage. Allen beat just about every member of the New England backfield for an explosive play at one point or another.
JC Jackson was torched by tight end Dawson Knox in the fourth quarter. Kyle Dugger had Knox when he reeled down his acrobatic first score. Adrian Phillips was in tight coverage of Knox when he caught his second touchdown -- a pinpoint laser from Allen.
No one was immune.
Devin McCourty was beaten in the flat by the speedy Isaiah McKenzie for a long catch-and-run play. Myles Bryant ended up on Stefan Diggs for another touchdown pass, and Joejuan Williams was dusted by veteran Emmanuel Sanders for another. Practice-squad call-up De’Vante Bausby had the unfortunate duty of trying to wrangle Allen one-on-one in the flat and ended up looking like he was on the wrong end of an And 1 Mixtape Tour highlight before Allen got by him untouched.
Whether in man-to-man or zone coverage, the Patriots simply had no answers for a fully-healthy complement of Bills weapons and a fully dialed-in Allen. He threw more touchdowns (5) than incompletions (4). He completed all 10 of his attempts that traveled beyond 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. And according to Next Gen Stats, his 17.2 completion percentage over expectation was the highest of any quarterback in any playoff game in the last five seasons. His 98.5 QBR was the best in a postseason game in the history of the metric as he became the first player in NFL history with five touchdown passes, 80 percent completions and over 50 yards rushing (66).