New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Oct 22, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) reacts after defeating the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Just when it looked like the New England Patriots would struggle to even win another game in the 2023 season, they went out and earned their best victory in five years.

Not since the Tom Brady era had the Patriots won a close game, against a legitimate contending team, in normal conditions, and done it with a clutch final offensive drive by the quarterback. Mac Jones didn’t have a win like this in his NFL career to date. Now he does.

But of course, it took a total team effort – and perhaps some help from the Bills – for the Patriots to pull off the stunning upset at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday. These were the six keys to victory…

Clutch Offense

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: Mike Gesicki #88 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Mac Jones #10 after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: Mike Gesicki #88 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Mac Jones #10 after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Jones engineered easily the most clutch drive of his career in the final minute of the game. With the Patriots down three and starting at their 25-yard line, Jones went 7-of-8 for 70 yards, and capped it with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Gesicki.

It was not just the execution of Jones and the whole unit, but when it happened. The Patriots have rarely given hope that they were capable of such a drive over the past four-plus seasons. This was different. This could end up being a turning point for Jones and the team.

“It’s all about playing for each other and playing for the guy next to you and understanding why,” Jones said after the game. “We did that today, and we need to continue doing that every day in practice and in the games.

  • Changes At Receiver

    Oct 22, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (81) runs with the ball during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 22, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (81) runs with the ball during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    It was partially out of necessity for the Patriots to play Demario Douglas more, with JuJu Smith-Schuster out on Sunday. But the Pats’ revamped offense went beyond just “Pop,” as there were a number of new things worth considering in the wake of the win.

    Douglas played 37 snaps total, and all four of his catches showed off his dynamic skills. The rookie may not be perfect – he appeared to run the wrong route on one third-down play – but the kid simply needs to play. The bad is worth taking when Douglas can deliver so much good for an offense that really needs it.

    Here are the full unofficial snap counts on offense:

    Matt Dolloff on Twitter: "Patriots' unofficial offensive snap counts today, out of 59...Kendrick Bourne: 54Demario Douglas: 37Rhamondre Stevenson: 37DeVante Parker: 33Hunter Henry: 29Mike Gesicki: 27Jalen Reagor: 25Pharaoh Brown: 23Ezekiel Elliott: 20Tyquan Thornton: 4Ty Montgomery: 1 / Twitter"

    Patriots' unofficial offensive snap counts today, out of 59...Kendrick Bourne: 54Demario Douglas: 37Rhamondre Stevenson: 37DeVante Parker: 33Hunter Henry: 29Mike Gesicki: 27Jalen Reagor: 25Pharaoh Brown: 23Ezekiel Elliott: 20Tyquan Thornton: 4Ty Montgomery: 1

    Other interesting changes: Jalen Reagor had by far his biggest workload of the season (25 snaps) and made his first catch as a Patriot; and the Patriots incorporated both Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown more at tight end, while playing 35.6 percent of snaps in “12” personnel (two tight ends), way up from their season average of 14 percent. The new mix obviously worked better than everything else they’ve tried, so it should mostly stay this way.

  • Changes On The Offensive Line

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots huddles with teammates during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots huddles with teammates during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    Jones and his receiving group had its best collective game of the season, but so did the blockers in front of them. And it’s no coincidence that it came after the team made one major change on the offensive line.

    The move was Mike Onwenu kicking out to right tackle, after playing right guard for most of the past two-plus seasons. Rookie Sidy Sow stayed at right guard after playing relatively well last week in Las Vegas. That feels like the best way to get their best five linemen on the field, so we can expect to see this group going forward.

    “the offensive line’s play today is what really stood out to me,” Jones said. “They made everything work; run game, passing game. And, you know, I had a couple plays where I dropped my eyes, and that’s not on them, that’s on me. So I definitely think about some of the things I could do better versus some of the things that we did.”

  • Hot Start

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: Ezekiel Elliot #15 of the New England Patriots carries the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: Ezekiel Elliot #15 of the New England Patriots carries the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    After slow starts plagued the Patriots over their first six games, on Sunday they flipped the script.

    The Bills may face scrutiny in retrospect for their decision to defer to the second half after winning the opening coin toss, giving the Patriots the ball to start the game. In turn, the improved Pats offense went up 3-0, then 10-0, well before the Bills could find any kind of footing. If Buffalo took the ball to start, then jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, it could have been a totally different game.

    But credit is due to the Patriots for being ready from the start, executing, and playing from ahead, for a change.

  • Big Plays On Defense

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: Jabrill Peppers #5 of the New England Patriots intercepts the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: Jabrill Peppers #5 of the New England Patriots intercepts the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    As encouraging as the win was for the offense, you can’t leave the defense off the list. It wasn’t a perfect day, but they may not have pulled out the W without them.

    It started with safety Jabrill Peppers, who set a promising tone for the game when he picked off Josh Allen on the Bills’ first offensive play. Allen seemed to just not see Peppers at all, while the safety deserves credit for spying and surprising him.

    Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley had the other massive play for the Patriots defense on Sunday, when he knocked a potential catch out of the hands of Dawson Knox on fourth down, getting the ball back to the offense. Bentley, like others, had a bit of a hit-and-miss day, and if the offense didn’t close, we’d be talking a lot more about the Patriots giving up 15 points in the final 7:40 minutes of the game. But they got the handful of big plays they needed on each side of the ball.

  • Bills Playing Bad

    Oct 22, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (8) and defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) tackle Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 22, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (8) and defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) tackle Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots played great overall and that can’t be taken away from them, but frankly, Josh Allen’s own struggles played a role in the game going the way it did.

    Allen finished 27-of-41 for 265 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, a passer rating of exactly 90. Not terrible numbers, but substandard for Allen, who was often inaccurate down the field despite having open receivers (he missed an open Diggs on multiple occasions). It simply wasn’t his best game and the Bills are coming out of this loss with serious questions.

    But hey, that’s why we play the games. Nobody wins in the NFL by just showing up and rolling the footballs out. You need to prepare well and execute even better on Sunday. The Patriots were clearly the better team in that department.

  • Click here for complete New England Patriots coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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