With their season on the brink and several key players unavailable, the Buffalo Bills trudged into Sunday’s pivotal matchup against the New England Patriots needing somebody to step up.
They wound up having too many to count.
Josh Allen threw for three touchdowns, Isaiah McKenzie had a career-high 11 catches, Micah Hyde made two interceptions and the Bills hung on to beat the Patriots 33-21 to vault themselves back into first place in the AFC East title race.
Buffalo (9-6) now holds tiebreakers over New England (9-6) and Miami, and is in the driver’s seat to win its second straight division title.
“We’ve got two more games left and we’ve gotta keep going,” said Allen, who finished 30 of 47 for 314 passing yards and 64 rushing yards on 12 tries.
The Bills are the first team to win at New England in consecutive seasons since the Colts in 2005 and 2006. The loss was the Patriots’ second straight following their seven-game win streak.
McKenzie took the place of Bills receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, who were both on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and had a big day with 125 yards and a touchdown.
“With them being out, I just had to step up,” said McKenzie, whom the Bills shied away from using even to field kickoffs during the blustery Week 13 loss to the Patriots in Buffalo. “It was my turn and I felt like I had to step up for my team.”
The Bills never trailed and played one of their cleanest offensive games of the season, with no punts or turnovers. They were also aggressive, going for it on fourth down three times in the first half, including a fourth-and-2 that helped set up a 12-yard pass from Allen to Stefon Diggs for a 17-7 lead.
That grew to 26-14 early in the fourth quarter after running back Devin Singletary’s 2-yard touchdown run. Buffalo was denied on its 2-point conversion attempt.
The Patriots got it to 26-21 with 7:37 to play on Damien Harris’ 8-yard TD run, his second of the game, but rookie quarterback Mac Jones struggled to find openings against the Bills’ top-ranked defence, ending his day making 14 of 32 passes for 145 yards and two interceptions.
“We just need to execute better. It really just wasn’t our day,” Jones said. “There’s no excuses.”
Buffalo quickly faced third down on its next series before Allen hooked up with McKenzie for 15 yards along the sideline. The Patriots forced a fourth-and-1 on their own 34, but Allen was able to get outside for 8 yards.
The Bills were staring at third-and-10 with under four minutes to play when Allen came through again, this time creating space before flicking a pass to Diggs for 19 yards. Two plays later, Allen tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox.
In Week 13, the Patriots dominated on the ground, grinding out 200-plus yards in their 14-10 win on a cold, wet and windy night. Jones attempted only three passes in that first meeting, but got there in just two drives Sunday.
The Pats’ changed strategy allowed Buffalo more cracks at Jones, and the Bills took advantage, tipping and intercepting a second-quarter pass in Buffalo territory.
The Bills nearly squandered an opportunity to pad their lead on their opening drive of the third quarter when Allen overthrew a wide-open Jake Kumerow in the end zone. After a pair of penalties, the Bills settled for a 34-yard Tyler Bass field goal that made it 20-7. New England trimmed the gap to 20-14 on its ensuing possession when Harris scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 14-play, 75-yard drive.
Harris finished with 103 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s too late in the season not to be playing your best football,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “It didn’t feel like we really did anything well enough.”