by Brian Garland
Image: Getty Images
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The New England Patriots faced their first true test of the 2019 season, a matchup with the 3-0 Buffalo Bills on the road. The Bills team proved its early-season success was no fluke by hanging tight with the first-place Patriots at New Era Field in Buffalo.
New England headed into this game with a clear 3-0 record, outscoring their opponents — Pittsburgh, Miami, and New York — 106 to 17. The lopsided victories prove the defending champion Patriots are among the NFL’s elite, though their previous opponents combined for an 0-9 record through Week 4.
While New England’s offense led all offensive categories heading into this game, it was held in check by Buffalo’s stout defense.
Defensive play was a theme of this game as both teams struggled to move the ball on offense. However, the Patriots won with defense and special teams play, such as a blocked punt and two interceptions of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen in the first quarter. New England’s defense forced Allen to win with his arm, and the tight coverage and steady pressure from the Patriots led Allen to make reckless decisions.
While the game plan depended on the success of the passing game, Tom Brady and his receivers struggled to find equal footing. Brady finished with a season-low 150 yards passing with an interception.
The play of the Patriots defense shifted the game plan accordingly. The Patriots played a conservative, run-clock offense while challenging Buffalo to score from deep in their own territory. When the Patriots failed to capitalize on offense, they punted the ball to force Buffalo to score with a short-handed offense.
“It was a tough game,” said Bill Belichick in his post-game press conference. The Patriots took an early 13-0 lead in the first quarter, and failed to score more than three points for the remainder of the game.
The Bills did make a steady comeback in the second half with a one-yard rushing touchdown by Josh Allen to make the score 16-10 with 10:37 left in the third quarter.
Allen left the game early in the fourth quarter after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones. Jones was controversially not ejected from the game, and faced no suspension or fine from the league because Allen took off and ran, making him eligible to be tackled as a “runner”.
The Bills replaced Allen with second-string quarterback Matt Barkley, who also struggled to gain ground against New England in the passing game.
Bills coach Doug McDermott was outraged at the lack of an ejection for Jonathan Jones’ hit on Josh Allen. The NFL reviewed the play and found that Jones acted within his legal limits to hit Allen as the Bills quarterback lowered his head to avoid a hit.
The Patriots improved to 4-0 and traveled to Maryland to take on the winless Washington Redskins.