Bill Belichick’s Week 13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on the road, a game in which Patriots QB Mac Jones threw the ball just three times in an efficient evisceration on the ground in windy conditions, might’ve been the crown jewel of the 69-year-old coach’s regular season career.
After a second straight statement win by the Bills to flip the season’s rivalry narrative, though, it seems fair to ask whether Belichick rubbing Sean McDermott’s nose in his own inability to contain the run woke up Buffalo and set them on a path towards reclaiming the AFC East.
If so … was one more dominant early December game and rivalry embarrassment in a 20-year-long line of them really worth a first-round playoff exit and arguably the worst singular loss of the Belichick era?
What’s it about for Coach Belichick, at this point? Rings upon rings? Or embarrassing his competition in the moment with disrespectful game plans, failing to entertain the idea that said competition has closed the talent gap and could come back with a vengeance when it matters most?
Whether he intended to or not, Belichick certainly lit a fire in Buffalo, embodied by DBs Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde in the postgame press conference after both men took a night off while the D-Line contained the run all game long.
It’s no coincidence that Hyde pulled off the most spectacular long-range interception we’ve seen in a while to really get Saturday night’s boulder rolling downhill.
Bill Belichick’s Week 13 plan vs Bills doomed Patriots in playoffs
We won’t go quite so far as to blame the entirety of Belichick’s Week 13 run-heavy game plan on hubris. After all, we saw what happened when Josh Allen was unleashed that day; once the Bills brought the ball to the red zone, a combination of the wind and their unpreparedness made cashing in nearly impossible.
That said, it would be ignorant to not believe that some element of Belichick’s decision-making was meant to embarrass his opponent. It’s purposely obtuse to say Belichick couldn’t have made the same point with Mac Jones throwing, say, eight or nine passes. No, there was something about the indignity of just three that made it clear Belichick was trying to exert his will. He was trying to say, “Not only have we figured you out, but we need a maximum of seven or eight players to finish you off.”
And what did it get him? Hyper focus from Buffalo’s staff and laser execution from their roster. In the rematch in Foxborough, the Bills became the first team to ever complete an entire game without punting on Bill Belichick’s defense.
Three weeks later in the postseason, they became the second.
And, yes, given the chance, the Bills absolutely ran up the score on their rivals, after 20 long years of watching the momentum flow in the other direction so many times.
Those decades didn’t matter on Saturday, though. What did matter was Belichick’s most recent example of overkill, fresh in the minds of the Bills’ players and staff.
During the second half in Tampa Bay the week after Buffalo’s horrid run-heavy loss, something clicked in Josh Allen. Allen and his coaches realized that everything must flow through him moving forward, doubling down on what didn’t quite work in the gale-force winds the week prior. After all, this Bills roster wasn’t built for a game manager.
What followed was a 17-point fourth-quarter rally featuring two touchdown passes to force OT, the early hint that Allen was about to go scorched earth, thanks in part to Belichick’s most recent — and, perhaps, final — dose of salt in the wound.