Thoughts of tanking? The Patriots’ upset of the Bills was a comeback in every sense.


The Patriots did not fold after letting a 12-point lead slip away late in the fourth quarter.

Defensive tackle Christian Barmore.
Defensive tackle Christian Barmore had an exceptional day, and the lone sack for the Patriots. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

  • How the Patriots found a way to ‘bother’ Josh Allen without Judon and Uche, and other final thoughts

  • What the Patriots are saying about Mac Jones’s game-winning drive against the Bills

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game …

Here’s what had to happen Sunday — what did happen Sunday — to have the conversation around the Patriots change from “they have to tank” to “hmm, you know, maybe they can turn this thing around.”

The offensive line looked connected and competent. The line’s play — with Michael Onwenu at right tackle, where he should remain —- was the backbone of the Patriots’ 29-25 win. The performance, even if unintentional, was a fitting tribute to new Patriots Hall of Famer Dante Scarnecchia.

Mac Jones played with a long-absent poise, and on the occasions that the Bills — who entered tied for the league lead in sacks — pressured him, his instincts didn’t go on the fritz and he threw the ball with confidence. He finished 25 of 30 for 272 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and consistently made better decisions than his Bills counterpart, Josh Allen.

The Patriots did not fold after letting a 12-point lead slip away late in the fourth quarter. Mike Gesicki’s 1-yard touchdown catch with 12 seconds left gave Jones the first come-from-behind win against a genuinely good team in his three seasons.

If we’re being totally honest with ourselves, the best outcome in the long run for the Patriots probably was to lose. Their roster requires an infusion of young talent that can only come from the draft.

But for the moment, who cares about that? The Patriots snapped a three-game losing streak with their second win of the season, and it felt darned good for fans at Gillette Stadium to have something to cheer for again.

The Patriots are resilient. They haven’t quit. And hey, Bill Belichick has led unexpected turnarounds before. This is a win worth enjoying, whether it leads to the salvaging of a season.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review …

Three players who were worth watching

Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Stefon Diggs, Rhamondre Stevenson, Malik Cunningham

Demario Douglas: The nimble rookie wasn’t the Patriots’ leading receiver – that was Kendrick Bourne, who set the pace with six receptions, 63 yards, and a touchdown. But it sure felt like it was Douglas, who, after missing last Sunday’s game while in concussion protocol, returned to contribute four catches for 54 yards and chipped in with a 20-yard run. Three of Douglas’s catches belong on the highlight reel from this game: a 9-yard catch and slide on the first play from scrimmage, a 10-yard grab for a first down, and a diving, 16-yard catch on third and 1 on the same possession that preceded Ezekiel Elliott’s 2-yard touchdown run. Douglas is small, and I’m not sure he’s in the right place all the time, but it’s clear the Patriots have found a keeper here.

Demario Douglas was an important part of the Patriots’ passing game on Sunday. – Maddie Meyer/Getty

Christian Barmore: Now this is a fine example of statistics failing to tell the story of an interior defensive lineman’s impact on a game. Whether he was bursting through the middle of the Bills line and flushing Allen out of the pocket, or tying up a blocker or two to allow Ja’Whaun Bentley (nine tackles) or Anfernee Jennings (six) to make a play in the running game, Barmore was so active one almost wondered whether Belichick had figured out a way to clone him. Yet he finished just 10th among Patriots with three tackles, proving yet again that being a defensive tackle for the Patriots is not often a glamorous life. He did have the Patriots’ lone sack on the day, however, crushing Allen on a late second-quarter Bills drive that ended with a missed field goal attempt. His one mistake: a roughing-the-passer penalty on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive that pulled the Bills to within 22-17.

Dalton Kincaid: The Bills’ first-round pick in the April draft had just 11 catches for 118 yards coming into the game. But he was the one who seized the chances resulting from the Patriots’ focus on Stefon Diggs, making a game-high eight receptions – on eight targets – for 75 yards. The tight end’s biggest play occurred with 2:50 left when, on fourth and 2 from the Patriots 8, Allen hit him along the sideline for 4 yards and a first down. Forty-two seconds later, Allen plowed in from the 1, and the Bills took their only (and temporary) lead at 25-22.

Grievance of the game

Bourne seemed to put the game away … and then, in a blink, almost gave it away. His 4-yard touchdown catch midway through the fourth quarter gave the Patriots a 22-10 lead (and put them over 20 points for the first time this season, which is still hard to fathom). Safe lead? You’d like to think so, but on the Patriots’ next possession, with their advantage cut to 22-17, the one thing that could not happen happened. With 4:59 left, Bourne caught a second-down pass from Jones, picked up 9 yards … and had the ball punched from his grasp by Bills safety Jordan Poyer. Terrel Bernard recovered at the 29, and less than three minutes later, the Bills had their first lead. It was a bad mistake, and nearly a devastating one, but I’ll admit it: I’m glad Bourne wasn’t the goat. He’s on the list of Patriots who never stopped playing hard during their dismal losing streak, and over the past two weeks he has 16 catches on 18 targets for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Three notes scribbled in the margins

Predicted score: Bills 26, Patriots 16

Final score: Patriots 29, Bills 25

We can’t overlook the performance of Jabrill Peppers, who finished with eight tackles and picked off an Allen deep pass on the Bills’ first play from scrimmage. Allen has some Drew Bledsoe in him when it comes to his just-sling-it approach sometimes … The biggest play of the game that we’ve somehow overlooked mentioning so far? Rhamondre Stevenson’s 34-yard catch-and-rumble with 1:49 left, which transported the Patriots from their 25 to the Bills 41 on the eventual winning drive … Pharaoh Brown had two receptions, one for 26 yards and the other for 25, and yet his yards per catch for the season dropped from 28.7 to 27.4. Like I always say, Pharaoh Brown is a lower-volume modern day Stanley Morgan.

Originally posted 2023-10-23 12:24:59.