Monday Night Football returns to NewsChannel 9 tonight as the Buffalo Bills face the New England Patriots for the second time this season. Rochester sports reporter Thad Brown breaks down 3 things to know before kickoff.
Three things coming into focus as the haze starts to clear from the Christmas eating/partying binge…
This is the first time in 20 years Bill Belichick will coach a game with a team that is eliminated from the playoffs. In 2000, Belichick went 5-11 with the Patriots in the last season he finished under .500.
The question is simple: what does he do now? Does he throw the kitchen sink at the Bills with trick plays and exotic blitzes? Does he play all his younger players? Belichick has kept his starting quarterback close to the vest all week (though a report Saturday night says it’ll be Cam Newton over Jarrett Stidham).
There’s no way of knowing how Belichick will treat these last two meaningless games. I don’t think it changes much how the Bills approach the game. It’s just a curiosity I’m fascinated to see answered.
What Can Brown Do
The Bills have until 4pm Monday to decide if John Brown will be activated off their injured reserve list and it’s a guarantee Sean McDermott will not make that decision public even so early as 3:59.
However, I think that Buffalo already announced their decision in the form of Jake Kumerow’s release. His immediate signing with New Orleans only underscores the point that Buffalo would not have cut a useful player loose without something more important making the move necessary. (If you read this after 4pm Monday and Brown is not activated, my apologies for wasting your time).
When the Bills brought Matt Milano back, it was slow and gradual. I would expect the same approach with Brown. The Buffalo passing game has been clicking just fine without him the last four weeks, so no need to force anything.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Bills will bring Brown along carefully. How well and how often Brown plays might end up a more interesting story than the final score.
The Obvious Play?
When the Bills beat the Patriots back in November, they ran the ball for a season high 190 yards. In their last two games, the Patriots have allowed 186 (Rams) and 250 (Dolphins) yards rushing. Ergo, the Bills are gonna run the ball a lot Monday night. Right?
Not so fast, my friend. In Orchard Park, the Patriots begged the Bills to run the ball by playing six or more defensive backs on every snap but one. That game was also the worst weather of the year for the Bills with high winds and constant rain. This game will be played in ideal late December conditions: 40 degrees, clear and calm.
Although Belichick’s defensive back heavy plan came close to landing a victory, I can’t see New England playing the Bills exactly the same way again. For the second time this year, Buffalo will miss facing Stephon Gilmore in a Patriot game. That makes the New England secondary a bit more inviting a target.
I think Devin Singletary and Zack Moss get more than their usual amount of work, but don’t expect the same run-dominant offense that was on display the last time these two teams met.
The Bills have played a screwy schedule at various times this year, but they are getting the long end of the stick this week. The Saturday-Monday night break is only one day short of the “mini-bye” that comes between a normal Thursday night to Sunday two week swing. Buffalo should be pretty fresh and continue to be very healthy.
This whole “eliminated” thing is all new to the Patriots. These guys are still human. I gotta think there’s a bit more disappointment and let down after getting knocked out of the playoff race in New England than there would be in most places. Without any fans inside Gillette Stadium, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots having much juice for this game.
Buffalo, on the other hand, has more juice these days than a barrel of freshly squeezed oranges. They are playing as well as they have all year on both sides of the ball.
Sean McDermott said he wants the highest seed that he can get. The Bills will need a win to either lock up or remain in the thick of the race for the 2-seed. They will have plenty of motivation to win. There might even be some interest in sticking it to the Patriots for all the years they owned the AFC East or to finish the first sweep of New England since 1999. I don’t think the Bills really care all that much about either, but it’s possible.
I think Josh Allen and the offense comes out flying and the Patriots will be out of the game quickly, both mentally and on the scoreboard. The Christmas partying won’t stop for Bills fans as they watch Buffalo cruise to a 34-6 win.
Watch the game tonight at 8:15 p.m. on NewsChannel 9.