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A Bills season of great expectations in danger of being torn asunder

Clad in snow cap and trademark hoodie, Bill Belichick took one look at the wind-whipped flags and swaying uprights and knew what his New England Patriots had to do. Run the ball. Run the ball. And run it some more. They would become one-dimensional to the extreme. They would pass on the pass.

Forty-one times rookie quarterback Mac Jones stuffed the football into the guts of his running backs, and they and the offensive line took care of the rest, pounding out 225 yards while controlling the clock and the lead Monday night against the Buffalo Bills at gusty Highmark Stadium. Only three times did Jones risk throwing the football into the gale, completing two for a grand total of 19 yards. It was the fewest pass attempts by an NFL quarterback since 1974. During one stretch, the Patriots ran the ball 32 consecutive times. Somewhere, in the great beyond, Woody “Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust” Hayes had to be beaming. This was old, old school football — a page from an ancient playbook, dating almost back to the sport’s leather helmet days.

The Pats dominating ground game along with a defense that was stifling at times, especially in the red zone, helped them escape blustery Orchard Park with a 14-10 victory that gives them a game-and-a-half lead over Buffalo in the AFC East and the No. 1 seed in the conference. A month ago, it appeared the road to the Super Bowl would be going through Western New York. Now, you have to wonder if the Bills are in the midst of an epic collapse that will see them miss the playoffs a year after reaching the AFC Championship Game. The most disconcerting thing about the loss was the way the Patriots imposed their will upon the Bills. Throughout the night, the visitors man-handled their hosts. The Bills knew what was coming, and couldn’t do anything about it.

Buffalo’s quarter-billion-dollar quarterback Josh Allen rifled some mind-blowing spirals through Lake Erie’s 50 mph winds, and played relatively well, considering the onerous weather. But he wound up being victimized by several crucial drops and his own questionable decisions, including one fatal mis-read during the final drive when it appeared he might snatch victory from defeat. Allen clearly was angry with himself afterward, but brushed off the notion he and his teammates couldn’t snap out of a funk that’s seen them drop three of their last five games.

“I’m very confident in our guys,” he said. “We’ve got some great leaders, some true professionals on this team. This can be (a situation) that can rip us apart or bring us together, and I think the latter. I think we’ll get things rolling … I know for a fact that we will because of the makeup we have.”

It’s not going to be easy because they’ll be facing another generational tormentor this Sunday. After being bowled over by Belichick, who has a 36-7 coaching record against them, the Bills travel to Tampa to square off against the defending Super Bowl champions and a quarterback who owns them. Tom Brady enters the game with a 35-3 mark and 68 touchdown passes vs. Buffalo. And, with a league-leading 34 touchdown passes and 3,771 yards this season, the 44-year-old ageless wonder shows few signs of slowing down. Brady was thrilled to have tight end Rob Gronkowski back last week, as evidenced by his two touchdown tosses to his all-time favorite target. And Sunday’s matchup becomes even more challenging for the Bills, when you consider the Bucs also boast a bruising running back in Leonard Fournette.

The Bills very well could be 7-6 by Sunday evening, and that would make for a daunting stretch run, with them as home favorites against the Carolina Panthers (5-7), Atlanta Falcons (5-7) and New York Jets (3-9), and road underdogs in their December 26 rematch against New England. The AFC is quite muddled, with a bloated middle-class of teams featuring records similar to Buffalo’s. Working against the Bills is their 5-5 conference record, which is one of the prominent tiebreakers in setting the playoff field.

Coach Sean McDermott, Allen and Co. are in the midst of a crisis, exacerbated by a horrible loss to lowly Jacksonville a month ago. We’ll find out soon if it rips them apart or brings them together.

***

Count me among those thrilled with the news that Buck O’Neil is going to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame next July. The late Negro League player, manager, advocate and ambassador headlines a most deserving class that includes Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Olivia and Bud Fowler. I just wished O’Neil could have gone in back in 2006, when a panel of esteemed Negro League historians voted in a group of players and administrators.

Hodges’ induction is decades overdue, and I’m very happy for Kaat, whose quarter-century-long pitching career has been equaled by his extraordinary four-decade-long broadcasting career. Listening to him and Bob Costas broadcast a baseball game is like listening to John Lennon and Paul McCartney harmonize.

I’m also glad Fowler is being enshrined. He is believed to be the first Black to suit up with a white professional team, and it’s kind of neat that he honed his baseball skills as a youth in Cooperstown in the 1860s, long before the Leatherstocking village became home to baseball’s history and soul.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.

One comment

  1. I’m reading Dynasty the story of the Pats. Can’t help but admire the skills not only of Brady but even more important Hoodie and Bobby Kraft. Mac Jones is starting to remind me of another Alabama quarterback named Bart Starr.

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