Instant analysis of Patriots’ season-ending loss to Bills

The New England Patriots knew they were in for a heavyweight fight against a Buffalo Bills team playing inspired football after the tragic incident involving safety Damar Hamlin in Week 17.

They got everything they expected and then some in a 35-23 loss on Sunday, officially putting an end to any playoff hopes they had left. With the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers winning their respective games, the Patriots will now clear their lockers and enter an offseason of uncertainty that could come with major changes.

But the team still deserves credit for giving the Bills all they could handle.

Sunday’s game had blowout written all over it considering the circumstances, and the Patriots even gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff. However, quarterback Mac Jones and company responded by marching the ball right down the field and evening things up.

Early in the game, the offense actually looked as good as it’s looked all season. Jones was dropping dimes on the field, and the receivers were actually getting open and making plays.

And then everything unraveled in the second half, when turnovers and blown defensive plays became a real issue.

The Bills hit another gear that the Patriots just couldn’t reach offensively. It didn’t help that special teams gave up another kick returned for a touchdown by Nyheim Hines.

You can think Myles Bryant’s atrocious tackling on the play that basically gifted the Bills a free seven points.

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Bryant also got burned downfield on a 42-yard touchdown play by John Brown, who just came off the practice squad.

There were simply too many blown plays for the Patriots, and the offense got to the point where they were clearly in over their heads. This is where the philosophical shift needs to happen for coach Bill Belichick, who has seemingly ignored the offensive side of the ball for far too long.

The unit had a former defensive coordinator calling the offensive plays this season—for crying out loud. How can you ever expect to compete against opponents loaded to the teeth offensively with no legitimate offensive play-caller and no true No. 1 receiver to strike fear into the hearts of defenses?

This Patriots team never stood a chance.

Buffalo is far and beyond the class of the AFC East, and the Patriots would be lucky not to be dead last in 2023 if they refuse to make the necessary changes. The team showed up and fought its heart out against the Bills, and that effort should be commended.

But Belichick has to make it count by giving his own decision-making a real look in the mirror, being honest and making the necessary changes. That’s the only way this Patriots team will ever see postseason football again.

Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire