Patriots need extraordinary performance to upset Bills in pivotal Week 18 game

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Curran: Pats need an extraordinary performance to upset Buffalo on Sunday originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO – From Tuesday morning to today, hoped-for news on Damar Hamlin has flowed from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

His initial condition eclipsed everything. Conversation related to the actual playing of games? Verboten. Nothing else mattered.

Wednesday improvement allowed cautious conversation to begin. Thursday’s news that Hamlin was awake, aware and wanting to know how the Bills did Monday night lifted a weight.

Friday’s news that Hamlin was able to Facetime his teammates and say, “Love you, boys.”? That’s got the Bills spirit soaring.

A team in mourning is refocused and energized. Thank God, because it means prayers were answered.

But facts is facts: You don’t want to be the team lining up across from the Bills on Sunday.

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Enter, the Patriots. After a couple decades of Brady-led mastery, they’ve pretty much been Glass Joe every time they see Josh Allen and Co.

A Bills team playing for playoff seeding was going to be daunting enough. A Bills team playing for Hamlin after a week of living minute-to-minute awaiting the good news they’ve gotten? Buzzsaw. Freight train. Steamroller. All could apply.

The Patriots are either in the role of the Washington Generals or evil spoilers.

Bills coach Sean McDermott relayed the message that Hamlin had for his teammates. After speaking to Hamlin’s father, Mario, McDermott said, “His message was, 'The team needs to get back to focusing on the goals they had set for themselves. Damar would have wanted it that way.’ So that includes our game against New England this week.”

"We want to go out there and play for 3 (Hamlin’s jersey number). It'll be a huge driving force,” said Allen.

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This game means everything to the Bills. But the Patriots aren’t going to pocket their goals and aspirations and roll over for Buffalo. The game is the game. If the Patriots secure a win that virtually no one wants them to have, they go to the playoffs.

To get that win, they have to show an unprecedented level of competency for 2022. They’re 8-8 but it’s clear they’re fundamentally flawed. They have a resourceful defense that routinely undresses backup quarterbacks. They’ve needed cement-headed complicity from OK to excellent quarterbacks to even have a shot at winning against good teams. And in two recent games they got that -- Raiders and Bengals -- they still couldn’t win because offensively they were too inept or situationally stupid.

I’m not completely incapable of optimism with this offense. In the past two games, they’ve got touchdowns drive of 11-plays and 77-yards, 10-and-81 and 11-and-89. That’s astounding progress. Yet behold the overall ineptitude of the season. These are the 16-game touchdown totals for the Patriots offense since Bill Belichick’s been head coach.

  • 2022: 28

  • 2021: 45

  • 2020: 32

  • 2019: 42

  • 2018: 47

  • 2017: 48

  • 2016: 51

  • 2015: 50

  • 2014: 47

  • 2013: 44

  • 2012: 59

  • 2011: 57

  • 2010: 56

  • 2009: 47

  • 2008: 42

  • 2007: 67

  • 2006: 45

  • 2005: 44

  • 2004: 44

  • 2003: 32

  • 2002: 37

  • 2001: 36

  • 2000: 28

So pardon me if I don’t envision Sunday success. And I’m sorry, but I’ll think it’s fleeting even if it does show up.

The Bills are better than the Patriots. They have higher aspirations than the Patriots. They are going to be more inspired than the Patriots. Unless Buffalo’s week of emotion leaves it drained, addled and understandably unprepared, they should take care of business.

Tom E. Curran on Sunday's Pats-Bills game

The Patriots are where they are because their defense and special teams has scored eight touchdowns, one each in the past four games. I’ve heard occasional spin that the Patriots are just a few plays against the Packers, Raiders and Bengals from being 11-5. In each of those games, they had a return touchdown to prop them up.

Hell, they could be 5-11 if they didn’t benefit from return touchdowns against the Jets, Cardinals and Dolphins.

You can’t get rich expecting to find $20 bills on the sidewalk. Can the offense help the defense? The answer, through 16 games, has been no. Not really.

The Bills are better than the Patriots. They have higher aspirations than the Patriots. They are going to be more inspired than the Patriots. Unless Buffalo’s week of emotion leaves it drained, addled and understandably unprepared, they should take care of business.

Bills 31, Patriots 16