Patriots-Bills Overreactions: Damien Harris, Jakobi Meyers deserve bigger roles originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The New England Patriots were on the verge of scoring the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, or at least tying the game with a field goal, but a fumble by quarterback Cam Newton sealed the team's fourth consecutive defeat Sunday afternoon.
It was a heartbreaking finish for the Patriots, who showed signs of improvement from their previous two games only to come up short once again in a 24-21 loss at Bills Stadium.
The Patriots are now 2-5 and remain in third place in the AFC East. Reaching the playoffs is going to be a tremendously difficult challenge for New England.
Let's take a look at five instant overreactions from Sunday's Week 8 game.
1. J.C. Jackson has been the Patriots' best player in 2020
Jackson tallied his fourth interception of the season in the second quarter, which ties him for the league lead. It also was his fourth interception in five career games against Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2020
Jackson now has 12 interceptions since joining the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2018. His teammate Stephon Gilmore, who's the reigning Defensive Player of the Year award winner, has 11 interceptions since coming to the Patriots in 2017.
Jackson leads the Patriots with four interceptions and eight passes defensed in 2020, while also tallying 17 total tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Pro Football Focus ranked Jackson as the No. 3 cornerback in the league entering Week 8, and he lived up to that lofty assessment Sunday. It's only a matter of time before Jackson is thrown into the national conversation about the league's top cornerbacks.
2. Damien Harris should be the No. 1 running back going forward
Harris ran for 102 yards on 16 carries (6.4 yards per attempt), including a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2020
He also played a crucial role on a fourth quarter drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Cam Newton.
Big response by the Patriots' offense. Damien Harris is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. pic.twitter.com/YCOotL2kts
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) November 1, 2020
The second-year running back from Alabama is a physical runner with an ability to break tackles and make the most of what the defense gives him.
Harris has really good vision. When there are opportunities to bounce outside, he takes them. On his long counter run, he bounced outside then cut it back in to avoid a tackle. Runs hard. Runs through contact. But picks up plenty of yardage just by seeing what's there for him.
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) November 1, 2020
Harris should continue to receive a big portion of the snaps at running back going forward, even when Sony Michel returns to the lineup. The Patriots have pretty good depth at running back, and Harris is most capable of making big plays on the ground with his impressive combination of speed, vision and raw power.
3. The Bills are still overrated
Sure, the Bills won, but did they show anything Sunday that would make you think this team is a legit contender in the AFC? No, they didn't.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen was mediocre at best, completing 11 of 18 pass attempts for 154 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. Buffalo's run game was fantastic with 190 yards on 38 carries, but New England has one of the league's worst rushing defenses.
One of the Bills' three touchdowns came after the Patriots foolishly attempted an onside kick following a third quarter touchdown. And if not for Newton's fumble on the Pats' final drive in the fourth quarter, the Bills easily could've lost this game. Buffalo entered Sunday with the third-worst defense on third down, and New England converted five of 10 third downs.
The Bills are 6-2 and should win the AFC East, or at the very least earn a playoff spot as a Wild Card team. But it's still hard to envision this Buffalo team being able to defeat top AFC contenders such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers or Tennessee Titans in the playoffs.
4. Jakobi Meyers deserves a bigger role in Pats offense
The Patriots needed a wide receiver to step up with Julian Edelman and N'Keal Harry both unavailable due to injuries, and Meyers did a nice job answering the bell.
Meyers tallied six receptions for 58 yards on 10 targets, in addition to a 2-point conversion catch in the third quarter that tied the score at 14 points apiece. He also had a 15-yard reception in the third quarter taken away because of an illegal hands to the face penalty by right guard Shaq Mason.
Meyers hadn't factored much into the Patriots offense entering Week 8. He had tallied just five receptions for 67 yards in four games played. He's likely to play a large role going forward with Edelman out at least three games after being placed on injured reserve. Harry has a concussion and it's unknown when he'll be able to return.
Even when/if the Patriots get healthy at wide receiver, Meyers deserves to play a lot of snaps. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he's one of the few wideouts on the team with ideal size. His 58 receiving yards against the Bills are more than Harry has tallied in five of the six games the 2019 first-round pick has played in 2020.
Meyers' ability to get open in the short and intermediate areas of the field should help him carve out a consistent and important role in this offense for the remainder of the season.
5. Patriots should not be buyers at the NFL trade deadline
The NFL trade deadline is set for Tuesday, and the Patriots should not be buyers.
This team definitely isn't good enough to win the Super Bowl, and it doesn't appear to be a playoff-caliber one, either. Giving up valuable draft picks to acquire veteran rentals or younger players who've underperformed doesn't make a ton of sense.
The Patriots are projected to have 11 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft when you factor in likely compensatory selections, and they should keep all of these picks to inject much-needed young talent into this roster. Using this abundance of picks to trade up in the first round also is a better idea than giving up selections at this year's trade deadline.
Just because the Patriots shouldn't be buyers, that doesn't automatically mean they should sell, either. This team doesn't have a ton of veterans who would be appealing to Super Bowl contenders.
One who does have appeal is elite cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but he's signed through 2021, so there's no need for New England to rush moving him when they can revisit the situation in the offseason. Left guard Joe Thuney is an All-Pro caliber player, but the team should strongly consider re-signing him to a long-term deal after this season.
The Patriots have been active at the trade deadline in recent seasons, but in 2020 the best decision would be to stand pat.