When the Patriots and the Bills met for the first time during the 2021 NFL season, it was expected to be a grind-it-out divisional showdown. It certainly turned into that, as powerful wind that gusted up to 50 miles per hour turned the game into a short-yardage slugfest.
The Bills were able to throw the ball, as Josh Allen has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Patriots didn’t trust rookie Mac Jones to carry the load, so they leaned heavily on their running game. In fact, 93.9 percent of their offensive plays were running plays.
Somehow, the Patriots were still able to pull out a win. They outgained the Bills by 11 yards and bested them 14-10 on the scoreboard. Jones threw just three passes total, the fewest in a win since Joe Ferguson threw three passes in a Bills win during the 1973 season.
Let’s revisit Mac Jones’ historic game and why exactly the Patriots refused to throw it with him during that “Monday Night Football” showdown.
Why did Mac Jones throw so few passes vs. the Bills in Week 13?
Jones threw only three passes against the Bills because of the weather. The conditions for that evening — which featured strong winds blowing throughout the night and getting potentially as high as 50 miles per hour — would have made it difficult for Jones to throw the ball accurately and could have resulted in poor throws and turnovers.
As such, Bill Belichick elected to keep the ball on the ground and ensure that Jones wouldn’t have to make too many big plays to stay in the game.
“We didn’t know what it was going to be,” Belichick said of the game plan. “It’s the way it worked out.”
Indeed, the Patriots did find a lot of success on the ground. They ran for 222 yards during the contest and averaged 4.8 yards per attempt. They wore down the Bills’ defensive front and were able to lead three scoring drives during the game. That included a 64-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris.
Jones didn’t mind taking on a limited role. He knew that his experienced coaching staff knew what they were doing.
“Coach Belichick and Coach Josh (McDaniels), they’ve been in every type of element there is, and they know what it takes to win,” Jones said. “I think we knew that if we just held onto the ball, we’d be OK.”
Jones also thought the ground-dominant game-plan was a good one and praised his teammates for executing it.
“We had a game plan, and obviously that changes a little bit with the elements. But, at the end of the day, I think we had the looks that we were looking for to run the ball and we just kept doing it,” Jones said in his postgame news conference. “Like I said, the offensive line created the holes and those guys did some tough running, not even to mention the receivers getting in there to block, too. Everyone played a role and it was just great to watch and see everyone have that effort.”
Mac Jones highlights, pass attempts vs. Bills
Below, you can see all three of Mac Jones’ pass attempts against the Bills.
Jones’ first pass attempt came at the end of the first quarter. He found Jonnu Smith wide open near the first down marker and was able to get it in range for him to make a play on the ball. The throw wasn’t pretty because of the wind, but it got the job done.
The second throw by Jones didn’t come until the 6:50 mark in the fourth quarter. The Patriots ran the ball 34 consecutive times before letting Jones try a play-action pass. He tried to get it to Nelson Agholor, but it was broken up.
Jones’ final pass attempt came right after that incompletion to Agholor. He dumped off a short screen to Brandon Bolden. That was his last attempt of the night, and he finished going 2 of 3 passing for 19 yards.
Mac Jones stats vs. Bills
Jones’ numbers against the Bills haven’t been impressive in two games. That’s understandable, considering that the Bills have allowed just one touchdown and six interceptions in five games against rookie quarterbacks this year, but they are still a departure from his numbers against other teams.
In fact, what Jones has done in two games against the Bills has paled in comparison to his yearly single-game averages.
vs. Bills (total)
vs. Other teams (per game)
Of course, Jones did only throw three passes in Week 13, but his total record against the Bills over 35 pass attempts is far from sparkling. That said, the Bills do have the best scoring defense and have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL this season, so Jones is far from the only player who has struggled against them.
Still, Jones will need to do a bit better as a passer for the Patriots to beat the Bills in the wild-card round. They will still lean heavily on the running game, but a sub-50 completion percentage and no touchdowns probably won’t cut it in this matchup.