Patriots expecting to have hands full against creative Bills
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) In Devin McCourty's 12 NFL seasons, the Patriots safety has seen plenty of the Buffalo Bills.
He's never seen them playing as well and as difficult to figure out as they've been the past three seasons.
"You kind of know what you're gonna get. But you don't truly know until you get into the game," McCourty said.
Led by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, the Bills have gone from scoring 16.8 points per game (30th in the NFL) during coach Sean McDermott's second season in 2018, to 29.6 points in 2021 - ranked second in the league.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier arrived in 2017 with McDermott and has also helped transform Buffalo on that side of the ball. The Bills have ranked in the top five in total defense in three of Frazier's five years in Buffalo, including allowing a league-low 275 yards per game this season.
"They present every challenge," Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said. "They don't really have many flaws."
Another key element in the improvement has been the growth of fourth-year quarterback Josh Allen. He had his best performance to date against New England in the Bills' second meeting with the Patriots last season, throwing four touchdowns in a dominant 38-9 win in New England to give Buffalo its first series sweep since 1999.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick expects to face a Buffalo team on Monday night that he said "does everything well."
"They're statistically at the top of the league in categories in every area, and they deserve to be," he said. "Well-coached. They play smart football, and they're tough. ...Offensively, it really starts with Allen. He can do it all."
McCourty said Allen's gotten better each season, improving his skillset while shaking off the pressures that come with being a young starting quarterback in the league.
"Every player that comes into the league we try to tear them apart with what they don't do well," McCourty said. "But I think it was obvious when Josh Allen came into the league how talented he was and the different things he does well on the field. ... The decision-making is at an all-time high."
It will need to be again this year as he prepares to face the Patriots defense that enters the matchup allowing a league-low 15.8 points per game.
The Bills have scored 30 or more points in six of their seven victories.
One thing the Patriots will certainly be looking to do is force turnovers. They are tied with Buffalo for second in the league with 25 takeaways, including a league-best 19 interceptions. Allen's already tied the 10 picks he threw last season.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has had the benefit of seeing Allen's growth playing under two different systems in New England and last season as a member of the Dolphins.
He said trying to disrupt the confidence he is playing with is paramount to trying to slow him down. Van Noy thinks Allen's confidence has also played into getting his teammates to buy in to the Bills' culture under McDermott.
"I think he's always had confidence. He's never lacked that. But now it's on another level," Van Noy said. "His leadership in bringing those guys and wanting to go back. ... Getting guys that want to stay there, that want to play with him and the passion that he plays with, they feed off of that."
While it will be Jones' first trip to Buffalo and his first taste of the rivalry, he does have a tie to the Bills having played under Daboll when he served as Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2017.
Jones said Daboll taught him a lot in their one season together, but he plays to reduce any reminiscing to a few pleasantries.
"People who love football want a chance to play in games like this," Jones said.
NOTES: LB Jamie Collins returned to practice Wednesday after spending the past three games on injured reserve with an ankle injury. It opens the 21-day window for him to be added to the active roster or return to IR for the rest of the season. ... The Patriots released kicker Quinn Nordin from the active roster. The undrafted rookie out of Michigan made the initial regular-season roster, but was inactive for the season opener against Miami and has been on injured reserve since Sept. 12 with an abdomen injury.
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Updated December 1, 2021