New England Patriots

Patriots-Bills takeaways: Turnovers prove costly as Pats suffer 12th loss

The Patriots have lost 12-plus games for the first time since 1992.

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Stop us if you've heard this before: The New England Patriots defense gave the team a chance to win, but the offense couldn't score enough points and turned the ball over several times.

It's happened time and time again for the Patriots this season, and that's what we saw again Sunday in their 27-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 at Highmark Stadium.

The defeat drops the Patriots' record to 4-12. It's the first time Bill Belichick has lost 12 or more games in his 29 seasons as an NFL head coach. He lost 11 with the Patriots in 2000 and with the Cleveland Browns in 1995. The last time the Patriots lost 12 or more games in a season was 1992 when they went 2-14 and got the No. 1 pick (Drew Bledsoe).

The good news for the Patriots is they have moved back into the No. 3 pick spot for the 2024 NFL Draft as a result of their loss and other Week 17 outcomes (more on that below).

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The Patriots finish up their season against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium next week. Before we look ahead to that matchup, here are four takeaways from Patriots-Bills.

Turnovers prove costly... again

The Patriots probably would have won this game if they didn't commit four turnovers. At one point in the first quarter the Patriots had three turnovers on seven plays. They had just three turnovers in the previous three games combined.

The defense actually did a great job limiting the damage from these turnovers. The Bills got the ball in Patriots territory three times in the first quarter as a result of turnovers, but the New England defense held Buffalo to just one touchdown and two field goals on those drives.

The Bills ended up scoring 20 points off Patriots turnovers, including a pick-6 in the second quarter that made the score 20-7.

Ball security has been a major problem for the Patriots all season. The Patriots have 26 giveaways in 2023, including 19 interceptions (second-most of any team). Their turnover differential is tied for last in the NFL at minus-10.

Patriots defense mostly does its job

Bills quarterback Josh Allen had one of his worst games of the season as a passer. He completed just 15 of 30 pass attempts for 169 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. His first six pass attempts were all incomplete.

Allen did have 44 rushing yards and two touchdowns on QB sneaks near the goal line, but he was largely ineffective against a stout Patriots defense.

Allen now has 16 interceptions -- one fewer than league leader Sam Howell. He has thrown at least one interception in 11 of his last 12 games.

The veteran quarterback has dominated the Patriots in recent years, but not in 2023. Allen finishes the season with 439 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in two games versus the Patriots. Each team won once at home.

Aside from rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid -- who tallied four receptions for 87 yards -- no one on the Bills offense had a great performance. Elite wideout Stefon Diggs was largely invisible with four catches for 26 yards. Veteran receiver Gabe Davis had two receptions for 21 yards. Dynamic running back James Cook posted 44 total yards and was kept out of the end zone. Buffalo's rushing attack generated only three yards per carry.

The Patriots defense's only blemish was the Bills' first drive of the second half when they went 75 yards on eight plays in just 4:18 of game time. Overall, the defense should be pretty satisfied with the way it played. But again, it wasn't enough for a victory.

Bailey Zappe regresses

The excitement over Zappe took a serious hit Sunday.

The second-year QB dropped to 2-3 as a starter this season after completing 16 passes on 26 attempts for 209 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions.

You could make a case that at least one of those interceptions wasn't Zappe's fault, but you cannot turn the ball over that many times as a QB and expect to win.

Zappe did make a couple nice plays with his legs. His ability to evade the rush and escape the pocket is better than Mac Jones, for sure. His 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a great example of that.

Zappe deserves to finish the season as the starter against the Jets next week. But it's pretty clear by now that he's best suited as a backup at the pro level.

Patriots' draft pick position improves

The Patriots slipped from the No. 2 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft to the No. 4 pick after beating the Denver Broncos in Week 16. Luckily for them, they have moved up to the No. 3 pick.

The Patriots got help from the Arizona Cardinals, who entered Sunday in the No. 2 pick slot with a 3-12 record. The Cardinals earned a dramatic comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles to improve to 4-12, which is tied with the Patriots and Washington Commanders for the second-worst record in the league.

Strength of schedule is the first tiebreaker, and the Patriots have the edge over the Cardinals but not the Commanders. That said, the strength of schedule rating changes after almost every game ends.

Here's the updated top four of the draft order after the 1 p.m. ET window games on Sunday:

4. Arizona Cardinals, 4-12 (.567 SOS)

3. New England Patriots, 4-12 (.515 SOS)

2. Washington Commanders, 4-12 (.515)

1. Chicago Bears (via Carolina Panthers, 2-14, .512 SOS)

The Patriots will not drop further than No. 4 if they lose to the New York Jets at home next week. If they beat the Jets, they could drop several spots, potentially as far as No. 6 or No. 7. If the Patriots finish tied with the Commanders in both record and strength of schedule, they would get the higher pick because head-to-head is the next tiebreaker, and New England lost to Washington in Week 9.

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