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Patriots need breakout performance to defeat Bills in crucial Week 18 game

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FOXBORO — From Tuesday morning until today, expected news about Damar Hamlin has flowed in from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

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

The improvement on Wednesday allowed the beginning of a cautious conversation. Thursday’s news that Hamlin was awake, conscious and wanting to know how the Bills were doing on Monday night lifted a weight.

Friday’s news that Hamlin was able to call his teammates and say, “Love you guys”? This made the Bills spirit soar.

A grieving team is reoriented and energized. Thank God because it means prayers have been answered.

But facts are facts: you don’t want to be the team that lines up against the Bills on Sunday.

Patriots Talk: Strong Patriots leaders will be front and center this week | Listen and Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Enter, Patriots. After a few decades of Brady-led mastery, they’ve practically become Glass Joe every time they see Josh Allen and Co.

A Bills team playing for the playoff seed would be scary enough. A Bills team playing for Hamlin after a week of living minute by minute waiting for the good news they got? Buzzsaw. Freight train. steamroller. Everyone could apply.

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

Bills head coach Sean McDermott conveyed the message Hamlin had for his teammates. After speaking with Hamlin’s father Mario, McDermott said, “His message from him was, ‘The team needs to get back to focusing on the goals it has set for itself. Damar would have wanted it that way. That includes our game against New England this week.

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

Perry: Belichick shows a different side as reflected in Damar Hamlin

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

To pull off that victory, they need to show an unprecedented level of competence for 2022. They are 8-8, but it’s clear they are fundamentally flawed. They have an ingenious defense that routinely strips backup quarterbacks. They needed cement head complicity from OK to excellent quarterbacks to have a chance of winning against good teams. And in two recent games they’ve achieved that – Raiders and Bengals – they still couldn’t win because offensively they were either too inept or situationally stupid.

I am not completely incapable of being optimistic about this attack. In the last two games, they’ve thrown 11-play, 77-yard touchdowns, 10 and 81 and 11 and 89. That’s impressive progress. However, note the general awkwardness of the season. These are the 16-game touchdown totals for the Patriots offense since Bill Belichick has 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 forgive me if I don’t imagine success on Sunday. And I’m sorry, but I’m going to think it’s fleeting even if it shows up.

The Bills are better than the Patriots. They have bigger aspirations than the Patriots. They will be more inspired than the Patriots. Unless Buffalo’s week of emotions leaves him drained, confused and understandably unprepared, they should take care of business.

Tom E. Curran at Sunday’s Pats-Bills game

The Patriots are where they are because their defense and special teams have scored eight touchdowns, one apiece in their last four games. I hear occasional comments that the Patriots are just a few plays away from the Packers, Raiders and Bengals at 11-5. In each of those games, they had a return touchdown to sustain them.

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

You can’t get rich hoping to find $20 bills on the sidewalk. Can the offense help the defense? The answer, in 16 games, was no. In truth no.

The Bills are better than the Patriots. They have bigger aspirations than the Patriots. They will be more inspired than the Patriots. Unless Buffalo’s week of emotions leaves him drained, confused and understandably unprepared, they should take care of business.

Bills 31, Patriots 16

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