They still almost pulled it off.
Despite not having a single receiver, tight end, edge player or linebacker who would start on any decent NFL team, the New England Patriots were 14 yards and 31 seconds away from, once again, ripping the still-beating heart out of the chest of the #BillsMafia and coach Sean McDermott, and staying alive in the AFC East race.
For about an hour there in the second half, it was (mostly) fun to watch the Patriots play football again.
There was an honest-to-goodness three-and-out forced by the defense, and a field-goal hold with the season on the line (hard to believe we're at the point that a return of the Bend-But-Don't-Break Belichick defense would be welcomed with open arms).
Cam Newton actually completed passes without surveying the field for seven seconds and getting hit from behind. Jakobi Meyers, who may have 25 percent of the athletic ability of N'Keal Harry but 195 percent of the heart and competitiveness, ran precise routes and fought for extra yards. Damien Harris just made plays every time he touched the ball.
The juices were flowing. The Patriots had life. A run to another AFC East title over the obvious pretenders from Buffalo was there to be had.
Then we were all shocked backed into reality.
Newton fumbled, failing to come through with the ball in his hand on the final drive for the third time this season.
And now the Patriots' season is on life support.
"I am still jeopardizing this team's success because of my lackluster performance of protecting the football," Newton said. "Coach trusts me with the ball in my hands and I wouldn't want it any other way. I just have to do a better job protecting it. ... It's extremely frustrating, but this league is not what have you done for us, but what have you done lately? I understand this is a production-based league."
To twist the knife a little bit more, McDermott treated his first HC victory over Belichick and his Less-Than-Patriots like he just scaled the coaching Mount Everest.
“It gets me emotional,” McDermott said. “I try to go through it one day a time, process, process, process, but we know what this game means to our fanbase. ... This is an emotional win for our entire city. A lot has gone into this to get us where we are. ... I’m going to go home tonight and take an hour or two to enjoy this with my family.”
Oh, for crying out loud. Somebody give McDermott — a coach I used to respect as someone who got it but now clearly now does not — a hug, some tissues and a dose of reality. These Patriots aren't Everest; they're Mount Monadnock.
(I think even Bills fans were like, "Chill out dude. We barely beat the Jets last week, played a bad Patriots team to a statistical draw and needed a lucky punchout by a practice squad DT just to survive. Get back to work, Little Rex.")
And that's what the issue was in this game, and this flailing 2-5 season: the talent drain for the Patriots, which has little do with the Salary Cap Boogie Man Belichick was telling ghost stories about with Charlie Weis just before All Hallows' Eve.
The coaching acumen is still there — and a huge advantage over those Bills — obviously. There will be much complaining and bemoaning at Dunks on Monday morning about the coaching — Why didn't Josh McDaniels do this? Scar would have done bettah! The brain drain out the door-ah is too much! Why would you onsides kick?! — but the fact of the matter is that besides some stellar gut-check play by several gamers (yes Newton for stretches, Jakobi Meyers, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, JC Jackson, to name a few) the Patriots shouldn't have even been in that game if they weren't coaching circles around McDermott and Co.
Don't you realize this? A lot of you have watched football for many years. Surely you have some idea what a good NFL starter looks like.
How many do the Patriots have? Not nearly enough.
No? Well, let's go through it.