After playoff beatdown, New England Patriots' top priority to fix defense

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The New England Patriots were blown out by the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs on Saturday night, a 47-17 game that made it clear to coach Bill Belichick what should be a top offseason priority.

This defense needs fixin'.

It was a complete no-show against Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who turned in an MVP-worthy performance with five touchdown passes. But as great as Allen was, the lack of fight from the Patriots' veteran-laden defense was beyond troubling.

It was "embarrassing" according to longtime captain Devin McCourty.

Belichick credited the Bills and said: "We just couldn't keep up with them. They deserved to win. We couldn't do much of anything. We'll pick up the pieces, get back to work, and find a way to be more competitive."

How bad was it?

Consider these telling statistics:

  • The Patriots had never allowed a touchdown on four straight drives in a game under Belichick -- regular season or playoffs. The Bills became the first team in the Super Bowl era to score a touchdown on each of their first seven drives of a playoff game.

  • The Bills held a 27-3 lead, the largest halftime deficit in Patriots playoff history.

  • Allen became the second quarterback to throw at least four passing touchdowns in a playoff game against a Belichick-coached team (either as head coach or coordinator). Joe Flacco did it in the 2014 divisional round (Patriots won, 35-31).

  • Dating to Week 16, the Bills had a stretch of 13 drives against the Patriots that yielded 11 scores (10 TD, one field goal). The clock -- one drive ended at halftime and one when Buffalo kneeled out the end of the game -- was the only thing that stopped the Bills over that span.

As for how Belichick can fix it, an overall lack of speed showed up as a glaring weakness. Further compounding the problem is that one of the unit's top players, cornerback J.C. Jackson, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

Belichick also could lose inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who is a top candidate for the Houston Texans head coaching vacancy, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The overall coaching of the unit also warrants a closer look. Belichick hasn't named an official defensive coordinator, and his direct involvement is reflected in how he's often seen flipping through photographs of the unit on the sideline, but he's said that outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick calls the plays.

A thorough autopsy is in order after the unit fizzled not just in the playoffs, but in the most important games of the season down the stretch.

The Patriots answered their biggest question last offseason by drafting quarterback Mac Jones, who shows promise for the future.

Now it's time to address the D.

QB breakdown: Jones (24-of-38 for 232 yards with two TD passes and two interceptions) was the least of the Patriots' problems. In fact, when the defense didn't show up to open the game, it was Jones who kept the Patriots in it. He had a 30-yard completion from outside the pocket and a 16-yard scramble, but on the team's other 10 plays to open the game, it gained 21 yards. Jones was intercepted by safety Micah Hyde in the end zone to end a potentially promising opening drive on a play that was more about Hyde's excellence than anything. Jones was picked off again on the opening drive of the second half, but overall, he was one of the few bright spots.

Silver lining: Jones gained playoff experience in his rookie season, which is the type of foundation that can be a positive thing. There is a reason no rookie quarterback has ever led his team to a Super Bowl title, and that the last to win a playoff game was Russell Wilson in 2012. Jones finished his rookie campaign strong, which was one of the few silver linings of a disastrous overall night for the team.

Eye-popping Next Gen Stat: On Allen's 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox on the Bills' opening drive, Allen took 9.64 seconds to throw and ran 32.1 yards before throwing it. The Patriots rushed just three defenders on the play.