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8 Patriots takeaways: Special teams meltdown ensures losing season in New England

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Missed tackles and brutal special teams play in Buffalo landed the Patriots with a losing season.

New England fought valiantly on an emotional afternoon at Highmark Stadium but allowed Nyheim Hines to return a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns in a 35-23 loss. As such, they were eliminated from postseason play, and finish at 8-9; Robert Kraft wont get the elusive playoff win hes been chasing this season.

Here are takeaways from the finale in Buffalo: Enter your email address here to receive MassLive’s Patriots newsletter every Monday and Friday.

Brutal kickoff coverage

Its a moment thatll live in Bills lore forever, but itll be yet another play on the Patriots special teams low-light reel. After an emotional pre-game ceremony for Damar Hamlin, Bills returner Nyheim Hines took the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots blew containment, Hines got outside, and nobody could catch him. Special teams have been a problem all season long and put New England in a hole before the defense had even taken the field.

Remarkably, it got worse

In the third quarter, Hines got loose on a kickoff return once again. Myles Bryant had a chance to tackle him near the 30-yard line, but the safety whiffed and Hines ripped off a 101-yard return for his second touchdown of the afternoon. It was the first time since 2010 that a player had multiple touchdowns on kickoff returns.

In the fourth quarter, the Patriots just kicked the ball out of bounds so Buffalo started at the 40-yard line.

Mac Jones plays well, but ending is uneven

The second-year quarterback came to play and looked effective for most of the afternoon. Jones threw three touchdown passes, finished with 243 yards, and five different players had at least three receptions; he was spreading the ball around efficiently. Jones did finish with three interceptions, but one was on a late 3rd-and-19 where he needed to force a play, and the final pick clanged off Damien Harris hands.

McCourty has a pair of takeaways

If this was Devin McCourtys final game, he certainly made an impact.

With the Bills already in field goal range late in the second quarter, Matthew Judon hit Josh Allen as he was releasing a pass, and McCourty came down with it in center field. It almost certainly took points off the board for Buffalo. In the third quarter, Jonathan Jones punched a ball out of Devin Singletarys hands, and McCourty was right there to pounce on it. He finished with two takeaways.

Diggs burns the Patriots… again

New England needs to find an answer for Stefon Diggs at some point. The No. 1 wide receiver burned the Patriots for 6 catches, 98 yards, and hauled in a 49-yard dagger in the fourth quarter. He just continues to deliver.

Josh Allen is a video game character

The Bills quarterback was far from perfect, but some of the throws he makes just have you shaking your head in disbelief. His athleticism is ridiculous.

Meyers has sweet TD catch

Jakobi Meyers is another Patriots player who could have been in his last game with the team.

A free agent at seasons end, Meyers is going to get paid this offseason and issued a reminder of why in the second quarter. The wide receiver got the Patriots on the board with some ridiculous body control, tapping both of his toes in the back of the end zone to come down with an improbable touchdown reception. Hes been great as a Patriot.

Bills honor Hamlin well

In their first game since Hamlin needed CPR and an AED on the field in Cincinnati, the Bills honored their safety well in an emotional pregame ceremony. Still in the hospital in Ohio, Hamlin was following along on social media and tweeting as the game unfolded. Players from both teams took the field in Love For Damar warmup shirts and there were tributes all around the stadium. Bills fans really showed their passion.

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