Patriots keep battling for Belichick but come up short, drop to 4-12 after loss to Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Out of playoff contention and faced with uncertainty about Bill Belichick’s future, the New England Patriots battled until the final whistle Sunday for their longtime coach.

Quarterback Bailey Zappe and the Patriots were resilient despite dropping to 4-12 following a 27-21 loss to the division rival Buffalo Bills. New England, which defeated Buffalo once already, stayed competitive and made it a one-score game in the final quarter despite turning the ball over on four of their first six offensive series and falling behind by two touchdowns.

“Obviously a terrible first 20 minutes,” Belichick said. “From there, we battled away. But obviously gave them too big of a lead and couldn’t get it back.”

Amid speculation of major offseason changes looming in New England, the Patriots refused to give up on the season while also continuing a trend of being unable to put together four quarters of good football.

Before hosting the New York Jets in a meaningless season finale, the Patriots already have more losses than in any of Belichick’s 24 seasons in Foxborough — and the most since going 2-14 in 1992 in closing Dick MacPherson’s two-season stint as coach.

Down 20-7 by the 2 1/2-minute mark of the second quarter and falling behind 27-14 after allowing Josh Allen’s second of two 1-yard touchdown to open the third quarter, the Patriots mustered a response.

“No one lost belief, no one lost faith, obviously no one quit,” center David Andrews said.

Too many mistakes — not customarily seen during the Patriots’ near two-decade run of dominance under the tandem of Belichick and Tom Brady — ultimately cost them.

Zappe’s first pass attempt was tipped by cornerback Rasul Douglas and intercepted by diving defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Douglas picked off Zappe’s third attempt at New England’s 14 to set up Allen scoring on a 1-yard run. And on the quarterbacks’ first completion on the next drive, Christian Benford ripped the ball away from tight end Pharaoh Brown.

Douglas intercepted Zappe again early in the second quarter and returned it for a 40-yard touchdown that gave the Bills a 20-7 lead.

“Things like that are going to happen,” said Zappe, who finished 16-of-26 passing for 209 yards, while rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown. “But it’s how you respond, how you come back to the next series, and how you play.”

After finishing each of the past 17 seasons with a positive turnover margin, New England is minus-10 this year.

A Patriots defense that limited Allen to 15-of-30 for 169 yards passing and two TDs rushing bent in the final 5:02 by allowing Buffalo to convert three third-down opportunities to run out the clock.

“Proud of the way the whole team fought,” Andrews said. “Showed a lot of mental toughness bouncing back from those. Just wasn’t enough in the end. Too much to overcome.”

That mental toughness, Andrews said, is a trait Belichick has instilled in the Patriots.

Players are looking ahead to their last game of the season.

“Because we know next year we won’t have the same guys on our team,” defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. said. “So we can give it all we got, play for each other, and go out there and ball.”

Having guided the franchise to six Super Bowl championships but now playing out his third losing season in four years, Belichick was asked what it would take to restore “The Patriot Way.”

Belichick responded on typical fashion: “We’ll get ready for the Jets next week.”