Monday night wasn't quite an official changing of the guard, but it certainly was a statement to the entire NFL.
These Bills are no longer a pushover, and they're here to stay. Buffalo decimated New England on national television Monday, dealing the longtime big brother the beating the AFC East bully has deserved with a 38-9 win. The victory also completed a season sweep of the Patriots, the Bills' first time doing so since 1999, way back when Pete Carroll was still the head coach in New England, Wade Phillips was the man in charge of the Bills, Tom Brady was still in college and Josh Allen was a toddler.
Times, they are a changin' in the East, where the Bills had already clinched the division before Monday and are now handing out whoopings typically delivered by the Patriots. A product of a multi-year rebuild under general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, Buffalo's turnaround reached a new level after the acquisition of receiver Stefon Diggs, who shredded New England on Monday, catching nine passes for 145 yards and three straight touchdowns to take the contest from a 17-9 score to a 38-9 blowout.
Each time Diggs hauled in a pass, one could almost feel New England's will evaporating. By the time he scored his third touchdown, the only thing left to resolve was the expiration of the remaining game clock.
"He's a playmaker, he comes back to the ball better than any receiver in the league," said Patriots corner J.C. Jackson, who has the second-most interceptions in the NFL but struggled to contain Diggs on Monday. "He's got great hands. You've got to almost be perfect when you're guarding somebody like that. You've got to almost have perfect coverage in man-to-man."
No one has been perfect against Diggs this season. The receiver has been held under nine yards per reception just three times this season, and Buffalo still won two of those games by eight points or more. Diggs leads the NFL in receptions with 120, breaking Buffalo's all-time single-season record (previously held by Eric Moulds with 100), and is No. 1 in the league in receiving yards (1,459), also a Bills single-season record. He also broke Brandon Marshall's record for most receptions in a player's first season with a new team, and can break Marshall's receiving yards mark with 50 in Week 17.
These Bills are hotter than ever, scoring 24-plus points in eight straight games -- yes, that's half of a season -- tying the Packers for the longest active streak in the NFL and setting the longest streak in Bills history. Since Week 8, Buffalo has lost just once (going 7-1), is scoring nearly 34 points per game and ranks second in total yards per game (406.4), third in passing yards per game (285.6) and fourth in passer rating (110).
Allen now owns Buffalo franchise records in completion percentage, passing and rushing yards combined (4,738), passing and rushing touchdowns combined (42), and passer rating (106.4). He also took a revered total for his own Monday: passing touchdowns in a season (34), a mark owned by legendary Bills quarterback Jim Kelly since 1991.
There's no question Diggs' involvement has a whole lot to do with this, with Buffalo's first sweep of the Patriots in 21 years, and with the Bills running out to their best winning percentage since 1991. If it wasn't for a miracle finish in Arizona in Week 10, the Bills would be on a nine-game winning streak, and would own an even better winning percentage that, if history serves correct, would put them on a path to a Super Bowl appearance.
"Diggs comes in and Josh embraces him and they hit off with chemistry like I have never seen," tackle Dion Dawkins said of the Pro Bowl pairing. "They are doing it day in and day out, and they are always working on it and working on their friendship. They work on their interactions with each other and it is showing on the field.
"Obviously, Josh Allen is getting a lot of MVP nods and maybe Stefon Diggs should get some of that love as well. While I am extremely biased, I would love to see Josh Allen get that MVP spot but it just shows that we are not the same Buffalo Bills, when you can talk about two people who could potentially be in that race. It just shows what a great job our organization has done getting the right guys here."
There might never be a trade that works out better for both parties than the deal that sent Diggs to Buffalo for a first-round pick that ended up being Diggs' replacement, Justin Jefferson. Both earned their first Pro Bowl honors, but only one is on a team speeding toward a potentially deep playoff run.
"You can't help but be excited," Diggs said. "Who would have thought we'd be here six months ago?"
Dawkins' closing to his quote is most important. Buffalo -- a team once mired in a mess of poor decisions, constantly looking at the backs of the Patriots' heads while chasing them in vain and clinging to their cobweb-covered run of Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s -- is no longer coming up short. These Bills haven't just passed the Patriots, they've bowled them over on their way to the finish line. And they might only be getting started.
"I think we still have a lot more work to do before we become the big kids but we're definitely no little brother, no little cousin," veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "We're going to come out swinging out of the gate, that's just Buffalo Bills football."