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  • Tony Fiorello


Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Welcome to Week Seven of the 2023 NFL season. Here at Buffalo Sports Page we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.

The Bills’ seventh game of 2023 will take place at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts as they face the New England Patriots. Here’s what you should know:

FOXBOROUGH, MA – OCTOBER 8: Offensive coordinator Bill OBrien talks to quarterback Mac Jones #10 during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on October 8, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.(Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)


Over the years the New England Patriots have changed their identity on offense numerous times. Having featured a power-running team centered around Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon in the early 2000s, a spread, pass-happy team with Randy Moss and Wes Welker and an attack revolving around Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, head coach Bill Belichick has done it all with fantastic results.

For the better part of 20 years, the triggerman behind this attack was future first-ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Until now. Brady, seeking a new chapter elsewhere, departed in 2020 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was replaced by former league MVP Cam Newton. Then-offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels adapted to Newton’s presence on the roster by applying more designed runs to take advantage of the veteran’s mobility, including read-options, RPOs (run-pass options) and quarterback sweeps, counters and power plays. The results, however, were mixed, prompting the Patriots to draft Mac Jones from Alabama.

Jones, a Nick Saban protégé, drew comparisons to Matt Ryan and Chad Pennington coming out of college. While not boasting elite physical tools like am strength, like those two veterans Jones’ game is based off timing and rhythm, and his accuracy and intelligence were exceptional for a rookie as he finished his rookie season eighth among all quarterbacks in completion percentage.

His play helped keep drives alive by completing passes to receivers who have mostly executed screens, outs and option routes, but underwent a sophomore slump in 2022 while adjusting to a new offensive play caller in Matt Patricia. Patricia tried to mix elements of the Patriots’ longstanding scheme with an approach taken from Sean McVay’s Rams teams in Los Angeles, but it failed miserably – leading Belichick to return fully to the Erhardt-Perkins scheme by reuniting with Bill O’Brien, the ex-Houston Texans head coach and Belichick’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11. Jones, however, still seems to be regressing as he ranks near the bottom of the league in many categories and has nine turnovers – more than any other quarterback this season – hence Belichick and O’Brien experimenting with zone-read options with rookie signal caller Malik Cunningham.

New England’s offensive line is usually made up of David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Trent Brown, Vederian Lowe and Cole Strange, and they’ve struggled this year – leading to the team having four different combinations through six games. The man usually running behind them is Rhamondre Stevenson, who along with ex-Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliot bring physicality and downhill ability with speed and operate well with power-blocking schemes like power, toss-crack sweep, counters, traps and iso leads, and New England will occasionally throw in runs with “wham” blocks” to counterattack aggressive run defenses.

The Patriots are typically one of the league leaders in rushing attempts (and mostly from formations under center, and not out of the shotgun). In fact, no team has used more 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) over the last several years than New England – forcing defenses to play more predictable coverages, and they will also liberally use an extra offensive tackle for added blocking prowess.

The Pats’ passing game is built around concepts, formations and motioning to dictate favorable matchups for their wideouts (check out Chris B. Brown’s excellent piece about it here: They typically ask Jones to get the ball out of his hands quickly with defined reads and play-action – which combined with their power running game makes their attack reminiscent of the Pats’ offense utilized between 2001-06.

New England’s best pass-catchers are veterans John “JuJu” Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. Unfortunately for Belichick and company, this current group of targets doesn’t possess much speed to take the top off defenses vertically. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki bring different strengths to the table – while Henry is a red zone target, Gesicki is versatile and can align anywhere in the formation.

The Patriots have struggled offensively this year due to a lack of talent and speed among their pass-catchers and woes up front. They’ve scored more than 17 points just once all season, and not surprisingly they’re second last in points. New England is also 27th in total yards, 26th in rushing, 22nd in passing and has the third-most turnovers in the NFL.

Paradise, NV – October 15: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and assistant coach Steve Belichick on the sidelines in the third quarter. The Patriots lost to the Las Vegas Raiders, 21-17. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)


Early in Belichick’s tenure in New England his defenses were versatile and unpredictable, with intelligent veterans carrying out his voluminous schemes. But it has done a complete about-face over the past decade.

According to former MMQB/SI writer Andy Benoit, “(Belichick’s) Patriots were known for being a certain defense one week and a totally different defense the next. They could run any coverage, play out of any structure – be it 4-3, 3-4 or a blend – and disguise pressures and post-snap rotations like none other.

“Belichick’s defense is, and has been for roughly 10 years, a simple bend-but-don’t-break unit….. They play a lot of straight man coverage, often with one safety deep and the other robbing over the middle. They blitz rarely….. even presnap disguises can be few and far between. When the Patriots do get aggressive is usually when the offense approaches scoring range. That’s the ‘don’t break’ part.”

The Patriots also like to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks by rushing six players with stunts and twists out of a “diamond” front when opposing offenses show a five-man protection scheme – often with man-coverage across the board and no deep safeties (also known as Cover Zero). They have also recently been incorporating another single-high safety coverage more in Cover Three, with three deep defenders and four underneath defenders in zone coverage (dividing the deep areas into thirds).

New England’s back end is held down by heady veterans Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant and the recently re-acquired J.C. Jackson (who was brought back from the Chargers after standout rookie Christian Gonzalez suffered an injury). These defensive backs typically line up with three cornerbacks and three safeties (also known as big nickel), with Phillips and Dugger near the line of scrimmage to help in run support and cover tight ends.

New England’s linebackers are led by former Lion Jahlani Tavai, Anfernee Jennings and Ja’Whaun Bentley along with contributors Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan (out with an injury). Trey Flowers, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise do a lot of the dirty work on the edge of the defensive line while Matthew Judon (currently injured) and Josh Uche are the team’s best pass rushers. Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore are excellent and versatile run stuffers up the middle.

Typically Belichick’s charges have been productive over the years and this season has been no exception – rankings of 10th on third down, seventh in the red zone, 10th in yards allowed, 12th against the pass and 15th versus the run are proof of that. But they are 24th in points allowed and are last in turnovers forced. They also blitz at the sixth-highest rate in pro football.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 15: Taron Johnson #7 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates with Micah Hyde #23 after beating the New York Giants at Highmark Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills beat the Giants 14-9. (Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images)


For the majority of head coach Sean McDermott’s time in Buffalo, the Bills’ defense – led by longtime stalwarts such as Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Matt Milano and Ed Oliver – has been one of the league’s best in the regular season. Points allowed (second in the NFL in that category in 2022), total yards per game allowed (sixth), rushing yards surrendered (fifth), takeaways (tied for fourth), interceptions (tied for fourth) and red zone defense (second) have generally been the categories that the Bills have excelled at (last year’s 15th ranking against the pass not withstanding).

Buffalo, however, was inconsistent in two areas – creating a consistent pass rush and, from time to time, stopping the run. These issues are mainly caused by poor tackling (a year ago their missed and broken tackle percentage were among the highest in the NFL), a lack of gap integrity and a lack of versatility along the defensive line. This problem came up again this year against the Jets in Week One, where the Bills allowed 172 yards on the ground but a week later they held Josh Jacobs – last year’s rushing champion – to -2 yards on nine carries, the first time a reigning rushing champion was held to negative yards in a game according to ESPN.

To address this over the years, McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier (who will take this season off, leaving McDermott to call the defensive plays) have brought in more talent. Out went names like Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Star Lotulelei, Carlos “Boogie” Basham and Harrison Phillips, and in came talented and versatile linemen like Gregory Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa (who two weeks ago became the first Bills defensive lineman to return an interception for a touchdown since Aaron Schobel in 2009), Da’Quan Jones and Tim Settle, and the return of former Bills like Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson were also welcomed additions. This season Buffalo has also brought in veterans such as Leonard Floyd and Kaylon “Poona” Ford to help out, and they’ve fit like a glove – especially Floyd, whose length and athleticism were needed on the edge. They’ll be needed even more after Jones, perhaps their best run-stuffing lineman, tore a pectoral muscle against Jacksonville, and Oliver is out for Sunday with a toe ailment.

Beyond improving against the run, the Bills had also lacked an elite pass rusher off the edge who could command double teams on a consistent basis since Mario Williams was employed nearly 10 years ago. With this in mind, in 2022 general manager Brandon Beane signed future Hall of Famer Von Miller – who is still one of the NFL’s best sack artists at age 34. But Miller suffered a torn ACL after putting up eight sacks in 12 games and missed the first four games of this season while recovering on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He’s back now and on a snap count as he shakes off the rust, but his return is good news regardless. With Miller the Bills were fourth in the NFL in pressure rate with four or less pass rushers in 2022, without him they were 27th in that category.

Schematically the Bills’ defense mostly relies on basic zone coverages after the snap (they’re usually among the top units in the NFL in usage of Cover Two, Four and Six) but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their intentions keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage and coverage exchanges are the team’s calling cards.

Those blitz looks usually happen in the A-gaps with the smaller, but smart, speedy and athletic Milano and Terrell Bernard (replacing the departed Tremaine Edmunds) to confuse opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks, but they rarely send extra people – their favorite blitz tactic besides A-gappers are four-man zone exchanges. Bernard has stepped up to the challenge so far, leading Buffalo in tackles and recording two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery against Washington – becoming the first NFL player to do so in one game since Brian Urlacher in 2007. Milano, however, is out for the foreseeable future after suffering a broken leg and a knee injury against the Jaguars, so backups A.J. Klein, Tyrel Dodson and rookie Dorian Williams will need to pick up the slack.

The Bills mainly utilize nickel personnel, as evidenced by Buffalo using five defensive backs between 90 and 100 percent of their snaps since 2020. They did use nine snaps of dime against Kansas City in Week Seven last year – a matchup that saw them rely on three-man rushes and Milano utilizing a spy technique on Patrick Mahomes, and they may use more “big” nickel looks with three safeties to match up with tights ends after the signing of ex-Ram Taylor Rapp.

White, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, was back to full form after tearing his ACL against the New Orleans Saints two years ago but is injured again – this time after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Opposite him at the other boundary corner spot were second-year man Christian Benford (who flashed some ability a year ago), Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam. Slot corner Taron Johnson remains elite, but with White’s elite ability to play both man and zone coverage gone, will McDermott lean on more zone from Jackson, Elam, Benford, Johnson and newly re-signed Josh Norman than they ever have? That remains to be seen.

Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have reunited to form perhaps the league’s best duo on the back end after being in and out of the lineup with various injuries throughout 2022, and the rangy and physical but inconsistent Damar Hamlin has also returned to full health after suffering a cardiac arrest episode against Cincinnati in Week 16.

Special teams were also solid for the Bills in 2022, having been 13th in punt return average and sixth in kick return average (which was boosted by Nyheim Hines’ two kick returns for scores in Week 18, the first player in Bills history to return two kicks for scores in one game and the first kick return for a touchdown by a Bill in three years) and were 18th and third in covering punts and kicks, respectively. Hines, however, was lost for the season after a knee injury was sustained during the summer and the team allowed a punt return for a touchdown in overtime in Week One – the first time an NFL game ended on a punt return score since 2011.

Through six weeks Buffalo is third in points allowed, 12th in total yards allowed, seventh against the pass, 25th versus the run, fourth in the red zone, tied first in sacks despite blitzing the fourth-least out of any NFL team and tied for second in takeaways. Their nine sacks and four picks against Washington allowed them to be the first team to put up those numbers in a game since the 1985 Dallas Cowboys, but struggled on third down two weeks ago against the Jaguars – allowing them to convert 10 out of 18 such opportunities.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 15: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills looks on during the second quarter against the New York Giants at Highmark Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)


Led by quarterback Josh Allen and a cadre of gifted pass-catchers, the Buffalo Bills boast one of the NFL’s elite offenses for the first time since the K-Gun was running roughshod over the league 30 years ago. Allen’s improved processing skills, ball placement, patience within the pocket and touch on passes have allowed Buffalo to become one of the most feared attacks in pro football (he was second in passing and total touchdowns and seventh in yards in 2022.)

His core of targets is deep and talented. Stefon Diggs is an exceptional route runner who excels in making contested catches and operates well out of bunch and stack formations. His presence along with the physical Gabriel Davis has balanced out Buffalo’s wide receiver corps. But one element – speed – was lacking a year ago, so the Bills addressed this by letting veterans Jamison Crowder, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie and John Brown walk and brought in burners like Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty to go along with second-year man Khalil Shakir. Tight end Dawson Knox is now joined by rookie first-round pick Dalton Kincaid from Utah, and their diverse skillsets should allow offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to throw more curveballs at opponents with multiple tight end sets.

The Bills’ offensive line is composed of Dion Dawkins, former Dallas Cowboy Connor McGovern, Mitch Morse, rookie O’Cyrus Torrence and Spencer Brown. This crew along with fullback Reggie Gilliam, while not elite, has mainly executed outside zone runs along with zone-reads, pin-and-pull concepts, traps, counters, split inside zone and sprint draw plays sprinkled in for running back James Cook. Cook has taken on more of a featured role as former teammate Devin Singletary left for Houston and is now backed up by physical ex-Patriot Damien Harris (out with a concussion and sprained neck) and veteran Latavius Murray, who has rushed for a touchdown with six NFL teams – tied with Adrian Peterson for the most all-time.

The starting front five, while not bad, has been iffy in providing push in the running game and in pass protection over the last couple of years. Most of the team’s rushing production came from Allen’s legs and few came from their backs – the Bills’ rushing attempts per game in 2022, 18.2, was last in the NFL but that number has increased this year. In Week One against New York Buffalo surrendered five sacks, tied for the fifth-most in Allen’s career, but has been taken down just four times in the last five weeks.

Buffalo’s passing offense is a Patriots-style system built upon concepts involving option and crossing routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, run-pass options (especially in the red zone), designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups and some trick plays with jet/orbit motion and sweeps. They have also used plenty of pre-snap motion and shifts – in the past it was mostly out of “11” personnel groupings (one back, one tight end and three wide receivers) and “10” personnel (one back, no tight ends, four receivers).

The Bills’ multi-receiver sets were traditionally their offensive calling card. In 2020 they used four wide receivers or more 155 times – the second-most in the NFL at the time – and they utilized someone in motion on 43 percent of their offensive snaps, a huge increase from their 25 percent rate in 2019. Former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll – now the head coach of the New York Giants – also called for a passing play on 64 percent of their first downs, according to ESPN Stats and Information – no team with a winning record in the last 20 years did it more than Buffalo – and that rate continued in 2021 and ’22 with “11” personnel used on nearly three-quarters of their plays.

However, Buffalo’s usage of “12” personnel (one back, two tight ends) has increased with the employment of Knox and Kincaid. They were last in the NFL in usage of that grouping a year ago (three percent), and their amount of play-action passes has increased after they dropped from being a top-four team in those concepts used in 2020 and ’21 to 25th a year ago – especially while under center, which has helped the Bills be the most efficient play-action team in football. It’s also given Diggs time to set up double moves, masks any pass protection weaknesses and improved their timing, rhythm and efficiency.

Yet for everything the Bills did right on offense last year (first in third down conversion percentage, second in points scored and in total yards per game, fifth in passing, seventh in rushing and ninth in red zone percentage), two flaws remained – they were one the league’s sloppiest teams with 27 turnovers and the team’s ability to create sustained offense slipped during the stretch run of the season. Allen had 14 interceptions and 13 fumbles in the regular season and had three turnovers in the wild card playoff round versus the Dolphins (mainly due to perceiving pressure that wasn’t there, playing too fast and a lack of speed at wideout) and turned the ball over four times against New York in Week One, but has done so just four times in the last five weeks.

In 2022 the Bills won eight in a row (including playoffs, their longest streak since eight in 1990) and included winning six straight non-Sunday games – the first team to have done so since the 1962 Boston Patriots. Additionally Buffalo lost just three games by a total of eight points and tied the franchise mark for wins in a season with 13 (along with the 1990, ’91 and 2020 teams).

Through five weeks the Bills are third in scoring, fifth in total yards, 12th in rushing and eighth in passing. They’re also second in third down rate, red zone efficiency and in point differential, and completed a drive that resulted in a touchdown to Harty that took 9:58 off the clock – their longest since 2016. They’ve also started off slowly in each of their last two games, scoring just seven total points in the first half and have punted nine total times after doing so just seven times through four games.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 15: Stefon Diggs #14 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball during the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at Highmark Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)


  1. Allen has compiled 36 career regular season games with a passer rating of 100 or better and has reached that mark in 19 of his last 37 outings. In those games Buffalo’s record is 33-3, and he had a perfect quarterback rating against Miami in Week Four – Doug Flutie was the only other Bills passer to accomplish that feat in one game.

  2. Only Steve Young has had more career regular season games (eight) with 300 or more passing yards and 50 or more rushing yards than Allen (seven). He’s third all-time in games with a passing and rushing score (34) – behind Young (36) and Cam Newton (64).

  3. Buffalo’s franchise quarterback has eight career games with three passing touchdowns and a rushing score – only Drew Brees and Tom Brady (nine) have more all-time. He also became the first signal-caller to throw for 250 yards, run for 50, toss three touchdowns, run for one, complete 80 percent of his throws and win a game in league history against the Rams in Week One last year. His completion percentage against Miami in Week Four was 84, the highest in team history.

  4. Allen has 14 career games with 300 yards and three scores – the most in franchise history and he has moved past Jack Kemp for third all-time in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (behind Newton and Young).

  5. Buffalo’s quarterback has defeated every team in the NFL at least once except three – Tampa Bay, Arizona and Philadelphia. Allen’s also become the only signal caller with 4,000 passing yards and 750 rushing yards in a season twice (he’s the only one to do so once).

  6. Diggs and Allen have connected for a touchdown 34 times, second on the Bills’ all-time list (Kelly and Andre Reed have 65). Diggs also tied Bill Brooks’ team record for touchdowns in a season in 2022 (11), has tied Bob Chandler for fifth in franchise history in scores, has moved into fourth in team history in receptions and has surpassed Frank Lewis for fifth in team annals in yards. He and Stevie Johnson are the only Bills with three straight 1,000 yard seasons.

  7. Speaking of Diggs, he became the sixth player ever with 100 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards in three straight seasons – joining Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Herman Moore, Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas. He’s also the first to do so in each of his first three years with one team and has three 100-yard receiving games with the Bills in the playoffs, joining Reed (five).

  8. Secondary target notes – Knox has moved past Jay Riemersma for second in team annals with 21 receiving scores by a tight end. He’s behind only Pete Metzelaars (25) and became the fifth Bill with five or more receiving scores in the playoffs all-time while also catching a touchdown in five straight games (only Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski have had longer streaks among tight ends). Meanwhile, Davis has the second-most receiving touchdowns in team playoff history (six), tying James Lofton. Reed had nine.

  9. Since 2017 the Bills are 52-7 when leading at halftime and Week Six versus the Giants was the first game in which they were held scoreless through three quarters and won since December 1993 against Philadelphia (it was first time it had happened since 1987 – also against the Giants). They’ve also won 11 in a row at home against teams with a losing record.

  10. Miller is the first defensive player in league history to sign two contracts worth at least $100 million. He is also vying to be the second player to win a Super Bowl with three different teams (Matt Millen was the first), has moved past Robert Mathis for 19th on the all-time sack list and is two quarterback takedowns away from tying Dwight Freeney for 18th.

  11. Buffalo’s point differential was plus-169 in 2022 – the second-best in the NFL and second-best in franchise history (2021) – and recorded 5,000 yards of offense for the third time in team history, joining the 1991 and 1975 teams.

  12. After beating Rodgers, Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in 2022, according to Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports Allen became the first quarterback to defeat three former MVPs in a four-game span since Troy Aikman downed Dan Marino, Young and Brett Favre in 1996. He’s also the first signal caller to beat three former MVPs in one month since David Woodley in September 1981.

  13. The Bills have compiled a road winning percentage of .705 (24-10) since 2019. Conversely, Buffalo is 23-6 at home since 2020 and is 12-1 at home in December and beyond in their last 13 games.

  14. The Bills rushed for 100 yards in every game but one last year. They clinched a playoff berth for the fourth straight year, which tied the second-longest streak in franchise history (1963-66, six years from 1988-93 is the longest) and was the fifth time McDermott clinched a playoff berth, trailing just Marv Levy (eight) for the most. Buffalo also won a third straight AFC East title, which is their longest streak since 1988-91.

  15. McDermott’s record against the AFC East since 2017 is 24-14 – a winning percentage of .631. He also became the 11th coach all-time to make the playoffs five times in his first six years – joining Andy Reid (PHI), John Harbaugh (BAL), John Madden (OAK), Mike Holmgren (GB), John Robinson (LAR), Paul Brown (CLE), Dennis Green (MIN), Chuck Knox (LAR), George Seifert (49ers) and Bill Cowher (PIT).

  16. Buffalo hasn’t won a road playoff game since the 1992 AFC title game in Miami – they’re 0-7 since.

  17. Buffalo’s regular season record over the last three years with Allen is 41-14.

  18. Since 2020 the Bills’ record coming off a loss is 11-3.

  19. Allen has had five games with three or more turnovers since 2019. In the game following those outings, the Bills are 5-0.

  20. McDermott is the third coach in Bills history to appear in 100 games with the franchise along with Levy and Lou Saban.

  21. Since 2020 Buffalo has the best home record in the NFL – 27-7 including playoffs.

  22. A victory last week gave Buffalo five consecutive wins on Sunday Night Football, which would be the longest streak in team history. Allen’s career record in primetime is 12-4 and he is 5-0 on Sunday Night Football.

  23. Buffalo’s won six of their last seven meetings against New England including playoffs and Allen has six wins against Belichick – only Peyton Manning has more (eight). The Bills have also won in New England three years in a row and are trying to win their fifth straight against the Patriots, which would be their longest streak against them since five in a row between 1992-94.

  24. According to Nick Veronica, since 2020 NFL teams are 4-112 when failing to outgain their opponent and losing the turnover margin by two. The Bills have two of those four wins – last week against the Giants and in 2020 against the Chargers.

  25. Last week according to OptaSTATS the Giants became the only NFL team since 1966 to have more rushing yards, passing yards, fewer interceptions thrown, fewer fumbles lost and fewer missed field goals than their opponent but still lose. Teams had been 134-0 in that time span in the regular season and postseason.

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