Foxboro - Sunday's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots will not be the most memorable in Pats history. It will also not be considered the most pretty particularly if you like the passing game. The Pats, though, are AFC East Champions at last after defeating the Buffalo Bills 24-12. The Pats could have clinched the AFC East in Miami and then the epic collapse occurred with two laterals and Kenyan Drake running down the field much to the dismay of Pats fans. Last week in Pittsburgh, the Pats fought valiantly but a terrible run defense and late penalties meant the party had to wait another week. But with the Bills at Gillette Stadium, the party would not wait any longer.
Two days before Christmas, it finally happened. The Pats won the AFC East for the 16th time in the Brady-Belichick era. They have won the division every year since 2009 - 10 straight division titles which is a feat unmatched in NFL, NBA or NHL history. Pats fans might be jaded but Buffalo has not won the AFC East since 1995. So hopefully New England will appreciate this team a little more than the local talk show banter of the past two weeks would indicate. With the Eagles defeating the Texans Sunday, the Pats only need to beat the Jets next Sunday at Gillette Stadium to assure themselves a first round bye. Even though, AFC East Championships are like Christmas around New England, Pats players never take them for granted.
"We put in a lot of work to put ourselves in the position to win the division," S Duron Harmon said. "That was a great way to win. We still have to come ready to play next week to get the first round bye."
Added Tom Brady "I certainly don't take it for granted. I know hard it is. I have a great deal of appreciation for my teammates and coaches that work extremely hard to put us into a position to do a great job. I realize it's incredibly difficult thing to do and I am very grateful."
As for the game, it was ugly. The Pats had three turnovers and the passing offense was in the witness protection program for much of the game. The Bills had a good run defense, but it struggled Sunday. The Pats ran the ball with little resistance. Sony Michel had 18 carries for 116 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson had 4 carries for 66 yards before leaving the game with a knee injury. James White had eight carries for 41 yards and a 27-yard touchdown run. It was good to see White, who has been fading lately, have his first touchdown in six games.
The Pats will need to find a way to get Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett more involved in order to make a playoff run. Neither of those three players had a catch Sunday. Edelman was his usual self with six catches for 70 yards. Bill Belichick went on his usual post-game lecture about how the offense isn't designed to go to one player. Belichick even joked that reporters and himself could have blocked on the inside because most of the runs were to the outside. Pats run their plays without regard to individual statistics.
The Pats led 14-0 at halftime after Sony Michel and James White had touchdown runs in the first half. Buffalo made it 14-6 midway through the third quarter even though Josh Allen was throwing the ball all over the field. Allen should spend the offseason hitting targets. He will learn that to be a successful NFL quarterback he will need his arm and not just his legs. Some of his throws might have landed in Buffalo. On the ensuing driving after Buffalo made it 14-6, the Pats had it fourth and four at the Bills 32. Belichick could have sent Stephen Gostkowski on the field for a 50-yard field goal. Instead, he had confidence in his 41 year-old QB. Brady hit Julian Edelman on a quick slant who kept running when it appeared he was down. Edelman was on top of the Bills defenders so he was not down. Soon thereafter, Edelman was in the end zone. Pats led 21-6
Edelman had a 25-yard punt return in the middle of the four quarter that led to a field goal that made it 24-6. The Bills had a touchdown in garbage time to make the final score 24-12.
Defensively, there was not much to worry about. The Pats used the game to improve their statistics. Robert Foster, who has become the Bills best receiver because of his strong performance in recent weeks, was a non-factor Sunday with four catches for 52 yards. Bills receiver Zay Jones was a non-factor until the outcome was decided and he decided to have a touchdown catch to improve his stats. The Pats also have continued their dominance at home - improving to 7-0. The last time the Pats lost at home was to the Carolina Panthers in the fall of 2017.
Two days before Christmas, players were just happy to win the division and get two days off. Rob Gronkowski even said Merry Christmas in Chinese to a reporter from China. 7500 miles of travel for one Merry Christmas wish from Gronkowski. There are worse things. Some players were catching flights home for Christmas including Trey Flowers who was headed to Alabama. Jason McCourty was sentimental after having the opportunity to play with his brother Devin this season.
"Each year is a different journey - winning or losing. You try to enjoy the process as much as possible. Today it feels good. The bond that you develop with your teammates makes it special. As you get older you relish a season like this more. You are wiser. I think you realize the clock is ticking - you don't have many of these seasons left and you try to savor it a bit more. Throughout my entire career, I never took anything for granted - especially this season playing with my brother Devin. I told myself savor every moment - you don't know how long its going to last. It's a unique thing to play from Pop Warner to now being in the same NFL locker room.," Jason McCourty said.