The Buffalo Bills gave the New England Patriots a very good test at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts in a rare Saturday evening matchup. In the end, it was the Patriots who were able to emerge victorious with a 24-17 win and claim their 11th AFC East title in a row. The Patriots were actually strong on offense to begin the game with 215 yards in the first half. Even though the offense played well and the Patriots defense did not let the Bills offense do much through the first two quarters, the game was tied up at 10 heading into halftime. The Patriots were trailing in the second half before a rushing touchdown from Rex Burkhead gave them a lead that they would never let go of. Rex Burkhead had a nice game and gave a spark to the Patriots offense. He ran for 97 yards and a touchdown. Matt LaCosse had his first touchdown as a Patriot as well and just the second by a tight end on New England this season.
The New England Patriots offense surprisingly showed signs of life in Saturday's win over the Bills and one area in particular that impressed was the running game. A very good Bills defense entered the game giving up the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game and New England ran the ball 35 times for 143 yards in the game. Sony Michel finally stepped up his game with a season-high 96 yards on 21 carries and Rex Burkhead also made an impact with 20 yards on five carries as well as 77 recieving yards. Burkhead's capability of being able to carry the ball in short-yardage situations and serve as a reliable reciever out of the backfield adds unpredictability to the Patriots offense. Michel's performance was also a very encouraging sign for the Patriots offense. The New England offense has struggled to run the ball most of the season and it was quite obvious that when they do find success in the running game, Tom Brady's job becomes easier. Brady went 26 of 33 for 271 yards witha touchdown and no interceptions. He also ended his streak of eight games with a quarterback rating below 100. We already know that the Patriots are not a high-scoring team. They entered the game averaging just 20.3 points over the last six games. The Patriots showed that the key to success heading into the playoffs might just be both a dominant defense and a good rushing attack that allows New England to control the game by having the ball more than the opponent. If you think about it, that is pretty much what worked for the Patriots last season in the playoffs.
The turning point in this game did seem to be when Julian Edelman returned to the game and made a big play right away. Edelman was sent into concussion protocol after a hit that resulted in an offensive pass-interference penalty on him. He of course did not want to leave the game but concussion protocol is in place for the safety of the players. When he was allowed to re-enter the game, he was ready to go picking up 30 yards on a pass from Brady. It turned out to be the only pass on what became the game-winning drive. After the touchdown on that drive, Edelman also caught a pass for the two-point conversion to make it a seven-point lead for New England. He had knee and shoulder injuries coming into the game and has been dealing with injuries all season long. This is why you have to respect what Julian Edelman is able to do week in and week out battling all kinds of injuries throughout the course of every game and still being able to provide a spark for the New England offense in crucial situations.
Credit also has to be given to the Buffalo Bills who did not make it easy for the Patriots from start to finish. They definitely proved why they are going to be a team playing in January as a wild card team. I think it is fair to argue that New England played their best game of the season. The fact that the Patriots only won the game by 7 points tells you that Buffalo is a legit team. We will have to see if the Patriots offense can perform at this level consistently as we approach the playoffs and if they can, then the rest of the AFC has to remember that the Patriots are still the Patriots meaning you can never ever count them out. The Patriots know that an AFC East title is only an expectation at this point and that the focus will have to quickly shift towards a Week 17 encounter with the Miami Dolphins. Since the Chiefs beat the Bears on Sunday, the Patriots will need to win this weekend in order to secure the number 2 seed and an all important bye. Bill Belichick called the regular-season finale 'a playoff game'. He is not wrong as there is still a lot at stake for the Patriots heading into this weekend's game unlike the Ravens who have already clinched the top seed in the AFC and get to rest up their starters in preparation for the playoffs. While yes it was a good win for New England in a game that told us a lot about the team, it is back to business for the Patriots as the playoffs near and they look to build off an impressive performance.