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New England Patriots in familiar territory on top of AFC East

By The Sports Xchange
1/8
New England Patriots in familiar territory on top of AFC East
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) drops back for a pass in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- 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.

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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.

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Two days before Christmas, it finally happened. The Pats won the AFC East for the 16th time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. They have won the division every year since 2009 -- 10 straight division titles -- a feat unmatched in NFL, NBA or NHL history.

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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 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.

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"We put in a lot of work to put ourselves in the position to win the division," safety 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."

"I certainly don't take it for granted," Brady said. "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 a 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.

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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 four 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 late, 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 deep playoff run. Neither of those three players had a catch Sunday.

Edelman was his usual self with six catches for 70 yards. 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.

The Pats led 14-0 halftime after Michel and James 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.

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Allen should spend the offseason hitting targets. He will learn that successful NFL quarterback will need his arms 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-yard line. Belichick could have sent Stephen Gostkowski on the field for a 50-yard field goal attempt.

Instead, he had confidence in the 41-year-old Brady who rewarded his coach's confidence by hitting Edelman on a quick slant.

Edelman kept running when it appeared he was down but he was on top of a Bills defender. Soon thereafter, Edelman was in the end zone and the Pats led 21-6.

Edelman had a 25-yard punt return in the middle of the four quarter that led to a field goal and a 24-6 lead.

The Bills scored 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.

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Bills receiver Zay Jones was a non-factor until the outcome was decided and was able to pad his stats with a meaningless touchdown.

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. Gronkowski even said Merry Christmas in Chinese to a reporter in China.

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 it's going to last," he said.

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