Ryan L. Fox
Last time these two teams met in Orchards Park, New York, three weeks it was a crushing victory for the Patriots that was overshadowed by a controversy from one of their own. Now in Foxborough, the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills squared off yet again on Christmas Eve. More was at stake for the Bills as they were fighting for their playoff lives. But it was the Patriots who played the role of the Grinch, stealing both Christmas and the playoff chances of the Buffalo Bills.
New England got the ball to start the game at their own 22-yard line. However they were forced to punt the ball away as Buffalo received the punt on their 30. From there, Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor methodically led his team down the field, keeping the New England offense and QB Tom Brady off the field. The drive then stalled out on the New England 23 as the Bills had to settle for a 41-yard field goal by K Steven Hauschka to take an early 3-0 lead with 5:36 left in the first quarter.
New England got the ball back at their own 18 and began their own drive, mixing in both the run and the pass to keep the Buffalo defense honest. The Patriots got all the way down to the Buffalo 8 to end the first quarter and to begin the second quarter, getting all the way down to the Buffalo 3. However the Bills defense held and forced the Patriots to settle for a K Stephen Gostkowski 21-yard field goal as the score was tied 3-3.
Buffalo responded with the New England drive with one of their own. On the first play, Taylor hooked up with WR Deonte Thompson for a 46-yard pass down to the New England 29. Afterwards, the Bills were able to drive all the way down to the Patriots 6. After an incomplete pass on 3rd and 2 at the 6, Buffalo decided to go for it on 4th down. However New England DE Marquis Flowers sacked Taylor for a 6-yard loss, turning the ball over on downs.
But just a few plays later, the Patriots turned the ball over as well. On 3rd and 7 from their own 15, Brady’s pass for WR Kenny Britt was picked off by Bills FS Jordan Poyer at the Patriots 19. Poyer ended up returning the interception 19-yards for a touchdown to help Buffalo retake the lead 10-3. The Poyer pick marked the first time since 2002 that Brady has thrown an interception in 5 straight games.
However instead of letting the Bills run away with their momentum, Brady dug deep. He drove the Patriots down the field, bombarding the Bills defense with an assortment of passes. Then on 1st and 10 on the Buffalo 17, Brady connected with TE Rob Gronkowski for their 75th career TD connection on a 17-yard strike to tie the game yet again, this time at 10-10.
After forcing a Bills punt and getting the ball back at their own 12, the Patriots drove down the field yet again. Aided by a 44-yard pass interference call on Buffalo SS Michael Hyde, New England was able to get down all the way to the Bills 22. Then on 4th and 1 at the 22, after the two minute warning and then two timeouts, Belichick elected to kick the field goal instead of going for it as Gostkowski kicked his second field goal of the game, a 40-yarder, to give his team the first lead of the game 13-10.
Then with under 2 minutes left in the game, Taylor lead Buffalo to try to get one last score before halftime. They drove all the way down to the Patriots 4 as Taylor tried to find TE Charles Clay twice for a score, each time the ball falling incomplete. Then on 3rd and goal, Taylor found WR Kelvin Benjamin for what appeared to be a clutch touchdown pass. However replay officials reviewed the play to see whether or not Benjamin had caught the pass. Even though there wasn’t 100% clear evidence to overturn the call, the replay officials still overturned the call and ruled it incomplete. The Bills decided to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Hauschka to go into halftime all tied up again, 13-13.
Buffalo received the second half kickoff and drove all the way down to the New England 12, settling for a Hauschka 30-yard field goal to go up 16-13. The Patriots then matched that field goal with 34-yard Gostkowski field goal as the score was tied for the fourth time in the game, now at 16-16.
After forcing a 3-and-out by Buffalo, Patriots WR Danny Amendola returned the punt to the New England 35. From there, the Patriots drove down the field yet again. Then on 1st and 10 on the Buffalo 30, Gronkowski drew a 29-yard pass interference call by Bills backup S Trae Elston. Two plays later, RB Mike Gillislee bowled over the goal line for a touchdown to give his team a 23-16 lead.
After Hauschka missed a 50-yard field goal, it was all Patriots the rest of the way for the game. A 12-yard pass from Brady to RB Dion Lewis and then a 4-yard run by Lewis pushed the Patriots’ lead to 37-16. After forcing a turnover on downs by Buffalo, Patriots backup QB Brian Hoyer came in. After getting a first down by RB Brandon Bolden, Hoyer was able to kneel the ball twice to end the game.
Top Patriot Performers
QB Tom Brady: 21-for-28 for 224 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT for QB rating of 106.8
RB Dion Lewis: 24 carries for 129 yards and 1 TD, 5 catches for 24 yards and 1 TD
TE Rob Gronkowski: 5 catches for 67 yards and 1 TD
K Stephen Gostkowski: 3-for-3 on FG, 4-for-4 on XP for a total of 13 points
LB Marquis Flowers: 10 tackles (5 solo, 5 assists), 2.5 sacks
NT Malcolm Brown: 6 tackles (3 solo, 3 assists), 1.0 sack
With the season winding down, there were still some milestones that the Patriots hit during their victory over the Bills on Christmas Eve.
First you had K Stephen Gostkowski being the 19th player to join the 1,600+ career points club in the second quarter with his 40-yard field goal. Gostkowski also hit another milestone in the 4th after booting his 150th point of the season, making 2017 the 5th-season of 150+ scored in his career, which extends the current record he holds.
Then in the third quarter, you had WR Brandin Cooks surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season for the third season in a row.
Then with his 12-yard touchdown pass to RB Dion Lewis in the 3rd quarter, QB Tom Brady threw his 30th touchdown of the season, which extends his record for most touchdowns thrown in a season after turning 40. It also marked the 7th season that Tom Brady threw for 30+ TD passes, putting him 4th all-time behind Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Brett Farve (each with 9). Then with the victory over the Bills, it gives Brady his 12th victory as a starting QB after turning 40 years old, which places him second behind Farve’s 13 victories.
Then finally, the win over the Buffalo Bills gives the Patriots their 8th consecutive 12-win season, the longest streak of all-time. The 2017 season also marked the 12th time the Patriots had a 12-win season, which ties them for 2nd all-time with the Dallas Cowboys. Also the 2017 season marked the 6th time in franchise history that the Patriots had two receivers with 1,000 yards or more (Cooks with 1,003 yards and Gronk with 1,084 yards)
What is a Catch?
It just seems that whenever the Patriots are playing a team that gets a close call, there always seems to be some sort of catch ‘controversy’. In Week 6, there was that Austin Seferian-Jenkins catch in the 4th quarter that was ruled a fumble in the end zone that ultimately gave the Patriots the victory even though replays showed that he ‘bobbled’ the ball while out of bounds. Then last week, there was that catch by Steelers TE Jessie James that was ruled incomplete because he lost control for a split second when he landed on the ground after lunged over the goal line, thus taking off what was gonna the winning touchdown for the Steelers.
Then there was this past Sunday against the Bills.
With less than 2 minutes left in the 1st half, the Bills were driving down the field for one last score. On 3rd and goal from the Patriots 4, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor found WR Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end -zone. Benjamin caught the ball, secured it, and dragged the feet as the side judge ruled it was a touchdown.
But as per the rules, all scoring plays were subjugated to review. However in order to overturn a call on the field, there has to be 100%, irrefutable evidence that overrides the original call. On further review, you could see that the play was a lot closer than what was seen on the field during live play but there was no irrefutable evidence to overturn the call.
So by the letter of the rules, the replay officials would have to yield to the call made on the field, which was a touchdown. Instead, the NFL’s vice president of officiating Al Riveron made the call that it was an incomplete pass and Buffalo had to settle for a field goal and went into halftime with a 13-13 tie instead of a 17-13 lead.
Now what the hell did Riveron see that we didn’t? Everybody kept seeing the same replay and it looked like it was a catch. Heck, two former NFL VPs of officiating Mike Pererira and Dean Blandino, the latter being the guy Riveron took over for, came out and said that there was more evidence of that play being a catch than not. You can’t say that Riveron had a ‘better angle’ because everybody and their families were watching the same exact thing as he was.
Pats fans and media will try to argue that it had no ultimate outcome of the final score but you have to look at it from a Bills’ perspective. You get a touchdown just before halftime to up on a divisional opponent in their house and you get the ball back to begin the second half. That’s a tremendous amount of momentum. Instead you settle for another field goal, which killed whatever momentum you had. Not exactly the Christmas gift that the Bills wanted to receive.
Fox Fist Bump
The little guy Dion Lewis. A combined 149 yards for the game on offense (124 rushing, 25 receiving) and scoring two touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 receiving). Seriously, the Patriots should just go with Lewis for the rest of the way. He is by far, dare I say, the 3rd most important offensive Patriots player only behind Brady and Gronk.
Also, I gotta give one out to LB Marquis Flowers. He was an animal out there, getting in on 10 tackles and he harassed Tyrod Taylor all game long.
Turd in the Punch Bowl
In the spirit of Christmas, none will be given.
Play of the Game
Gronk's OBJ Impersonation
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