Ryan L. Fox
T’was the Sunday before Christmas and throughout all of New England, many were wondering if there would their beloved Patriots be able to rebound after two demoralizing losses on the road and the Josh Gordon circus last week. With the regular season just two weeks from ending, there was an air of uncertainty of the Patriots’ playoff future.
But then the Buffalo Bills came into town with a rookie QB and an inept offense, the perfect cure for what was ailing the home team.
The Patriots then proceeded to run all over their tomato can opponent, not only running them out of Foxborough and into the chilly December night but also running into AFC East Divisional Title and the AFC #2 Playoff Seed.
The Patriots kicked the ball off to begin game as K Stephen Gostkowski booted the ball just short of the end zone to the Buffalo 4. Bills KR Victor Bolden Jr. caught it there before bringing it back to the Buffalo 26 where the offense took over. They could only advance the ball up to the Buffalo 30 and were forced to punt it away.
The Patriots got the ball at their own 23 and could only advance the ball up to their own 30 before being forced to punt.
After the Patriots defense forced another Bills punt, they got the ball on their own 45. But instead of throwing the ball, the offense decided to keep things on the ground. With RB Sony Michel leading the way, the Patriots pounded the Bills defense with 6 consecutive rushing plays. This also included the drive-capping 4 yard touchdown run by Michel. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted the PAT afterwards to give his team the early 7-0 lead.
After forcing the Bills to punt, the Patriots got the ball back on their own 12. Like their previous scoring drive, they relied on the running game to lead the offense. It wasn’t until 3:18 left in the 1st quarter where Brady made his first pass attempt on 1st and 10 at the New England 39. Although it went for an incompletion, it didn’t kill the Patriots’ momentum.
That happened 5 plays later.
Facing 2nd and 15 on their own 45, QB Tom Brady found RB Rex Burkhead right side for a small catch and run. However as he was getting tackled, Burkhead had the ball knocked out of his hands by Bills LB Corey Thompson. Teammate S Micah Hyde scooped the ball and returned it to the New England 40.
With great field position, Bills QB Josh Allen led the charge down the field. After an incompletion on 1st down, Allen found WR Robert Roster for an 11 yard pass to the New England 29. However the Patriots defense stiffened, allowing the Bills to only move as far as the 24. On 4th and 5, K Stephen Hauschka came on to attempt a 43 yard field goal. However the kick ended up being short and hit the cross bar.
The Patriots took over at their own 33 as they closed the 1st quarter and opened up the 2nd quarter with the ball. But instead of going forwards, they went backwards on back-to-back negative yardage plays (-2 yard loss by Michel and Brady getting sacked). The Patriots ended up punting the ball as P Ryan Allen boomed the ball to the Buffalo 22. Bills PR Isaiah McKenzie was only able to bring it back to the Buffalo 26.
After forcing the Bills to punt, the Patriots got the ball back on their own 44. With Brady leading the way, the offense was clicking on all cylinders like their last scoring drive. However it then stall out as the Bills began to buckle down on defense. Facing 3rd and 2 on the Buffalo 29, RB James White took the handoff off left tackle. He then proceeded to outrun the Bills defense all the way down to the goal line, diving and hitting the pylon for the 27 yard touchdown run. Gostkowski’s PAT afterwards then made it 14-0 with a little under 10 minutes left in the half.
The Bills got the ball back as Bolden Jr. returned the kickoff to the Buffalo 37. But on the first play of their drive, Allen was easily picked off by Patriots CB J.C. Jackson at the New England 42. Jackson brought the ball back to the Buffalo 49, where the offense took over.
The Patriots drove all the way down to the Buffalo 25, seemingly gassing the defense. But then on 2nd and 7 from the Buffalo 25, Brady’s pass to Burkhead over the middle was picked off by Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander (who got away with a defensive holding call) at the Buffalo 21. Alexander returned the ball to the Buffalo 29 where the offense took over.
The Bills then went on its longest drive of the half, getting deep into New England territory while taking nearly 5 and half minutes off the clock. However the drive stalled on the New England 25 as facing a 4th and 3, Allen’s pass to Foster at the goal line fell incomplete.
The turnover on downs gave the ball to the Patriots on their own 25 with a little under 2 and a half minutes left in the half. However they ended up punt the ball with as the Bills got the ball on their own 9. They simply ran just one play to end the half.
When the 2nd half began, the Patriots began their first possession of the half with KR Cordarrelle Patterson bringing the ball out of the end zone to the New England 15. There, Brady took the snap and looked to TE Robert James Gronkowski over the middle. The ball ended up going through his hands and into the hands of Bills S Jordan Poyer at the New England 24.
Luckily the Patriots defense held their ground, forcing the Bills to just settle for a 35 yard field goal from Hauschka to make it 14-3 with a little over 13 and a half minutes left in the quarter. The Bills then got another Hauschka field goal (from 41 yards out) on their next possession to make it 14-6 as the Bills seemingly clawed their way back into the game.
It didn’t look to good for the Patriots as Michel bobbled the ensuing kickoff before returning it to the New England 12. But he made up for it with pounding the Bills defense with his running attack on the ensuing drive with 4 carries for 32 yards. The Patriots got all the way down to the Buffalo 32. There, on 4th and 4, Brady found WR Julian Edelman over the middle for the 1st down. However as he was getting tackled, Edelman was never down by contact and he slipped free. Edelman then scampered all the way down into the end zone to complete the 32 yard scoring play. Gostkowski’s booted the PAT through as the Patriots extended their lead to 21-6 with a little over 5 minutes left in the quarter.
The Bills tried to answer the touchdown back. Allen got the offensive going with 2 consecutive big plays: a bomb to Foster for 25 yards and then a 13 yard run. Then facing a 1st and 10 from the New England 30, Allen found TE Jason Croom over the middle. Croom took the ball all the way into the New England red zone and tried to fight for more yard. But he was stripped of the ball by CB Jason McCourty as the ball was recovered by DT Malcom Brown at the New England 6.
However the Patriots couldn’t do anything with the ball and were forced to punt deep into Buffalo after the 3rd quarter ended and the 4th quarter began.
Buffalo couldn’t do anything with the ball either and were forced to punt deep within their territory. Edelman got the punt at the Buffalo 49 and then proceeded to return it to the Buffalo 24, giving his team great field position.
The Patriots drove all the way deep into Buffalo territory and were faced with a 1st and goal at the Buffalo 4. However the Bills red zone defense held up, forcing the Patriots to settle for a 24 yard field goal by Gostkowski to make it 24-6 with under 8 minutes left in the game.
The Bills tried to answer back the score but were forced to punt from their own 23. However the punt by Bills P Matt Darr was partially blocked by Patriots ST Matthew Slater and ended up getting downed at the Buffalo 33.
There was a change of QB for the Patriots as backup QB Brian Hoyer came in to finish the game. But on his first drive of the game, Hoyer could only move the ball to the Buffalo 29 as he turned it over on downs.
The Bills took over at their own 29 with a little over 5 minutes left and needing a touchdown to get back within striking distance. They were able to get up to their own 48 as Allen looked for McKenzie at the New England 39. However the pass was intercepted by Jason McCourty near the sidelines, getting both feet down in bounds (tip-toe style).
After forcing the Patriots to punt, the Bills got the ball back on their own 20. Utilizing a 2-minute drill, Allen led the team down the field to the New England 31. There on 2nd and 10, Allen found WR Zay Jones wide open at the left as two Patriots defenders bumped into each other to free the Bills receiver. Jones then trotted into the end zone for the Bills’ first touchdown of the game. But on the ensuing PAT, the snap was bad and the Bills botched the play as the score ended up being 24-12 with a little over a minute left in the game.
The Patriots recovered the ensuing onside kick at their own 42. Hoyer took 2 kneel downs in victory formation as the Patriots ended their 2-game losing streak with a 24-12 home victory over the Bills.
With their victory and the Houston Texans losing at Philadelphia, the Patriots were able to move up into the #2 AFC Playoff Seed. They were also able to clench their 10th straight AFC East Divisional title with the victory over the Bills, the longest consecutive streak in NFL history.
Notable Patriot Statistical Standouts
QB Tom Brady: 13-for-24 for 126 yards, 1TD, and 2 INT for a QB Rating of 48.3
RB Sony Michel: 18 carries for 116 yards and 1 TD, 1 return for 11 yards
RB James White: 8 carries for 41 yards and 1 TD, 2 catches (on 4 targets) for 13 yards
WR Cordarrelle Patterson: 4 carries for 66 yards, 1 catch (on 2 targets) for 3 yards, 2 returns for 30 yards
WR Julian Edelman: 6 catches (on 10 targets) for 70 yards and 1 TD, 2 punt returns for 37 yards
P Ryan Allen: 6 punts for 259 yards (approx. 43.2 yards per punt), 3 punts downed inside 20
DT Malcom Brown: 1 tackle (0 solo, 1 assist), 1 fumble recovery
S Patrick Chung: 7 tackles (5 solo, 2 assist)
CB Jason McCourty: 3 tackles (3 solo, 0 assist), 1 INT, 2 passes defended
CB J.C. Jackson: 1 INT, 1 pass defended
Numbers! Numbers! Numbers!
48.3 – The passer rating of Tom Brady for the game, the lowest since 2006.
.989 – The winning percentage of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002 (93-1)
273 – The total amount of rushing yards accumulated by the Patriots. This was also the most rushing yards ever by the team with Tom Brady under center and the most rushing yards the Buffalo Bills have given up since 2009 (212 to the New York Jets)
10 – The number of consecutive AFC East Divisional titles the Patriots have won since 2008, the most consecutive divisional title streak in NFL history.
10 – The number of season of 4,000+ yards passing yards Brady has accumulated over his career, tied for 3rd most all time with San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers QB Phillip Rivers.
881– The number of rushing yards RB Sony Michel has on the season now, the most by a rookie running back during the Brady-Belichick Era
0 – The number wins a rookie QB has against the Patriots since 2000 (0-10 overall)
30 – The total number of victories by Brady against the Buffalo Bills (30-3), the most victories by a QB against a single team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger
6 – The total amount of games where the Patriots had 2+ rushing touchdowns (including today’s game) during the entire Brady-Belichick Era
0 – The number of catches by TE Robert James Gronkowski had for the entire game
4 – The number of regular season games throughout Robert James Gronkowski’s entire career that has ever happened.
25 – The day in December that Christmas falls upon. Merry Christmas Patriots fans
Fox Fist Bump
This week’s fist bump has to go to the Patriots running game. After being MIA for like the past few weeks, they made their presence known. Led by the likes of Michel (119), White (41), and Patterson (66), the Patriots rushed for a whopping 273 total yards. That is the most during the Brady-Belichick Era when Brady is under center (they rushed for a total of 277 yards against the Oakland Raiders in 2008 with Matt Cassel taking snaps). The line opened up the wholes and the backs’ vision saw the openings as well as where the stout Bills run defense wasn’t.
With Brady starting to fall off a cliff (yes, it’s happening but not as drastic as you think), they need the running game to get going if they want to stay alive in the postseason.
The Meatball of the Week
This special, gift wrapped meatball goes to none other than Rex Burkhead for that boneheaded fumble in the 1st quarter. That killed a Patriots drive and nearly changed the dynamic of the game. He’s lucky that the Bills couldn’t score for crap otherwise the game would have been different.
Also another special meatball for TE Rob…excuse me, TE Robert James Gronkowski. He allowed a Brady pass to slip right through his hands and into the hands of a Buffalo defender on the first play of the second half. Hands on the ball, it’s basic football.
Maybe Santa can give each of those players better hands to hold onto the football.
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