The New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills today 34-3 to win a hat and a t-shirt, signifying that they have won the AFC East. In doing so, they also clinched a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, a significant accomplishment. The Patriots handed the Bills their 11th loss of the season, and did so convincingly. Buffalo committed seven turnovers, five of which came from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles). QB Tom Brady passed for a season-low 140 yards, partly due to working with a short field, partly due to a strange case of dropsies by Wes Welker, and partly due to an extremely effective running game. Brady did have 3 touchdowns to go with his 140 passing yards, 2 of which were snagged by rookie TE Rob Gronkowski, who was playing in front of his hometown crowd.
The Patriots’ running game, as mentioned earlier, was extremely effective against the NFL’s worst-ranked run defense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the team with 104 rushing yards on 19 carries (5.5 YPC) and also had a catch for 3 yards. Danny Woodhead was not far behind, rushing for 93 yards on 13 carries, including a 29-yard touchdown run, and added 3 catches for 32 yards to his total. Green-Ellis is now 72 rushing yard away from a 1,000-yard season and Danny Woodhead is 93 total yards away from a 1,000-yards-from-scrimmage season, two huge accomplishments from two undrafted players.
The defense started out shaky, getting run over by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller on Buffalo’s game-opening drive and giving up a field goal. After that drive, they started to tighten up and the turnovers started pouring in. They bent but didn’t break and came up with the big plays that have defined this much-maligned defense. Safeties Patrick Chung and Jarrad Page, along with linebacker Dane Fletcher each snagged an interception, with Fletcher’s coming in the end zone to halt a potential Buffalo score. Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Devin McCourty each forced a fumble while Mayo, Fletcher, Sergio Brown, and Eric Moore recovered fumbles. Tully Banta-Cain led the team with 8 tackles while Guyton and Kyle Love each got a sack on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Tom Brady tied Bernie Kosar for the longest INT-less streak in NFL history with his 16th passing attempt of the game, and then broke the record with his 17th pass attempt. Brady’s streak now stands at 319 straight passing attempts without an interception, and who knows how long that streak will continue. That stat is all the more impressive considering that Brady accomplished it in one season, whereas Kosar’s streak started in one season and continued into the next season. TE Rob Gronkowski tied for the most touchdown receptions by a rookie tight end with his 9th TD reception of the season. The Patriots as a team extended their record for consecutive games without a turnover (7) today as well.
The Patriots’ next challenge will be getting out of Buffalo and back to Foxborough. The ongoing snow has held them up in Buffalo and they will remain there tonight. Their final regular season game comes next week at home against the Miami Dolphins, who lost today to the Detroit Lions. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick manages the starters’ playing time next week. No one can forget what happened last season when Wes Welker injured his knee in Houston in the last game of the season and was lost for the playoffs. Belichick will surely not want to enter the playoffs with a loss, which is a momentum killer, but he also does not want to expose his starters to an increased injury risk. I’m sure he’ll be asked the question all week and probably not answer as well. It will be something to monitor as the week progresses.