24 thoughts on a total team effort by the Patriots

The last time we came away from a Patriots game feeling so encouraged about so much, the trees in your yard were still adorned with leaves.

Tom Brady connected with Matt LaCosse for the tight end’s first touchdown. matthew j. lee

Twenty-four thoughts on the Patriots’ 24-17 win over the Bills . . .

1. The last time we came away from a Patriots game feeling so encouraged about so much, the trees in your yard were still adorned with leaves. But make no mistake, this was a vintage December victory by the Patriots: Tom Brady was as sharp as he has been in months, finishing 26 of 33 for 271 yards and one touchdown. The running game was creative, diverse, and effective, with a hard-running Sony Michel setting the pace with 96 yards. There was balance — 33 passes, 35 runs. There was a comeback, from down 17-13 early in the fourth quarter. And there was one final stand, ending with a stop on fourth down by a swarming Patriots defense that bent a little but refused to break when it mattered.


2. This was not just the most encouraging Patriots victory in a long time, the kind that makes one believe their playoff stay could be prolonged. I’m not sure they’ve ever had a more downright enjoyable game against the Buffalo Bills in this era. Sean McDermott’s team, now 10-5 on the season and 6-2 on the road, is legitimate, and they landed more than a few blows of their own Saturday afternoon. But the old champs suddenly didn’t look so old. This was the kind of game that makes the NFL irresistible even with all of the flaws that sometimes weigh on our conscience.

3. The Patriots clinched the AFC East for the 11th straight season. And perhaps surprisingly given their sluggish and uncertain offensive performances lately, they did it in a way that was reminiscent of some of their better offensive teams. I have no idea if they’ve repaired the problems of the past month, but I do know this: Brady looked like he was 32 and healthy, not 42 and trying to fight through an aching elbow. Given the way his season had been trending, this has to be considered both a pleasant surprise and an enormous development.


4. For once, Brady had help from just about everyone in the huddle. He was hit four times and the Bills did not sack him once, the most protection the line has given him in weeks. He trusted his receivers — even the ones not named Julian — with nine players making a catch, and six having at least three catches. The offense was 7 of 14 on third down, put up 414 yards, and gave Patriots fans genuine hope that they’re discovering an offensive identity just in time.

5. The Patriots put together their most impressive drive in what seems like weeks to score their first touchdown and take a 7-3 lead on their second possession. Brady went 7 for 7 on the 11-play, 75-yard drive, finding five different receivers, including Matt LaCosse on a lovely play-action pass for the 8-yard score. You couldn’t help but think: That’s how their offense is supposed to look, but hasn’t too often.

6. The Patriots dominated the first half in time of possession (more than 21 minutes) and first downs (13, to 6 for the Bills). Brady was 16 of 22 for 134 yards — more than he threw for last week against the Bengals (128) — while the running game picked up 81 yards on 18 attempts (4.5 per carry). Yet they went into halftime tied at 10.


7. That had to be a moral victory for the Bills, who tied the game in the final seconds before halftime. Josh Allen found Dawson Knox for 33 yards — it was initially ruled a touchdown, but it was overturned when replay showed he was down at the 1 — then followed up with a 1-yard touchdown throw to tackle-eligible Dion Dawson. Don’t you get annoyed when The Big Dude Is Eligible plays work against the Patriots?

8. The Bills went 59 yards in six plays — requiring just 32 seconds — to tie the game before halftime, and they never should have been in position to do so. On fourth and 1 from the Bills’ 41, the Patriots ran left with N’Keal Harry, but Mohamed Sanu whiffed on a block and Harry was stopped for no gain and a turnover on downs.

9. Sanu was supposed to be good at that sort of thing, but he hasn’t been good at much of anything since the Ravens game. He finished with three catches for 24 yards. He’s still got another week to get better, but trading a second-round pick for this guy is feeling regrettable right now.

10. If there was a singular pivotal play in the game . . . well, it was probably the failure to convert the fourth down when Sanu missed his block. But for a time it seemed as if it was going to be the one that began at the 10-minute-42-second mark of the third quarter. Brady found Benjamin Watson for a 33-yard touchdown catch, but it was called back when Julian Edelman was flagged for interference on a play in which a) he appeared to try to avoid contact with the Bills defensive back and b) ended up flat on the turf and at least appeared as though he might have been unconscious.


11. Nick Folk salvaged the possession with a 51-yard field goal — he’s been as good as they could have expected as their third kicker of the season — to cut it to 17-16, but in the moment it felt like a lost opportunity, and one during which one of their most essential players was lost, at least temporarily.

12. Of course, Edelman being Edelman, he wasn’t done, coming back for a huge 30-yard catch-and-run on the first play of the go-ahead drive. He also punctuated the drive with a 2-point conversion reception that put the Patriots up, 24-17. I don’t know how he’s doing it right now with all of the injuries, but he’s doing it.

13. Tom Brady’s block on Harry’s 18-yard run in the second quarter is going to be all over the highlight shows in the next couple of days. Beyond the amusing sight of his awkwardly earnest (and quite effective) attempt to block, it was a reminder, as if anyone should require one at this point, of how ridiculously tough and competitive he is, even now. On the other hand, you can’t watch that without thinking we’re one bad angle or awkward fall away from Jarrett Stidham, Playoff Starter.

14. It must be frustrating to play against a quarterback such as Allen, who is erratic, inaccurate and inexperienced, but can run from trouble and has the arm to hit on a big play that never should happen. The latter happened midway through the third quarter when, just as he was about to be hit, he heaved one deep to speedy John Brown, who had a step on Devin McCourty and took it 53 yards to the end zone for a 17-13 Bills lead.


15. Allen finished 13 of 26 for 208 yards, with two touchdowns. Eighty-six of those yards came on the two long throws to Knox and Brown, but he didn’t commit any turnovers, and he did have the Bills driving late in an attempt to tie. If the Bills claim they have any idea what to expect from him in the playoffs, don’t believe them.

16. Another play in the argument for the biggest of the game? Third and 1 at the Bills’ 5, 5 minutes and 40 seconds remaining, trailing 17-16. On their previous drive, the Patriots had first and goal at the 5 but had to settle for a Folk 20-yard field goal and a 1-point deficit at 17-16. The Patriots couldn’t afford to waste this one.

17. So what do they do? Nothing clever. Nothing over-thought or cute. Just the tried-and-true through so many years: The Brady sneak. First down, Patriots. I know the sneak has failed before, but I sure don’t remember a failure off the top of my head.

18. Two plays and one Bills timeout later, the Patriots had the lead. Rex Burkhead did the honors with one of the most relentless runs you’ll see this year, fighting through would-be Bills tacklers to take it in from 1 yard out. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander got knocked down like a bowling pin after colliding with Burkhead in the hole.

19. Let the record show that after fumbling on the fourth play from scrimmage, on his second touch of the day, Burkhead did not get the Stevan Ridley Ceremonial Post-Fumble Benching. Instead, he got seven more touches, and made the most of them, finishing with 97 total yards, including a team-high 77 receiving yards.


20. Bills safety Jordan Poyer did make a terrific play after Burkhead had picked up 18 yards and was still chugging on a well-executed screen pass, punching the ball loose from behind. It was a very Patriots-like play from Poyer.

21. Buffalo started its first possession at the Patriots’ 31 after Burkhead’s turnover, but the Patriots defense held strong, and the Bills settled for a 35-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka. Allen’s airmailed third-and-7 pass intended for Knox presumably landed in a Dunkin’s parking lot on Route 1.

22. Unsung heroes for the Patriots? On offense, a hat tip to Jakobi Meyers, who came into the game when Edelman was sidelined and made three catches on three targets for 25 yards. That’s a good sign, that he could step in and contribute on a moment’s notice.

23. Unsung hero, defense? Let’s go with the underrated Lawrence Guy, who was a menace, with six tackles, two QB hits, one sack and a tackle for a loss.

24. Unsung hero, defensive player playing on offense? Well, that can only be Elandon Roberts, the linebacker masquerading at fullback, who was out there blowing up Bills defenders like some sort of Sam Gash clone all afternoon. Quite the team win, wasn’t it?


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