Pats beat Bills 24-12, earn 10th straight AFC East title
By KYLE HIGHTOWER, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — It’s not every day that a team finds itself cheering for the one that beat it the season before in the Super Bowl.
This isn’t the typical season for the New England Patriots.
Patriots players erupted in a loud cheer in the locker room as Eagles kicker Jake Elliott’s 35-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired to give Philadelphia a victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Combined with the Patriots’ 24-12 win over the Buffalo Bills just minutes before to snap a two-game losing streak, New England moved back into the No. 2 spot in the AFC with one game to play. A Patriots win over the Jets next week would give New England a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“Fly, Eagles, Fly!” receiver Julian Edelman said afterward.
It was a perfect ending to a less than perfect day for the Patriots.
New England (10-5) earned their 10th straight AFC East title with Sony Michel running for 116 yards and a touchdown. It also improved to 7-0 at home this season and became the first franchise in NFL history to earn playoff berths in 10 straight seasons. It marked the Patriots’ fifth straight win over the Bills (5-10) and their 26th series sweep of Buffalo.
Tom Brady went 13 of 24 for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — his lowest output since he passed for 123 yards in a 2003 loss to the Bills.
“We didn’t have our best day in the passing game. But it felt good to win. At this time of year, whatever it takes to win, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Brady said. “And we still have one hugely important game left. We have to finish strong.”
But with the touchdown he joined Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers with at least 10 seasons of 4,000-plus passing yards. Manning has 14 such seasons, Brees entered the day with 12 and Rivers has 10.
It was Michel’s fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
It helped mask Brady’s mild day. The two interceptions were his third time with multiple picks in a game this season. He now has 11 interceptions in 2018, his most since 2013.
Brady’s touchdown pass of the game came thanks to a heads-up play by Julian Edelman in the third quarter .
Leading 14-6 and facing fourth-and-4 on the Bills 32, Brady found Edelman over the middle on a quick slant. Edelman was tackled and rolled up by safety Rafael Bush, but Edelman never touched the ground. He got up and sprinted into the end zone.
Brady’s interceptions were among three turnovers by the Patriots on the day, but Buffalo was only able to turn them into three points. Leading 24-6 in fourth quarter, he was replaced by backup Brian Hoyer.
Asked why he pulled Brady with more than six minutes to play, coach Bill Belichick said because “I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Bills back running back LeSean McCoy returned after a one-game absence with a left hamstring injury. He had a quiet return, rushing six times for 9 yards. He didn’t play the first series of the game and said afterward he was benched by coach Sean McDermott after a disagreement for which McCoy took responsibility.
“We had an issue. He corrected me. That’s all,” McCoy said.
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen was bottled up for most of the day, limited to 20 of 41 for 217 yards with two interceptions. He ran five times for 30 yards. Buffalo finished with 72 rushing yards, the first time in five games it failed to rush for 100 or more.
“Gotta get better,” Allen said. “We’ll learn from this one. New England is the team that teams want to be. The trajectory of where we want to put this team and how they can sustain success, so yeah we’re gonna learn from this one.”
After going three plays and out on their first drive of the day, the Patriots went to the run game to score the game’s first touchdown. New England ran six straight times, capped by a 4-yard TD run by Michel. It was Michel’s first touchdown since New England’s Week 12 win over the Jets.
Following a Buffalo punt, the Patriots crossed into Bills’ territory again, but gave the ball back when Rex Burkhead fumbled. But Stephen Hauschka’s 43-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar.
After both teams exchanged punts, New England pushed its lead to 14-0 in the second quarter via a 27-yard touchdown run by James White .
Buffalo’s first six drives of the game were a regression for an offense that had shown promise in recent games. The Bills went three plays and out three straight times, followed by six plays and the missed field goal; three-and-out; and one play and an interception by Allen.
The Bills returned the favor when Lorenzo Alexander picked off an errant pass by Brady. But Buffalo again failed to convert the turnover into points, turning the ball over on downs when Allen’s deep, fourth-and-3 pass for Robert Foster fell incomplete.
Bills: LB Julian Stanford left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … WR Isaiah McKenzie was evaluated for a head injury in the second quarter but returned in the second half. … WR Deonte Thompson left in the third quarter with a toe injury.
Patriots: WR Cordarrelle Patterson left with a knee injury in the third quarter.
Bills: Host Miami next Sunday.
Patriots: Host the Jets.
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