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Game Observations: Perfect 10 for Pats

Patriots clinched their 10th straight AFC East title with a 24-12 win over the Bills.


Christmas came early for the Patriots as they not only snapped their two-game winning streak but also received the help it needed from Philadelphia. The Eagles defeated the Texans with a last-second field goal, allowing the Patriots to earn the No. 2 seed while locking up their 10th consecutive AFC East title with a 24-12 victory over the visiting Buffalo Bills.

-With Josh Gordon no longer in the mix the Patriots offense was forced to adjust. That meant more opportunities for Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson was the one who took advantage, although not as a receiver. Patterson carried the ball four times for 66 yards in the first half, mostly on jet sweeps that caught the Bills out of position on the edges. 

-As for the passing game, that remained a work in progress without Gordon. Tom Brady suffered through a dismal first half that saw him complete 7 of 13 passes for just 40 yards with an interception. He was off target several times and was also sacked once as the passing game never looked settled in the opening 30 minutes. The offense in general was forced to punt three times while turning it over twice before intermission.

-Fortunately for New England, the running game showed up in a big way. Sony Michel topped the 100-yard mark midway through the third quarter and the Patriots piled it on from there. The Patriots rushed for 275 yards and Brady was out of the game for Brian Hoyer with more than six minutes remaining. Michel finished with 116 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries while James White tacked on 41 yards on eight carries including a 27-yard touchdown. Rex Burkhead added 39 yards on 13 attempts, and the wideouts got in the act as well with Patterson's 66 yards and Dorsett's 13 on two attempts. Michel dominated early on as he carried on five of six plays during a 55-yard touchdown drive, accounting for 43 of the yards before finishing it with a 2-yard touchdown. The Patriots simply controlled the trenches against a Bills defense that was pushed around all afternoon.

-One of the few negatives in the running game was Michel's absence down the stretch. He received his last carry with two minutes left in the third quarter and did not return for the final 17 minutes of action. There was no update on his status but with just 18 carries to that point it would be unlikely that Bill Belichick would have wanted to rest him with the game still in jeopardy.

-Burkhead was also involved a couple of negative plays, first when he fumbled in the first quarter after being stripped at the Patriots 40. He also was the intended receiver on Brady's first pick on a play where it appeared that Brady felt he was cutting left instead of right, allowing Lorenzo Alexander to make the interception. Brady tossed a second pick in the second half when his pass sailed through Rob Gronkowski's hands to Jordan Poyer. It was the 11th interception for Brady this season, the most he's thrown since he tossed 10 in 2013.

-There were many productive plays in the passing game for the Patriots all day but one came late in the third quarter with the Patriots nursing a 14-6 lead. New England faced a fourth-and-four from the 32 and opted to go for it. Brady hit Julian Edelman with a dart across the middle for the first down, but as a pair of Bills combined to tackle him the wideout landed on top of them and never hit the ground. Edelman wisely popped back to his feet and raced to the end zone for the touchdown. Otherwise it was a lackluster day in the passing game.

-The Patriots continue to display excellent health and once again the inactive list was full of healthy scratches. The biggest surprise was Adrian Clayborn sitting while Danny Shelton returned after missing last three games. The Patriots have had some trouble with scrambling quarterbacks and Josh Allen entered the game as the Bills leading receiver, so it's possible the coaches felt Clayborn was part of the problem earlier in the season by not keeping the likes of Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky in the pocket. Instead, Ufomba Kamalu, who was promoted from the practice squad to take the spot vacated by Gordon, was active and ostensibly viewed as a better option containing Allen. Kamalu registered a big stop against LeSean McCoy for a 4-yard loss in the first half. The rest of the inactives included Keionta Davis, Duke Dawson, James Ferentz, Brandon King, Obi Melifonwu and Derek Rivers.

-Whether or not the tactic to keep Clayborn inactive was responsible, the defense did a great job containing Allen. After rushing for 335 yards in the last three games, Allen managed only 30 yards on five attempts as the front did a great job of forcing him to stay in the pocket and scramble up the middle rather than around the end. At times Clayborn struggled in that area in the past, but the Patriots had no such troubles on Sunday. Credit Patrick Chung in particular for doing a great job of closing Allen's space and tackling well when needed. He was quite active throughout the game, finishing with a team-high 7 tackles. 

-Belichick chose a conservative approach late in the first half while leading 14-0. The Patriots faced a fourth-and-three from the Bills 42 and less than a minute to go before halftime. Rather than keeping his offense on the field, Belichick opted to punt and Ryan Allen's kick was downed by Matthew Slater at the 9. The Bills didn't move the ball at all in the first half as rookie Josh Allen struggled with his consistency, and it seemed obvious that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would play it conservatively. Keith Ford ran up the middle for 5 yards on first down but Belichick allowed the clock to run out rather than using his timeouts to perhaps force a punt. Clearly there wasn't much fear of the Bills making a big play in such a situation but Belichick played it close to the vest nonetheless.

-After making an impact in the first half with a couple of big runs, Patterson turned in back-to-back terrible kick returns and appeared to injure his knee on the second one. Patterson made questionable decisions to return kicks and was nailed inside the 15 on both. He was cut down by a hard tackle at the 12 on the second, and he didn't return. He was announced as questionable with a knee injury but Patterson did see any action from there.

-The defense forced three turnovers on the day and Jason McCourty was involved with two of them. He made a key strip as Buffalo was mounting its best drive of the game in the third quarter when he ripped the ball away from Jason Croom after a 24-yard catch down to the Patriots 6. Malcom Brown recovered, allowing the Patriots to keep points off the board. McCourty added a nice interception near the Patriots sideline in the fourth quarter as he did a nice job of getting his feet in bounds after his leaping catch. Rookie J.C. Jackson, who maintained his spot in the starting lineup as New England went with a predominantly base defense much of the day, also had a pick. He did a nice job of leaving his man when Allen tried to float one to Deonte Thompson and came away with hi third interception of the season.

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