Before the final whistle was blown on the New England Patriots’ victory over the visiting Buffalo Bills, the team’s tenth straight division title was already secured: thanks to the Miami Dolphins losing 17-7 — their second straight defeat coming off the so-called “Miami Miracle” — against the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England would stay on top of the division no matter what happened in the game against the Bills.
What did happen was the Patriots running wild over their opponent and playing stout defense en route to a 24-12 win and AFC East title. “Always a great feeling to win the division,” Bill Belichick said after the game ended. “You have to give our players a lot of credit. It’s been a tough couple of weeks but they responded with a great week of preparation. I thought we played hard today against Buffalo that also played tough like they always do.”
For Belichick, 2018 marks the 16th division championship since joining the Patriots as head coach in 2000. However, there is no feeling nostalgic on the menu for the 66-year old. “Maybe do that some other time,” he told reporters during his postgame press conference. “Right now, I’m really just happy for our team and our players, our coaching staff. They work extremely hard. This has been a very challenging season.”
Quarterback Tom Brady also won his 16th division crown on Sunday and he appeared to be happy with the way the team performed. “It was a great win all the way around,” Brady said after a game in which he posted uncharacteristically pedestrian statistic. “I thought the defense played great and gave us a bunch of chances. Just happy we won. It’s a tough team, they play hard and I’m glad we won.”
Center David Andrews echoed his quarterback’s thoughts. “It was a great team win,” the 26-year old said. “Everyone did a good job and we were the most efficient team today.”
The same mindset was also expressed by running back Rex Burkhead: “Especially this time of year games are tough,” he said in the postgame locker room. “You’ve got to really have that mindset that it’s going to be a physical game. This is when real football begins. “
Running back James White felt the same way while also pointing out the Patriots’ need to improve. “It was still sloppy out there today for us and we know we’ve got to be better,” said White. “We still have a lot to improve on, so I think that’s enough motivation for us in itself.” This improvement process will be needed once the postseason starts. Before that happens, however, New England will still have to beat the New York Jets next Sunday.
“We want to put two good games back-to-back and see where that takes us,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said after the game against Buffalo — and he was not the only player to feel that way.
“We still got to take care of business and take care of the Jets next week,” added defensive edge Trey Flowers. “We’re not looking too far ahead and whenever the time comes around, we also got to be well prepared.”
“With the win, just like a loss, you have got to have a short memory and we’ve got to start getting ready for who we’ve got next week,” said wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Brady shared the same thoughts. “Part of playing in the NFL is over the course of 16 weeks, you see how things shake out — not after September, October, November,” he said. “It’s really after the end of December. We’ve still got one hugely important game left and we need to finish strong.”
“Nothing is really won today,” added Flowers, who was once again one of the pivotal members on the Patriots defense on Sunday. “The ultimate goal is not won today, but as long as we keep doing our job, we’ll be where we want to be.”
For the moment, however, the Patriots can enjoy their division win and know that they have once again punched their ticket to the tournament. “You do not come past these opportunities too often so you have to take advantage of them,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said.
“It’s good to win, good to know that our season is going to extend a little bit here,” Belichick pointed out. “It’s a good way to celebrate Christmas.”