The hats and T-shirts became the New England Patriots’ to wear Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
New England hung on against the Buffalo Bills, 24-17, to unpack the AFC East apparel for the 11th consecutive season and 17th in all under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
Here’s a touchdown of observations from what went into it.
Off two-catch game, Edelman clears way back into the game
Julian Edelman caught a season-low two passes for nine yards during the Patriots’ visit to Paul Brown Stadium last weekend. He played a limited 61 percent of the offensive downs.
Against Buffalo, the knee and shoulder injuries that left Edelman questionable for the 11th time this campaign were not reflected in the numbers.
New England’s 33-year-old wideout reeled in a third-and-3 pass on the game’s initial drive. Edelman winced, then reeled in another on a third-down dig route to begin the next quarter. He’d secure a total of five passes for 72 yards from Brady, who set out by completing each of his first 10 attempts. But Edelman had his knee wrapped on the sideline in between series, and went to blue medical tent in the second half after a pick-play collision. Edelman exited for the locker room soon after to be evaluated for a head injury. He’d be back. And for a 30-yarder from Brady on his first play that would be followed up by a spiking two-point conversion.
Tough slotting in against Buffalo’s Beasley
The New England entered the 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff without starting nickelback Jonathan Jones. And his absence would see coverage against Bills slot receiver Cole Beasley change hands.
Beasley had been targeted a team-high 13 times in the September meeting between Buffalo and New England. Jones covered him on five of those targets. Just two resulted in completions in a divisional matchup Beasley finished with 75 yards.
In as New England’s third corner this time would be Jason McCourty. But McCourty had played four defensive snaps over the past month due to a groin injury of his own. That groin injury resurfaced before intermission, and left the veteran corner questionable to do the same. Beasley wound up with seven catches for 108 yards on a dozen looks. Frequently landing in the soft spots of the zone, J.C. Jackson, Devin McCourty and even second-round pick Joejuan Williams all made the rounds.
LaCosse slips out of protection to become touchdown target No. 76
Patriots tight ends had accounted for one touchdown catch on the season.
Matt LaCosse followed up Ryan Izzo to get the second. The ex-Denver Bronco, New York Jet and New York Giant slipped out of his blocking assignment late in the first quarter. And there, from eight yards out, Brady found LaCosse in the end zone for the tight end’s second career TD. It’d be the quarterback’s 539th.
Brady tied Peyton Manning for second-most on the NFL all-time list behind Drew Brees in the process. He also extended his record by finding his 76th different scoring target.
The third-longest drive in New England history
New England put forth a 17-play drive midway through Saturday’s second quarter. It’d be the third-longest drive in terms of plays in the franchise archives.
The drive stretched eight minutes and 58 seconds and 91 yards before kicker Nick Folk stepped on for a field goal. But it brought a little of everything before then.
Linebacker Elandon Roberts reported in to block for running back Sony Michel on three occasions, including a fourth-and-1 conversion. Rookie wideout N’Keal Harry reversed and received the ball for 30 all-purpose yards as even his QB blocked for him. Altogether, the possession gave way to six different Patriots handling the football. Marshall Newhouse replaced Marcus Cannon at right tackle in the process, however. New England announced Cannon’s return as questionable due to an ankle injury. The longest-tenured offensive lineman on the roster would be downgraded to out by the game’s final minutes.
Burkhead overcomes early fumble to find the end zone
A screen to Rex Burkhead brought space on the Patriots’ opening series Saturday.
That space also brought Jordan Poyer, who jarred the football free from the Patriots running back 18 yards downfield. Fellow Bills safety Micah Hyde picked the fumble up. A pickup of 31 yards the other direction would follow.
But New England’s defense, along with its five-man rushes on third down, held Buffalo to a field goal. And while Burkhead’s fumble marked just the fifth one lost by the offense this season, it wouldn’t mark the end of his involvement. Burkhead remained in the backfield rotation to tally 97 yards from scrimmage, along with the go-ahead touchdown. His running mate, Michel, tallied another 101.
Patriots’ defense on the field for 8:47 by halftime, and outlasts
Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s first completion of the evening arrived with 32 seconds remaining in the first quarter. His offense resided on the field for 8:47 of game clock by the time intermission arrived.
But by then, on the heels of the Patriots’ turnover on downs, Allen had found tight end Dawson Knox going against safety Patrick Chung. It stood as a 33-yard strike to put the Bills on the doorstep. The dual-threat Wyoming product then rolled out right and found eligible tackle Dion Dawkins all alone out left.
Allen had 62 passing yards at halftime. He accrued 43 of those passing yards in a span of 32 seconds. The Bills managed to make up for lost time with explosiveness. A 53-yard shot from Allen to burner John Brown gave Buffalo a 17-13 lead in the third after a New England field goal. It checked in as Allen’s longest play of the season. And there’d be more plays made by air and by ground. But the Patriots got back 11 points in the fourth. The hats and T-shirts, too.