While the postseason will not start until January, today’s game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills certainly had a certain playoff feel to it with two of the best teams in football going at each other in a highly contested affair. As usual in situations like these, however, the Patriots were the team that eventually came away victoriously: New England won the hard-fought battle with a final score of 24-17.
Patriots (12-3) 24 : 17 Bills (10-5)
After losing the coin toss, New England began the game on offense and with two short runs followed by a third down conversion on a pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman. The team’s next play started out as a positive one as well, as Rex Burkhead gained significant yardage on a screen pass. However, the third-year Patriot eventually fumbled the football with the Bills’ Jordan Poyer recovering and returning it to the Patriots’ 31-yard line.
Despite starting in a bad spot, New England’s defense limited the damage of Burkhead’s fumble by forcing the Bills to settle for a field goal. Stephen Hauschka made the kick from 35 yards out to put his team up by three points. [Patriots 0 : 3 Bills]
New England’s second offensive series began like the first one, with the team trying to establish a presence on the ground. The approach worked well and allowed the team to quickly reach Buffalo territory and get into a nice rhythm — one that was also sustained when the Patriots did eventually take to the air: N’Keal Harry and Benjamin Watson converted third downs on pass receptions, while Matt LaCosse capped the 75-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown catch off of play-action. [Patriots 7 : 3 Bills]
While the Bills did cross midfield again on their next possession, the Patriots defense eventually came up with a stop as Josh Allen fired incomplete towards Cole Beasley on 3rd-and-8. However, a well-executed punt forced New England to start its next series on its own 1-yard line. Despite setting up shop in bad field position, Brady and company delivered an impressive drive that ended with another score.
Thanks to New England seeing contributions from various receivers — Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu all caught passes — and a fourth-and-one conversion from Sony Michel, the team was able to deliver a massive 17-play series that covered 81 yards and took almost nine minutes off the clock. While the drive ultimately stalled at the Bills’ 18-yard line, Nick Folk was able to put his team up by seven on a 36-yard field goal. [Patriots 10 : 3 Bills]
Buffalo, meanwhile, was unable to generate any momentum on its next drive and had to punt after just three plays — including a terrific pass breakup from J.C. Jackson on third-and-six. New England did convert another third down on its next possession, but ultimately also had to kick the football away inside the two-minute warning. Once more, however, the defense came through and forced a punt after just three plays — one of which an eight-yard sack by Dont’a Hightower.
But while the Patriots did get the football back with 1:08 left in the quarter and at midfield, they failed to add to their lead: on fourth-and-on, New England decided to hand the football off to N’Keal Harry, but the rookie failed to gain enough yards to keep the drive alive. This, in turn, gave the Bills the football in good field position — and they were able to capitalize by driving to a game-tying touchdown before the half. [Patriots 10 : 10 Bills]
Even though Buffalo started with a 28-yard pass completion to Cole Beasley, a 12-yard sack by Lawrence Guy actually turned the tide in New England’s favor on the opening drive of the second half — one that ended with a punt that gave the Patriots the ball at their own 23-yard line. The Patriots, on the other hand, were able to start the half with a score after driving 44 yards in seven plays: Nick Folk made a 51-yard field goal to put his team in front again. [Patriots 13 : 10 Bills]
The visitors, however, were able to reply with an impressive drive of their own — one that gave them their first lead since the early first quarter: the team marched 64 yards in just five plays, with the final 53 of which coming when John Brown was able to get behind the defense for a long touchdown reception. [Patriots 13 : 17 Bills]
This time, the Patriots failed to answer with a score of their own and instead had to go three-and-out while seeing Julian Edelman leave the game for the locker room and being evaluated for a potential head injury. While the offense went three-and-out, the defense was able to get off the field quickly to set up another strong offensive series by New England — one that saw the team drive for three more points despite Edelman still missing.
Big plays by Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and Edelman-replacement Jakobi Meyers allowed the Patriots to drive into the red zone before the series eventually stalled at the Buffalo 2-yard line. Instead of going for it on fourth down and while trailing by four points, Bill Belichick sent the field goal unit onto the field and Nick Folk’s third successful kick of the day brought New England within one point. [Patriots 16 : 17 Bills]
The team’s defense continued to generate some momentum on the next series, by sacking Allen again and forcing a three-and-out — and the offense followed in style. With Edelman back in the lineup and the ground attack continuing to work well, the Patriots quickly found themselves in Buffalo’s red area again. This time, however, they did not have to settle for three and instead scored their second touchdown of the day on a 1-yard run by Burkhead:
With Edelman catching the ensuing two-point try, the Patriots were suddenly up seven with only five minutes to go in the game. [Patriots 24 : 17 Bills]
Down a touchdown, Buffalo delivered arguably its best drive of the game. Starting at its own 25-yard line, the team marched quickly into New England’s red zone — converting a fourth-and-one along the way — but ultimately found itself in another do-or-die situation: with 1:12 left in the game, the Bills had to convert a fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line. The Patriots brought pressure, forced Allen to throw a quick pass into the end zone, but J.C. Jackson broke it up for the victory.