By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are another step closer to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
They struggled early but dominated in the second half of Sunday’s 37-16 win over the Bills, improving to 12-3 on the season. It’s their eight consecutive 12-win season, becoming the first NFL team to accomplish such a feat.
“I got here eight years ago, so maybe that’s the reason,” tight end Rob Gronkowski joked after the win.
As always with the Patriots, there’s going to be some controversy from this one, but here are the “Ups and Downs” from their Christmas Eve victory over Buffalo:
Dion Lewis Carries The Sleigh
This Christmas belongs to Dion Lewis, who finished Sunday’s win with 153 total yards. That includes a career-high 129 rushing yards, which he picked up on 24 carries. He also had five receptions for 24 yards, and found the end zone on both the ground and through the air against the Bills.
Lewis has been on fire lately, peaking at the best time of the year.
Oh Holy Gronk!
Rob Gronkowski has some incredible catches throughout his career, but Sunday’s second quarter touchdown may be his finest:
Gronk reached back to snag Tom Brady’s pass with his right hand, got both feet in bounds and maintained his possession as he crossed the goal line — all despite some tight coverage from Micah Hyde. The end result was a 17-yard score to tie things up 10-10.
It was the 75th time Brady and Gronkowski have connected on a touchdown, putting them fifth all-time on the quarterback-receiver touchdown list.
Gronkowski now has 12 touchdowns in 13 games against the Bills. He jokingly apologized to his hometown team after Sunday’s win, but said they shouldn’t have passed over him twice in the 2010 NFL draft.
Big Day For The Flowers Brothers
Marquis Flowers led the Patriots with 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks while Trey Flowers had eight totals tackles, including three for a loss, and a quarterback hit.
They aren’t really brothers, but they are becoming a dangerous duo on a New England defense that is missing several key players.
Red Zone Defense
Buffalo scored just one touchdown against the Patriots this season, and that came on the defensive side of the ball. On Sunday, the Bills went 0-for-4 inside the red zone thanks to some tough play by the New England D (and some questionable calls by their head coach).
Overall this season, the Bills managed just nine points in six red zone trips against the Patriots.
More Conspiracy Theories
So about that controversy. We’re all wondering what a catch is in the NFL, and Sunday won’t help.
Kelvin Benjamin came down with what looked like a touchdown near the end of the first half, and it was ruled a score on the field. But after a lengthy review the call on the field was overturned, with the explanation that Benjamin didn’t have possession when he got both feet in bounds. Instead of a 17-13 lead for Buffalo at halftime, the game was tied 13-13.
It was a questionable overturn, one that will have NFL fans fuming again following last weekend’s Jessie James non-catch in New England’s win in Pittsburgh. But the NFL said after the game that it was “clear and obvious” that Benjamin did not control the ball when he had both feet in bounds.
“When the receiver got confirmed control of the football, he was not able to get both feet down in bounds. So, his back foot was already off the ground and it stepped out of bounds. His firm control did not occur until after he had one foot off the ground,” referee Craig Wrolstad told the pool reporter after Sunday’s game.
Reversing that call will continue to fuel all those conspiracy theories that the NFL wants the Patriots to win everything, which is just silly.
That being said, these replays are absolutely getting out of hand. Even if the zebras got the call right on Sunday, it shouldn’t take a five minute review of every single angle of every single frame to reach your conclusion.
The Patriots had the ball back after the defense made a big stop on Tyrod Taylor on a fourth-and-2 try at the New England six-yard line, but Brady gave it right back.
He threw a terrible pick-six in the second quarter that gave Buffalo a 10-3 lead at the time. Brady has now thrown six interceptions in the last five games.
Slow Start For Everyone
The Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession, and then the Bills marched down the field on a 16-play drive that lasted over eight minutes. They converted three of their four third-down attempts, en route to a field goal. The Pats were lucky that Buffalo only got three points off of that opening drive.