By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — The Patriots didn’t earn too many style points on Sunday, but that hardly matters. All that does matter is the final scoreboard.
And by the end of Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots took care of business with a 24-12 victory over the Buffalo Bills. They did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 273 yards.
With the win, the Patriots improved to 10-5. Plus, with an Eagles last-second victory over the Texans, the Patriots slid back up into the No. 2 overall seed in the AFC. That means with one more victory next week at home against the Jets, the Patriots will earn themselves a first-round playoff bye.
All in all, it was a positive day in Foxboro. Here’s a look at the Four Ups and Four Downs from the win.
This game got off to a lackluster offensive start for both teams, but Sony Michel provided a spark on the Patriots’ second offensive drive.
He ripped through a would-be shoestring tackle by Levi Wallace to break off a 19-yard run, two snaps after starting the drive with a five-yard run. Michel was given an inside handoff on the next snap and ran through a massive hole for a gain of 12. With a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line, Michel rushed for three, and Josh McDaniels went right back to the rookie to punch it in from the 4-yard line to open the scoring.
Michel ran for 43 yards and a touchdown on five carries on the drive, scoring his sixth touchdown of the season to put the Patriots ahead 7-0.
Michel finished the day with 116 yards and the score on 18 carries.
With Josh Gordon out of the mix, Cordarrelle Patterson needed to step up. He did … just not in the receiving game.
Patterson ran jet sweep after jet sweep after jet sweep, and he took the Bills’ lunch money every time he did it in the first half. By halftime, Patterson had racked up 66 rushing yards on four attempts. Generally, a 16.5-yard average is considered to be pretty strong for a ball carrier.
His day did end early due to a knee injury, but his impact in that first half was immense.
J.C. Jackson/Jason McCourty
Watching Josh Allen throw the football in the first half, it was clearly only a matter of time before he threw a pick. J.C. Jackson was the one to do the honors there, reading the quarterback and breaking off from his defensive responsibility to pick off a pass intended for Deonte Thompson.
Later, with under three minutes to go in the third quarter, Jason Croon hauled in a long catch and was fighting for more yardage inside the Patriots’ 10. But as he pushed forward, Jason McCourty swooped in and ripped the ball free. Malcom Brown, who hustled all the way down the field on the 24-yard catch-and-run, fell on the loose ball, thus taking points off the board for the Bills.
McCourty later came up with an impressive pick while leaping near the sideline to prevent the Bills from mounting a scoring drive during garbage time.
The two players — on a rookie, one a 10-year vet — played integral roles in winning their first-ever division titles.
The Patriots’ passing offense was pretty much dead in the water for the first 25 minutes of the game. Leave it to Julian Edelman to break that trend.
The receiver ran a slant from the right slot when the Patriots opted to go for it on a fourth-and-4 at the Buffalo 32-yard line. Edelman made the catch, and as he was brought down by Rafael Bush and Jordan Poyer, he managed to avoid hitting the turf. Edelman simply rolled off the two defenders, showed off how fast he can go from zero to 60, and made a swan dive into the end zone to put the Patriots ahead 21-6.
“Oh yeah, that was huge by Julian,” Rob Gronkowski said. “Julian’s a guy that comes through all the time. He works hard, always hustling, always busting his tail. So it was an awesome play by him to help boost us to get the win.”
Later in the fourth quarter, Edelman broke off a 25-yard punt return to immediately put the Patriots in position to tack on some more points.
Matthew Slater downed two punts inside the 10-yard line, making it look easy both times. Then for good measure, he partially blocked a punt in the fourth quarter, leading to just a 10-yard punt by Buffalo. … The offensive line and James Develin opened up massive holes in the running game all day long. … Keion Crossen made a shoestring tackle on the opening kick of the game, preventing a potential big play. … James White put on the afterburners to break a 27-yard touchdown run in the first half.
The quarterback just looked off on this day. He didn’t make many memorable throws, and if you were visiting from another country without ever having seen football before, you certainly wouldn’t believe it if someone told you that you were watching the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
He finished the day 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) for 126 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. At least one pick wasn’t really his fault (more on that shortly), but the quarterback clearly wasn’t his best in this one.
The very last thing you’d ever want to do against a team that starts a game with three series of going three-and-out is give that team a free possession on your own side of the field. That’s precisely what Rex Burkhead did, coughing up the football after making a catch and trying to fight for extra yardage. Linebacker Corey Thompson came over the top and knocked the ball free from Burkhead at the New England 48-yard line. Buffalo recovered and took over at the Patriots’ 40-yard line.
It didn’t lead to any points, because Steven Hauschka missed his 43-yard field goal attempt. But that’s the type of turnover that really can’t happen.
Later, Burkhead broke right on a route when Brady thought he’d break left, leading to Brady throwing an ugly interception. It’s unclear who was at fault on the play, but Burkhead was nevertheless involved in both of the Patriots’ two first-half turnovers.
The tight end was targeted just once in the first half, but the first pass of the second half was thrown in his direction. He just forgot to catch it.
Brady fired a quick pass to Gronkowski when Buffalo sent a blitz, yet as Gronkowski turned, he let the pass slip right through his hands and into the arms of Micah Hyde for a Buffalo interception. The Bills turned it into a field goal, giving them their first points of the game.
Gronkowski played a role in the running game, but he didn’t record a catch on the day.
Cordarrelle Patterson made a very bad decision on the opening kick of the second half, taking it from three yards deep in the end zone and getting stuffed at the New England 18-yard line. He had a chance to atone for it on the next kickoff, which came down at the goal line, but Patterson only made it to the 12-yard line.
Patterson exited the game with a knee injury, and Michel went in as the kick returner for the next kickoff, and he mishandled the ball at the goal line. He eventually scooped it up, clearly unsure if taking a touchback was an option, and he was smothered at the 12-yard line.