Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Patriots 37, Bills 16: 10 quick observations from win on Christmas Eve

Ryan Hannable
December 24, 2017 - 4:05 pm

FOXBORO — It certainly wasn’t perfect, but with all the injuries the Patriots are dealing with they will take it.

New England trailed until the end of the third quarter, but once it took the lead there was no turning back, as the Patriots ran away from the Bills en route to a 37-16 win at Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve. The Patriots scored the final 24 points of the game.

The biggest storyline heading into the game proved to be a non-story as the Bills never targeted Rob Gronkowski following his late hit on Tre'Davious White the last time they met.

Here are 10 quick observations from the game.

1. Most importantly for the Patriots is they escaped the game without injury as the playoffs are now just two games away. Kyle Van Noy, James White and Chris Hogan missed the contest and it appears the team is being cautious with them to make sure they are as healthy as can be for the postseason. This may be the biggest storyline for the team going into the playoffs, just making sure it is as healthy as possible.

2. It certainly wasn't a vintage Tom Brady performance, but he once again led the Patriots to a big win late in the season. The 40-year-old finished 21-for-28 with 224 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His touchdown pass to Dion Lewis early in the fourth quarter on a screen pass was his 30th of the year, marking the seventh time in his career he's thrown 30 touchdown passes in a season. He also threw one to Rob Gronkowski earlier in the game.

3. Gronkowski and Lewis led the Patriots offense. Gronkowski finished with five catches for 67 yards and the touchdown, while also picking up several big defensive pass interference penalties. Lewis, who saw his most action of the season with injuries to White and Rex Burkhead, had a career-high 129 yards on the ground, and also added 24 yards receiving. He had two total touchdowns in the win.

4. The game completely changed when Bills coach Sean McDermott elected to kick a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 trailing by seven points early in the fourth quarter after going for it on fourth down earlier in the game. Stephen Hauschka missed badly and then Lewis went on to score a touchdown to put the Patriots up 14 points and the game out of reach. Another issue for Buffalo was its red-zone offense, as it went 0-for-4 in the red zone.

5. There was also a huge sequence to end the first half as the Bills appeared to have scored a touchdown twice in the closing seconds. Charles Clay dropped a would-be touchdown in the end zone and then on the next play it appeared Kelvin Benjamin made a terrific catch in the corner of the end zone, but it was overturned after a long review. The NFL said when Benjamin gained control his left foot was off the ground. He only had one foot down in bounds with control. Instead of a 17-13 lead at the half for the Bills, the game was tied at 13. 

6. Once again third-down defense was a major problem for the Patriots defense. Buffalo went 8-for-17 in the game and this kept the Bills in the game much longer than they should have been.

7. Defensively, the unit was able to put a good amount of pressure on Tyrod Taylor. Malcom Brown, Deatrich Wise and Marquis Flowers were standouts up front. At corner, both Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore were suspect at times and this is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

8. If the Bills miss the playoffs, Taylor is a major reason why. Like we saw the first time the two teams met, he just isn't very good. There were numerous poor passes and poor decisions that led to sacks for tons of yardage lost.

9. To that point, the Patriots should thank Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. There were multiple occasions where the Bills had short-yardage situations and put the ball in Taylor’s hands as opposed to handing it off to LeSean McCoy.

10. With the win, the Patriots now just need a win next Sunday against the Jets to clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed and homefield advantage in the playoffs. They also can clinch if the Jaguars and Steelers lose this week.

Brady has now thrown interceptions in five straight games. It is the second time he’s done it in his career and first time since 2002.

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