Hannable: Patriots’ win over Bills almost as impressive as win vs. Steelers

Ryan Hannable
December 24, 2017 - 6:33 pm

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — No Chris Hogan, James White, Rex Burkhead and Kyle Van Noy? 

No problem for the Patriots, as they came away with a 37-16 win over the Bills on Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium to move one win away from the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

It took until the final 15 minutes for the Patriots to really turn it on and take control of the game, but when it was all said and done, it was one of the Patriots’ most impressive wins of the season.

Just a week ago in Pittsburgh, the Patriots had their most dramatic win of the season over the Steelers in the final seconds to take control of the AFC, but it wouldn’t have meant anything if the Patriots didn’t take care of business at home against the Bills.

“It’s the end of the season. It's after Thanksgiving, where the games really count. That was a huge win,” Rob Gronkowski said. “I mean, you think the Steelers win was huge? That was the same magnitude of a victory. We've got to have another good week now. We’ve got to be focused. We’ve got to be in the zone, and that's what it's going to take to come out, to have another good week and get another win.”

Even without a number of its offensive stars, the offense put up the second-most points it has scored all season. Furthermore, Tom Brady (21-for-28, 224 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) didn’t play that well by his standards. To make up for it, the team ran for 193 yards on the ground, which was its second-highest total of the season, and that was without White and Burkhead active.

Dion Lewis was the star, as he ran for a career-high 129 yards and a touchdown. He also added five catches for 24 yards and a touchdown to become the first Patriots player to have 100 or more yards rushing, a rushing touchdown, and a receiving touchdown in the same game since Corey Dillon on December 20, 2004 at Miami.

In addition, after being inactive for six straight games, Mike Gillislee ran for 28 yards and a touchdown against his former team. This was a prime example of his professionalism and not sulking with his lack of playing time.

Besides the running game, the offense showed how deep it is with so many players contributing. In all, nine players caught passes from Brady. Although the 40-year-old spread the ball around, Gronkowski was the leader and the guy Brady went to when he needed a play most.

Gronkowski finished with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, but also drew a few big pass interference flags. The tight end’s biggest play came in the second quarter when he made a tremendous one-handed touchdown catch to tie the game at 10. Brady placed the ball only where Gronkowski could get it. 

The play also gave New England plenty of momentum, as it appeared to be dragging to that point in the game.

“It was a great catch,” Brady said. “He made just a spectacular – I was trying to give him a chance – it was man coverage. I was trying to give him a back shoulder and it was probably a foot further back than I wanted to. He’s just an incredible player. He made the catch and got his feet in; it was a huge play in the game.”

This was a huge game for the Bills as they entered Week 16 battling with the Ravens and Titans for the two wild card spots. This wasn’t like some of the Bills teams of the past where they were going through the motions at the end of the season. This game mattered to them and they played with a lot of emotion, but to the Patriots’ credit, they made more plays than the Bills did.

Buffalo actually didn't trail until there was 1:01 left in the third quarter, but New England scored the final 24 points of the game and outscored the Bills 24-3 in the second half.

"I thought our team really responded well this week," Bill Belichick said. "It was obviously a big win over Pittsburgh and I thought the players came in Wednesday really ready to go to work and attack this game with a good mindset. We obviously didn’t get some things done in the first half the way we wanted to. Buffalo did a real good job. They moved the ball on us and got the turnover for a touchdown, but fortunately we were able to make some plays in the second half and had a couple of big negative plays on defense and then some conversions in the red area that we didn’t have in the first half offensively. That gave us enough points to win.

"I’m proud of the way the players responded at halftime and overall in approaching the game. It’s good to have 12 wins. Hopefully, we can get another one next week."

With all the injuries the Patriots were dealing with and what was at stake, this was a team-defining win that should give them a lot of confidence for the postseason when they get many of the injured players back.

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