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Patriots 24, Bills 12: 10 quick thoughts as team clinches 10th straight AFC East title

Ryan Hannable
December 23, 2018 - 4:03 pm

FOXBORO — It certainly didn’t look like many Patriots wins of the past, but the reality is this is what they are right now -- not like past Patriots teams.

With a seemingly banged up Tom Brady, the Patriots relied heavily on the run finishing with 273 yards on the ground, the second-most in the Bill Belichick era, in their 24-12 win over the Bills Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

Relating to Brady, the quarterback seemed to avoid taking hits much more than we're used to seeing, and he also was removed from the game with just over six minutes left, which is very unusual when sometimes he remains in the game with the Patriots up by 30 points.

The win clinched the AFC East division for the 10th straight season, which extends their NFL record.

Here are 10 quick thoughts from the game.

1. This may be the Patriots offense we will see for the remainder of the season, as it relies much more on the running game. Sony Michel led the way with 116 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. There were also some creative runs with jet sweeps to Cordarrelle Patterson. Also, James White had 41 yards on eight carries, including a 27-yard touchdown run in the first half.

2. Brady just doesn’t look right and it goes beyond not having Josh Gordon in the offense. He missed several throws he’s capable of making and got up slowly a few times as well. The 41-year-old finished the game 13-for-24 with 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for a QB rating of 48.3. The 48.3 rating is the seventh-lowest of his career. To be fair, both interceptions did not appear to be his fault. Rex Burkhead and Brady weren’t on the same page on the first one and the second went right through Rob Gronkowski’s hands.

3. The Patriots defense went with a new look than in the past few weeks as it had a heavy focus on stopping the run. Danny Shelton returned after three straight healthy inactives and then Adrian Clayborn and Derek Rivers were healthy scratches. Defensive tackle Ufomba Kamalu, who was just signed off the practice squad Friday, was even active. It seemed to work as the Bills finished with just 61 yards on the ground.
4. Josh Allen wasn’t much worse than Brady as the rookie finished 18-for-40 with 186 yards and two interceptions. He was incredibly inconsistent and very inaccurate with his throws. It would appear he has a long way to go to becoming a solid NFL starter. His best weapon is his legs right now.

5. When it came to replacing Gordon in the offense, it wasn’t like many thought. It seemed like Phillip Dorsett would take on a bigger role in the passing game, but he played sparingly and didn't have a single target. It would appear the Patriots’ answer will just be running the ball more.

6. Defensively, Jason McCourty was the No. 4 cornerback with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones all ahead of him on the depth chart. Jackson continued his impressive string of games with an interception in the first half. The undrafted rookie has come on strong the last several weeks and appears to be a player who will figure heavily into the future plans at the position. McCourty did have an interception in the fourth quarter.

7. Gronkowski appeared to have some of his playing time taken away as he did not receive close to 100 percent of the snaps as has been the case the last several weeks. With Dwayne Allen back healthy, the offense doesn't need him as much when it comes to blocking in the run game. The tight end wasn't targeted three times, but didn't have a single catch.

8. While it wasn't as bad as last week in Pittsburgh, the team still committed several penalties -- and by star players like Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. The team still made some mental mistakes (penalties. drops) that good teams would have made them pay for. While it was nice to get the ball, there is still plenty to clean up.

9. Chris Hogan didn’t receive a single target in the game and he appeared very frustrated on the sidelines. The wide receiver didn’t sit with the rest of the wide receivers and offense on the bench and resorted to sitting on the other side of the sideline where the defense sits. A lot of times he was by himself with the defense on the field.

10. With the Eagles' last-second win over the Texans, the Patriots moved back into the No. 2 spot in the AFC. They can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Jets next week.

White’s 27-yard touchdown run was the longest run of his entire career.

Related: Patriots reportedly believe Josh Gordon's slipup occurred during bye week