Meaningful games against the Bills in December?
In a Patriots season full of oddities, New England hosted Buffalo in Week 16 of the regular season with the AFC East title on the line.
Indicative of just how different the times are, the Bills even held a lead in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady and Co. ensured we aren’t living in the full-on bizarro world just yet, engineering a 24-17 comeback win to sign, seal and deliver the division crown to Foxboro for the 11th straight season and 17th time in the last 19.
"I think it's pretty cool," Brady said. "It's pretty cool. It's hard to do, and it's a lot of effort, a lot of hard work."
Rex Burkhead, who lost a fumble on New England’s fourth play from scrimmage in the first quarter that turned into a Buffalo field goal, redeemed himself with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 5:06 left in regulation to put the Patriots on top for good, 22-17 (Julian Edelman, who had left the game with a head injury earlier, caught a pass from Brady for the two-point conversion to make it a seven-point game).
Buffalo had one last chance to tie the game, driving 60 yards in 14 plays to the New England 8-yard line. Josh Allen lost a yard on a keeper on first and goal before throwing an incompletion, and was sacked for a 6-yard loss by Dont'a Hightower and Adam Butler on third down to move the Bills back to the 15.
Allen's last-ditch pass intended for Cole Beasley fell incomplete, swatted away by J.C. Jackson, allowing the Patriots to take two kneeldowns and improve to 12-3 on the season.
"When we get down on the 8-yard line, first-and-goal with how many ever minutes were left, we’ve got to find a way to punch it in there," Allen said. "And again, that goes on my shoulders and how we operate as an offense relies on the quarterback and I didn’t do a good enough job there."
Since the turn of the century, Buffalo has won just two games in Foxboro: 2014, in Week 17, when the Patriots rested their starters with the top spot in the AFC playoff picture all sewn up, and again in 2016, when Jacoby Brissett -- with a broken thumb -- started for the suspended Tom Brady and injured Jimmy Garoppolo.
Following Stephen Hauschka’s 35-yard field goal on the first possession for the Bills, the Patriots responded with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped off by a Matt LaCosse 8-yard touchdown reception -- his first in a New England uniform.
The Patriots went up 10-3 on a Nick Folk 36-yard field goal in the third quarter and looked primed to take -- at least -- that lead into the locker room. But Buffalo snuffed out a run on fourth and 1 from their own 41-yard line, and following a miraculous throw by Josh Allen to Dawson Knox down to the 1, evened the game up on a throw from Allen to lineman Dion Dawkins.
New England went ahead, 13-10, on a Nick Folk 51-yard field goal in the third quarter, the first try and make from beyond 50 yards by any of the four kickers the Patriots have trotted out in 2019.
A rare miscommunication on defense, however, allowed the Bills to take their first lead of the game. Stephon Gilmore allowed John Brown to continue running deeper into the secondary and behind Devin McCourty, where Allen found him in stride for a 53-yard touchdown pass.
The Patriots went three-and-out after Brown's TD, and were only able to muster a field goal on a 77-yard drive their next time out to trim their deficit to 17-16.
Buffalo responded with a three-and-out of its own, accentuated by a John Simon sack on the second play of the drive, which set the stage for the 36th fourth quarter comeback of Tom Brady's career in the regular season.
Brady finished the game 26 of 33 passing for 271 yards and the touchdown pass to LaCosse, finishing the game with a 111.0 quarterback rating -- his highest since Week 5 against Washington and his third-highest of the 2019 season. His elbow must be feeling at least somewhat better.
Sony Michel carried the ball 21 times for 96 yards, a season high. Burkhead caught four passes for 77 yards to lead the team in receiving, while Edelman caught five passes for 72 yards, bringing his season total to 97. He'll need three in next week's regular season finale against the Dolphins to reach 100 receptions for the second time in his career (2013 when he had 105).
Should the Patriots beat the Dolphins at home next Sunday, they will have gone the full decade without playing a game on wild-card weekend.
New England, of course, has made the postseason every year since 2009 and has had a first-round bye every year since 2010. The Patriots will clinch a bye with a win over Miami or a Kansas City loss.
When the Dolphins head to Gillette, it'll be the first 1 p.m. home game for New England since Week 3 against the Jets.