This was a great, GREAT win for the New England Patriots. The wolves were at the door and I don’t just mean the Buffalo Bills, I mean time, pundits, critics and the like were sharpening their knives to carve up the Patriots once and for all. “Ha! We’ll see what they can do without a bye, without home field, having to play three playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. The guard is the changing and even Brady & Belichick can’t stop it from happening.”
But they did. In one of the hardest fought divisional game the Patriots have played this century, the Patriots were the Patriots. Situational football was once again the key and the team that owns 53-graduate degrees in Belichick’s Master’s program in situational football prevailed.
Even when it looked like N’Keal Harry’s 4th & 1 flop and the subsequent bomb to Dawson Knox was going to derail what had been a fairly dominant first half (in the style that beat Philadelphia and Dallas) the Pats persevered. When a John Brown bomb took the lead away and concussion protocol took Julian Edelman away, the Patriots overcame a near disastrous 3rd quarter by executing a near perfect 4th quarter.
Ball control and time of possession are typically strategies you employ against an offense like KC or Baltimore, but against a young team in their first big time, spotlight kind of game, it made it very difficult for the Bills to find their rhythm. Down the stretch the Bills vaunted defense was gassed as the Patriots held possession for 39 minutes to the Bills’ paltry 21.
How good was Rex Burkhead? This fella could be the key to the Patriots offense clicking. I won’t repeat what I called him after his first quarter fumble, but in big games Burkhead is key because he’s a mix of what Michel and White do well. He is 90% of the pass catcher that White is and 75% of the running back that Michel is, he’s a needed medium between the two because teams know with White in the game he’s a pass catcher and with Michel in the game to expect a run, teams can’t presume anything with Burkhead in the game.
Speaking of not knowing what to expect, this recent slump by the Patriots offense has forced Josh McDaniels to create a whole new bag of tricks. There were some formations on Saturday that have never seen the light of day. One play Brady lined up in shotgun with a running back to his right and N’Keal Harry lined up BEHIND him. I’ve never seen a receiver line up behind a quarterback in shotgun. The play gave Brady two screen/swing pass options and he eventually swung it out to Harry in the flat to pick up a key 3rd down. (Also, what can you say about the handoff/toss play from Sanu to White on 2nd and goal in the 4th quarter except that it was……….elaborate.)
Who had the better post game performance?
Elandon Roberts for his quote about playing fullback and linebacker: “I run through a motha-----‘s face. Offense, defense, special teams. Doesn’t matter.”
Lawrence Guy for putting Elves (I’m guessing from shelves’ fame) all over Coach Belichick’s post game podium. Which Belichick acknowledged during his presser in what can only be called the greatest gift we’ll receive this holiday season.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Coach Belichick as elated after a regular season win as he was on Saturday night. He was smiling ear to ear after JC Jackson broke up Josh Allen’s final throw on 4th and goal. Not only that, the Coach was wearing his divisional championship hat at the post-game press conference. A division championship hat. This would be his 17th such hat in the last 19 years. Somewhere he has a box, bigger than most fake Christmas trees full of championship hats and t-shirts but this one he actually wore in front of the cameras an act that is usually reserved by Super Bowls and maybe stray AFC Championship. The Coach certainly seems to appreciate this win.
How important was this win? If the Patriots had lost to Buffalo, they wouldn’t get a first round bye for the first time since 2009. Think about this. Many teams go a decade without having a first round bye but none of them make the playoffs every year in between. The Patriots have now had 10 straight post season appearances without having to play in the Wild Card round. That to me is more impressive than 11 straight division championships, this means that not only have you won the division every year, but you’re always a top two team in the conference as well.
If this team hadn’t had a first round bye, they’d have been the 3 seed and would have hosted the Steelers or Titans in Foxboro in January. I’d welcome Duck Hodges to Foxboro, but the Titans and Mike Vrabel would have made me slightly nervous.
Even if they’d survived the Wild Card round, they would have had to travel to KC for the Divisional round and try to pry a win out of Arrowhead for the second straight year. Let’s say they somehow did that, then 7 (or 8) days later they would have to likely go to Baltimore and steal a win there as well. And if they did, they’d only then be in Miami for Super Bowl LIV to take on the Saints, 49ers, Seahawks, Packers or Vikings to hoist another Lombardi.
Instead, all the Patriots have to do is take care of business against the Dolphins next week and they get a week off and then welcome in the poor souls who survived an extra weekend of playoff football. Likely KC or Houston, and a revenge game against either team in Foxboro sounds much better than traveling week after week. Who knows, it could even be these same Buffalo Bills on another wonderful Saturday night.
You know, the song is right, there really is “No Place Like Home for the Holidays.”