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Jason Wolf: Bills take control of AFC East with season-defining victory at New England – The Buffalo News

Buffalo Bills 33, New England Patriots 21

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) fits bumps fans in the stands after beating the New England Patriots 33-21 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough,MA on Sunday,

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Josh Allen bought his offensive linemen watches for Christmas.

“Some nice ones,” he said.

Allen was simply sublime from start to finish in throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover or getting sacked.

When the Buffalo Bills arrived in New England, they knew what time it was.

The Bills scored a touchdown on their opening possession, never trailed and never punted while deposing the Patriots 33-21 in the de facto AFC East championship game Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns, led the team with 64 rushing yards on 12 carries and wasn’t sacked, despite playing without two of his top receivers and behind an offensive line decimated by illness and injuries.

The gutsy victory avenged an embarrassing, nationally televised defeat earlier this month in Orchard Park and puts the Bills in position to repeat as AFC East champions by winning their final two home games of the regular season. 

Jay Skurski weighs in with his grades for the Buffalo Bills after 33-21 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium …

“Our whole message was the whole game, no matter what, don’t take your foot off the gas,” running back Devin Singletary said. “Just keep going, because we know what they’re capable of. … Just keep applying pressure.”

Buffalo (9-6, 4-1 AFC East), which reclaimed first place in the division based on a tiebreaker (division record), closes the season by hosting Atlanta and the New York Jets. New England (9-6, 3-2 AFC East) hosts Jacksonville next week and travels to Miami for the season finale.

The Patriots are the only team to repeat as AFC East champions since the Bills in 1990 and ’91.

A loss would have left the Bills likely fighting for a wild-card berth.

“We’re where we want to be right now,” Allen said after the season-defining performance. “We’ve got to continue to find ways to win football games and move the ball and take advantage of opportunities. Playoff-caliber mindset, that’s what we have.”

We found out again late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium exactly how much confidence Brian Daboll has in Josh Allen.

Isaiah McKenzie set career highs with 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, taking on an increased role with Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis sidelined by Covid-19.

And the Bills converted fourth downs on three of four attempts, the most attempts in a game in Sean McDermott’s five seasons as head coach.

“They had us for dead, baby,” McDermott told his team in the postgame locker room in a video posted by the Bills. “We ain’t dying yet. We ain’t dead yet.”

The Bills were widely considered Super Bowl favorites after reaching the AFC championship last season and defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on the road in early October.

But they alternated wins and losses for most of the next two months – including a painful 9-6 defeat Nov. 7 at Jacksonville. The pattern continued until Buffalo dropped two in a row earlier this month against New England and Tampa Bay. It marked the first time the Bills had lost consecutive games since early last season, and called into question the makeup of the team.

Don’t miss Katherine Fitzgerald’s quarter-by-quarter analysis of the Buffalo Bills’ 33-21 victory over the New England Patriots.

Six of the Bills’ nine victories have come against opponents playing backup quarterbacks, and they had been run over by opponents with powerful running games, like Tennessee and Indianapolis. On Sunday, the Patriots’ Damien Harris ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.

“The most important thing is that throughout this whole season, the ups and the downs, our team stuck together,” defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said. “We always had belief in one another. I don’t think anybody on our team was surprised with the outcome of today.”

The Patriots seemed to deliver a dagger when they visited Orchard Park for Monday Night Football on Dec. 6, when they rushed for 222 yards on 46 carries and attempted just three passes because of intense winds coming off Lake Erie. It was their seventh consecutive victory.

“I think we were all criticized in the first game,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “I think we all wanted to play better. We all expected to play better. And we knew we had to come out today and execute.”

The following week, Buffalo trailed by 21 points at halftime against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, but they rallied to force overtime before losing.

Allen led the Buffalo Bills to a 33-21 victory with a Tom Brady-like performance – only better, because Brady never could have run for 64 yards like Allen or converted the critical fourth-and-1 play with a naked bootleg, Mark Gaughan writes.

The Bills ended the skid, but proved little by dispatching the spiraling Carolina Panthers last week.

Beating the Patriots, who have lost two in a row, saved the season.

“We continue to learn lessons with … a young football team and young leadership group,” McDermott said. “It’s hard to follow up a season like last year with a similar season the next year. That’s part of the challenge, and so I’m just very proud of the way the guys have persevered and the leadership group has stepped up.”

The Bills looked like the title contender they were widely expected to be from the jump, holding the Patriots without a first down on their opening possession, which was punctuated by Ed Oliver sacking Mac Jones to force a punt.

Buffalo then scored a touchdown on its first drive, with McDermott choosing to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the 3-yard line, rather than settling for a short field goal in the red zone, as has become standard practice.

McKenzie’s standout performance helped seal the Bills’ 33-21 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. His 125 receiving yards and 11 catches were career highs.

Allen, who had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and survey the field, hit McKenzie for the score, giving Buffalo a 7-0 lead. The 13-play, 61-yard drive lasted nearly seven minutes.

“To have that trust in us, it means a lot,” Allen said about going for it on fourth down. “When you convert those and continue to convert those, what a killer it is for a defense. And that’s a really good team we just played. … Having that trust to go for it on those fourth-down situations, that’s big for us. That gives us some groove, gives us some confidence going forward, and so I can’t thank coach enough for putting us in that position and believing in us.”

Buffalo pieced together long drives all afternoon, controlling the ball and the clock, finishing with a more than 10-minute edge in time of possession (35:09 to 24:51).

None was more impressive than the Bills’ penultimate possession, after New England scored to cut the lead to 26-21 with about 7 1/2 minutes to play.

Buffalo took over at its own 25-yard line and marched 75 yards in 13 plays, draining more than five minutes off the clock before Allen flipped a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox to secure the victory.

The Bills moved back into first place in the AFC East based on a tiebreaker (division record) and have the inside track to repeat as division champions after a 33-21 win in New England.

“We know when our offense is clicking like that, it’s going to be extremely tough to beat us,” said safety Micah Hyde, who intercepted Jones twice, including on the Patriots’ final possession.

The offense’s success was particularly encouraging, given the state of the line.

Third-round rookie Spencer Brown started at left tackle despite newly minted Pro Bowler Dion Dawkins returning from his second bout with Covid-19, and undrafted third-year pro Ryan Bates started at right guard with Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford on the Covid-19 list.

This alignment didn’t last long.

Left guard Ike Boettger was carted off the field with a ruptured Achilles tendon about five minutes into the second quarter, forcing the line to reshuffle and Dawkins to enter the game at left tackle, despite not practicing all week.

The Bills’ maintained control of their emotions and the game.

“This is a hard league,” Dawkins said, “and when we can do things right, we cherish those moments. We look at it, we give ourselves a pat on the back and then we keep stepping. … We’ll smile for about 24 hours, and then we’ll get right back to it, because there’s two more left and this one doesn’t mean anything if the other two don’t fall into place.”

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