The New England Patriots got back to basics and beat the Buffalo Bills at their own game, re-embracing a power running style en route to a huge 24-17 win to clinch the AFC East championship. Here are five quick takes from tonight's game.
1. Roberts clears a path
Since losing fullback James Develin for the season, the Patriots have often struggled to overpower opponents with a power running game. Saturday night, however, linebacker Elandon Roberts gave New England the muscle it needed to run right over the Buffalo defense.
Roberts played 20 snaps on offense at fullback, giving New England the flexibility to play a variety of heavy personnel sets. With him leading the way, New England's rushers combined for 143 yards on 35 carries, including a 96-yard performance by Sony Michel.
Overall, the Patriots used their greatest variety of personnel groupings we've seen all season. The offense used 11 personnel on 27 snaps, 21 personnel on 23 snaps, 12 personnel on eight snaps, 20 on seven, 10 on two, 22 on one and goal line on one.
(For those unfamiliar, the personnel groupings refer to the number or running back and tight ends on the field for a given play, so 21 personnel would mean two running backs and one tight end.)
2. Edelman guts it out
The last thing the Patriots need is an injury to Julian Edelman, but early in the third quarter it looked like the star receiver had gone down with a possible concussion. On what initially appeared to be a touchdown catch by Ben Watson, Edelman smashed into a Bills defender and was laid out on the turf after the play. To add insult to injury, Edelman was called for offensive pass interference and shortly afterwards he left the game to be evaluated for a head injury.
Edelman did return a few series later and made an immediate impact, jumpstarting an eventual scoring drive with a 30-yard catch on his first play back. The Patriots wound up scoring to take the lead seven plays later, and Edelman gave his team a seven-point lead after making a 2-point conversion. He finished with five catches for 72 yards, bringing him to 97 catches and 1,091 yards receiving on the season.
3. Cannon, J. McCourty hurt
Edelman wasn't the only key player to leave the game with an injury. Cornerback Jason McCourty also left after reinjuring his groin, which had limited him in practice throughout the week and caused him to miss three of the last four games, and Marcus Cannon left with an ankle injury. Marshall Newhouse subbed in at right tackle in Cannon's absence.
4. Beasley goes off
Stephon Gilmore had another great game for the Patriots on Saturday, going head to head with top Buffalo receiver John Brown and effectively shutting him down. Brown only made one catch of four targets, the majority of which came with Gilmore in tight coverage, though he did make the most of his one real opportunity though, taking advantage of a zone miscommunication between Gilmore and Devin McCourty for a 53-yard touchdown catch.
While that was the extent of Brown's contributions, the Patriots had all kinds of trouble with Cole Beasley in the middle. With Jonathan Jones out and Jason McCourty's early exit, Beasley was Josh Allen's top target, making seven catches on 12 targets for 108 yards.
5. Folk hero
Kicking has been an issue for the Patriots ever since Stephen Gostkowski went down for the season, but Nick Folk may be the short-term solution after all. Folk made all three of his field goal attempts on Saturday, including a season-long 51-yarder, and overall he is now 13 for 16 since joining the team. Considering that all three of Folk's misses came in monsoon-like conditions against Dallas and Kansas City, he's been about as reliable as the Patriots could have hoped.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.