In win over Buffalo, Patriots show how team can succeed in January

Mary Schwalm photoNew England Patriots defenders John Simon, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy pressure Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the final play of the game. Allen’s pass fell incomplete on 4th down as the Patriots clinched their 11th consecutive AFC East title.

FOXBOROUGH — This is how it’s supposed to have looked all along.

Power running. Controlling the clock. Third down conversions. Big plays in key spots and great defense throughout.

That’s how this New England Patriots football team was built to win, and for too long the team has struggled in too many of those areas.

But in arguably the biggest AFC East game the Patriots have played in the Brady-Belichick era, the team finally got back to basics and rediscovered the blueprint they’ll need to win going forward, beating the Buffalo Bills at their own game to win 24-17.

“When we had to have it, we came through and did it,” said center Ted Karras. “Gosh, I’m just so grateful to be a part of this team. That was a fun game. That was a heavyweight battle, and I’m glad to be coming out on top.”

The Patriots clinched their 11th consecutive AFC East title by winning all of the battles they needed to win. New England outgained Buffalo 414-268, picking up 23 third downs compared to Buffalo’s 14. The Patriots converted half of their 3rd down conversions (7 for 14) while holding the Bills to just 2 of 11. The team dominated the time of possession, 38:52 to 21:08, and it even got a touchdown from a tight end for only the second time this season.

Most importantly, the run game finally showed up. Pats rushers combined for 143 yards on 35 carries, with Sony Michel leading the way with 96 yards on 21 carries.

Michel is really the bellwether of this offense. When he’s good, the Patriots win. When he’s not, they have a lot more trouble. It’s not a coincidence that the Patriots are now 14-0 in games where he’s rushed for 80 or more yards, and 9-8 where he rushes for less.

It’s not always flashy, and it’s not the relentless, chain-moving passing offense of the early 2000s that fans became accustomed to over the years, but it’s a proven winner. After all, the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII playing exactly this style of offense, and they’ve shown they can win this way against good teams again.

And don’t be mistaken, this Buffalo team was really good.

“Buffalo is good man, they are really good,” Karras said. “We knew they were going to be really good all week and we did enough to win, our defense obviously came through as they always do and I’m glad we did our part enough to win the game.”

“They knew the importance of this game and how difficult it is to play against Buffalo, and they stepped up to the challenge,” said Bill Belichick. “So, give the players credit. There’s a lot of guys with a lot of mental toughness in that locker room and they showed it today.”

Last year’s Patriots team had its fair share of flaws, and the team went through some struggles late before righting the ship and rolling through the playoffs on the way to a Super Bowl title. This year’s team is different, for sure, but all of the ingredients are there for another championship run.

The Patriots know what they need to do, and now they’ve shown themselves and the world that they can do it.

Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.

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