Perry Como said it best. “For the Holidays, you can’t be Home Sweet Home.” Just ask the New England Patriots.
On Christmas Eve in Foxboro, Tom Brady passed for a pair of touchdowns as the Patriots stayed on track to claim home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The hometown team came away with a 37-16 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Running back Dion Lewis caught a touchdown pass and rushed for a 4-yard score. He carried 24 times for career-high 129 yards. It was just his second-career 100-yard game. Mike Gillislee, active for the first time in six games, also added a 1-yard rushing touchdown.
New England now sits atop the AFC at 12-3. They can lock up a first-round bye with either a Pittsburgh or Jacksonville loss. If both should happen to lose, lose, the Patriots will secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Jaguars take on old friend Jimmy Garropolo and the San Francisco 49ers. The Steelers play at Houston on Monday.
Despite the loss, the Bills (8-7) remain in contention to break their 17-year playoff drought. It is the longest active streak among the four major professional sports. It is also the longest postseason absence since NFL merger in 1970.
Sing a Song of Pick-Six
The game was tied at 3 on Buffalo’s second possession when Taylor was sacked on a fourth-and-2 run by Marquis Flowers.
On the New England drive, Brady’s third-down pass intended for Kenny Britt was intercepted by Jordan Poyer and returned 19 yards for a touchdown.
The pick-six thrown by Brady was his first since he was intercepted by Robert Alford in last season’s Super Bowl win. Brady’s last regular season pick-six came in Week 13 of 2015 against Philadelphia (Malcolm Jenkins).
It was Brady’s eighth interception of the season. He threw two picks in the first 10 weeks but now has six in his last five games.
Another ‘Lucky’ Call??
Trailing 13-10, Buffalo was in a position to take the lead, after an apparent 4-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor to Kelvin Benjamin in the corner of the end zone. However, the call was overturned after an official review.
NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron said in a Twitter post that Benjamin was juggling the ball and was only able to get one of his feet down before completing the catch.
“When Kelvin Benjamin gains control, his left foot is off the ground. The receiver only has one foot down in bounds with control. Therefore, it is an incomplete pass,” Riveron wrote.
The Bills were forced to settle for a 23-yard Hauschka field goal as the half expired. The teams would go into the half tied at 13.
Following the overturned call, the Bills managed just three points in the final 30 minutes. The Patriots scored 24. As the saying goes, there’s the ball game, right there…more so than any individual call.
Jingle Bell Gronk
Brady’s interception only momentarily slowed down New England’s offense. Brady capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 17-yard pass that Rob Gronkowski pulled in with one hand to tie the game at 10.
Brady’s touchdown 17-yard TD pass to Gronkowski marked the 75th time they have connected for a score. It is the fifth-most all-time between a quarterback and a receiver.
The Patriots get set to ring in 2018 as they host New York Jets in their finale. The game takes place on Sunday, December 31 at 1:00pm at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC