Tom Brady passed for 271 yards and a touchdown, sneaked for a third-down conversion to set up another score and threw a downfield block on another scoring drive to help the New England Patriots clinch their 11th AFC East title in a row by beating Buffalo 24-17 on Saturday.
With Bills visiting for a rare late-season matchup while the division was still at stake, Sony Michel ran for 96 yards and Rex Burkhead rebounded for an opening-drive fumble to catch four passes for 77 yards and run for 20 more. Both teams had already clinched playoff berths; the Patriots (12-3) remain in contention for a first-round bye or even the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Josh Allen completed 13 of 26 passes for 208 yards and ran for 43 more, including a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Patriots 30 with about three minutes left. After driving to the New England 8, Allen over threw Dawson Knox in the end zone and then was sacked by Adam Butler. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 15 with just over one minute left, he was forced out of the pocket and had to throw the ball up for grabs in the end zone, where it was knocked down by J.C. Jackson.
Cole Beasley caught seven passes for 108 yards, and John Brown had a 53-yard touchdown reception for the Bills (10-5), who have qualified for the playoffs for the second time since 1999. They have not won a playoff game since 1995, following their last division title, when Marv Levy’s team beat Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round.
Brady, who is 42 and nursing a right elbow injury, improved to 32-3 against the Bills, and Buffalo hasn’t beaten the Patriots in six games under coach Sean McDermott. This one was clinched when Burkhead ran it in from 1 yard with 5:11 left; Brady found Julian Edelman for the 2-point conversion to make it a seven-point game.
The Bills made only one big play in the first 29 minutes, when safety Jordan Poyer punched the ball out of Burkhead’s hands, and Micah Hyde returned it 31 yards to the New England 31. That led to a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Brady responded with a 75-yard drive, going 5-for-5 and hitting Matt LaCosse for an 8-yard score that made it 7-3. It was the three-time NFL MVP’s 539th TD pass, tying Peyton Manning for second behind Drew Brees, to Brady’s 76th different receiver, extending what was already a record.
After a Buffalo three-and-out, New England started on its 1 and went 17 plays before Nick Folk made a field goal from 36 yards. But a failed attempt on fourth-and-inches with 36 seconds left gave the Bills one more chance before the break.
Allen connected on two passes before dropping one in on Dawson Knox for 33 yards; although it was originally ruled a touchdown, replays showed he was brought down at the 1. Two plays later, 320-pound tackle Dion Dawkins was wide open for the touchdown that sent it into the half tied 10-10.
After the Patriots opened the second with Folk’s 51-yard field goal — the team’s first attempt from more than 50 yards all season — Allen connected with Brown from 53 yards to make it 17-13. It was Allen’s longest pass of the season.
But Brady led New England to a field goal and touchdown its last two full possessions, then the defense protected the lead by stopping the Bills.
Allen has thrown for a touchdown in 21 straight games, breaking Doug Flutie’s franchise record from 1998-99.