The Patriots took home an impressive 41-25 victory in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, getting back at the only team to beat New England this season. Here are three things we couldn’t help but notice:
1. It’s simple division
As Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s 51-yard attempt to close out the first half warbled in the wind before getting a lucky bounce off an upright, CBS cameras caught a glimpse of Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan looking shell-shocked as New England built a 24-10 lead, a six-point swing that happened in a matter of seconds.
After Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter missed a 49-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining, it gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and company plenty of time to pull off the inevitable. Instead of a 21-13 deficit, the Bills found themselves down a pair of touchdowns, just like that, watching their possibility — however distant — of considering themselves AFC East contenders vanish in the western New York home of longtime football frustration.
At 7-1, the Patriots now have a three-game lead on Buffalo, the same team that gave Bill Belichick’s team its lone loss of the season only four weeks ago. For all intents and purposes, the race for the division crown is all but over, particularly with New England heading into its bye week on pace for a 14-2 mark to end the regular season. The Bills, admittedly missing some offensive weapons on Sunday, including LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, might round out to be a Wild Card contender over the season’s final two months. But any designs on the AFC East are a foolhardy venture. Heck, the Patriots could have their division champion T-shirts in the Pro Shop by Thanksgiving.
2. A sort of homecoming
So, which Patriots player had the better return to Buffalo? Was it former Bills wide receiver Chris Hogan, who returned to New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, with a day that saw him catch four balls for 91 yards and a touchdown? Or was it local native Rob Gronkowski, the New England tight end who broke a Patriots franchise record with his 69th receiving touchdown?
It was yet another huge afternoon for Gronk, who had five catches for 109 yards including a 53-yard touchdown from Brady. Of course, Hogan also had a 53-yard touchdown catch from Brady as well. Gronkowski is back to becoming a regular to this kind of day, especially following his slow start to the regular season. This was Hogan’s second strong game with Brady at the helm, following the game in Cleveland earlier this month when the quarterback made his return to action. Hogan’s presence as a deep threat adds another layer to the dynamic Patriots offense.
3. Go ahead, start the MVP talk
Yeah, after two weeks it sounded a little ludicrous to consider Brady among the NFL’s candidates for Most Valuable Player, yet here we halfway through the season with him performing as well as the top quarterbacks in the league, this despite his four-game Deflategate suspension.
Brady only — only — threw for another 315 yards on Sunday, with four more touchdowns and no interceptions. That gives Brady 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions on the season, a remarkable pace that will definitely have him in a conversation that might otherwise include Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. Brady is having a better season than all of them, despite having to sit out the first quarter of the year. An MVP Award for 12 games played could be developing into a very real possibility.