Another AFC East matchup, another win for the New England Patriots.
Last weekend it was the Bills up in Buffalo. Next Monday it should be the Dolphins down in Miami, though if any AFC East matchup has given the Patriots trouble over the years, it’s been the Dolphins in Miami.
But it’s not so much that the Patriots continue to win games, especially over the AFC East. That’s not a story – really, it can’t be at this point because it happens so often.
In fact, Sunday’s win in Buffalo marked the 15th straight season that the Patriots have won at least 10 games. It’s almost unheard of as just one franchise – the San Francisco 49ers – has done that (16 times from 1983-1998).
What is interesting, though, is how the team is winning games and some of the players who are making major contributions along the way.
Look no further than last Sunday, when a Patriots defense held the Bills to a total of three points. It was the eighth straight game in which the opponent had scored under 20 points, the longest consecutive number of games for a Patriots defense under Bill Belichick.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia deserves some serious praise for turning things around, as New England began the year allowing a historically bad six straight 300-yard passing games by opposing quarterbacks.
That seems like forever ago now, as the Patriots have allowed an average of 11.9 points per game over the last eight games. The Bills’ leading receiver on Sunday was Zay Jones... who had 22 yards.
And while major contributors on defense have been in and out of the lineup this season, the Patriots have found players to step in and step up in a pinch.
Take defensive end Eric Lee for example. Lee, on the Bills practice squad a few weeks ago, made his first career start on Sunday, picked off Tyrod Taylor on the 1-yard line on the first drive of the game, sacked him later in the quarter, was credited with a half sack on backup Nathan Peterman in the fourth quarter, had three QB hits, and two passes defended.
Lee got the start in place of the injured Trey Flowers – and he certainly did his best impression of him too.
“Well, he’s done the things that we’ve asked him to do and he’s done them at a pretty good level,” Bill Belichick told reporters on Monday. “I mean, he’s only been here a couple weeks... But, overall, he’s done a solid job for us in the things that he’s been asked to do.”
It’s not just on the defensive side where unlikely names are rising to the top. How about running back Rex Burkhead?
The Patriots made a relatively big splash by snatching former Bills running back Mike Gillislee from them over the offseason. The Burkhead signing went largely unnoticed.
On Sunday, though, Gillislee was the healthy scratch and Burkhead was the team’s goal line back, finishing with 78 rushing yards and two touchdowns to go with three receptions and 25 receiving yards. He has six total touchdowns on the year for the Patriots, though he had just four in his first three NFL seasons on the Bengals.
With the team expected to miss some big targets for Brady on Monday night, Burkhead will continue to be called upon to move the chains and put up points.
And when the dust settles just before midnight, expect to see the Patriots mildly excited about another AFC East title.