BAT­TLE FOR THE EAST

Pats go­ing for sweep of Bills, 11th straight AFC East ti­tle

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Kyle Hightower AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) » For years the Bills have been one of three chasers in the AFC East, an­nu­ally try­ing and fail­ing to knock the Pa­tri­ots from their decade-long run atop the di­vi­sion.

Buf­falo en­ters its Week 16 matchup with New Eng­land cling­ing to its best hope in years of end­ing that dom­i­nance.

With a win (or tie) the Pa­tri­ots can clinch the AFC East ti­tle for the 11th con­sec­u­tive sea­son. They can also lock up a first-round play­off bye with a win and Chiefs loss (or tie).

But if Buf­falo (10-4) beats the Pa­tri­ots (11-3) and wins its fi­nale next week against the Jets, and New Eng­land also loses at Mi­ami, the Bills would win the di­vi­sion for the first time since 1995.

“We cer­tainly re­spect the Pa­tri­ots; they’ve reigned over this di­vi­sion, by far, for a long time,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “So, to have a game like this at this point in the sea­son, our play­ers have worked hard for it. So, you earn ev­ery­thing you get in

this league, and so they’ve earned that, but we’re go­ing to have to earn it this week­end be­cause the Pa­tri­ots, they play well, and es­pe­cially down the stretch.”

New Eng­land has played par­tic­u­larly well against Buf­falo.

The Bills haven’t beaten the Pa­tri­ots in five games un­der coach Sean McDermott and have lost the past six meet­ings over­all.

Buf­falo also has yet to beat the Pa­tri­ots in Foxborough in a game that Tom Brady started and fin­ished (0-15). Buf­falo de­feated New Eng­land 17-9 in the 2014 reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale, but Brady only played in the first half with the Pa­tri­ots hav­ing al­ready clinched the con­fer­ence’s top seed.

Over­all, Brady owns a 31-3 over­all record against the Bills, the most wins in NFL his­tory by a quar­ter­back against a sin­gle op­po­nent. “It’s a big game for both teams,” Brady said. “I think ev­ery­body puts a lot into it. And it’s for mo­ments like this.”

If the Pa­tri­ots are ripe for a late-sea­son let­down, this could be the year.

New Eng­land’s topranked de­fense gave up a sea­son-high 375 yards to the Bills dur­ing its 16-10 win at Buf­falo in Week 4. And that was with Bills rookie and lead­ing rusher Devin Sin­gle­tary side­lined with a ham­string in­jury.

Quar­ter­back Josh Allen also sat out the fourth quar­ter of that loss with a head in­jury. He has nine rush­ing touch­downs this sea­son, the most among quar­ter­backs in 2019.

The Bills also will face Brady dur­ing a sea­son in which he has his low­est com­ple­tion rate (60.1 per­cent) and fewest pass­ing TDs (21) since 2013.

In his first 29 games against the Bills, Brady went 610 of 955 for 7,316 yards (252 per game av­er­age) with 66 touch­downs and 20 in­ter­cep­tions. But in his past five games against Buf­falo, Brady is 102 of 166 for 1,082 yards (216 per game av­er­age) with three TDs and five in­ter­cep­tions. His 46.2 per­cent com­ple­tion rate in the Week 4 meet­ing was the eighth-worst of his ca­reer.

Pa­tri­ots line­backer Dont’a Hightower said he “ab­so­lutely” thought back in Septem­ber that Buf­falo looked like a team ca­pa­ble of be­ing in this po­si­tion.

“They al­ways have a new wrin­kle,” Hightower said. “The skill play­ers that they have and the of­fen­sive line that they have, the way that they’re built — it’s built to be in this di­vi­sion. It’s built to play us.”

MAK­ING A STATE­MENT

Jordan Phillips, who ranks sec­ond in the NFL among de­fen­sive tack­les and leads the Bills with 9 1/2 sacks, doesn’t know what else Buf­falo has to do to prove it­self.

Hav­ing de­feated the

Cow­boys at Dal­las on Thanks­giv­ing Day, and the Steel­ers in prime time last week­end, Phillips was asked if the next step is win­ning at New Eng­land.

Phillips shrugged and said: “If we haven’t shown that we’re a con­tender by now, then beat­ing the Pa­tri­ots isn’t go­ing to do any­thing.”

MR. FOURTH QUAR­TER

Allen has a touch­down to in­ter­cep­tion ra­tio of 8:0 in the fourth quar­ter this sea­son, the best mark in the NFL. He is the only QB in the league with at least 50 fourth-quar­ter pass at­tempts and no INTs. Allen has also taken the Bills to a vic­tory five times with Buf­falo tied or trail­ing in the fourth quar­ter in 2019. SLOT CON­CERNS The Pa­tri­ots’ de­fense will be with­out a key part of their se­condary. Cor­ner­back Jonathan Jones was ruled out for Satur­day’s game with the groin in­jury he sus­tained in the Pa­tri­ots’ win over the Ben­gals.

GARY LANDERS - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady passes in the sec­ond half of an NFL foot­ball game against the Cincin­nati Ben­gals, Sun­day, Dec. 15, 2019, in Cincin­nati.

STEVEN SENNE - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots line­backer Dont’a Hightower speaks with re­porters in the team’s locker room fol­low­ing an NFL foot­ball prac­tice, Wed­nes­day, Dec. 18, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass.

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