7:59 PM ET
Mike ReissESPN Staff Writer
- Covered Patriots since 1997
- Joined ESPN in 2009
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Unlike some of their recent AFC East titles, the New England Patriots earned this one the hard way.
Quarterback Tom Brady and the offense came to life with a fourth-quarter comeback Saturday, and the defense stiffened on a final drive, to help the Patriots defeat the resilient Buffalo Bills 24-17 and clinch their 11th consecutive AFC East championship.
“It’s pretty cool,” Brady said. “It’s hard to do, and it’s a lot of effort and hard work, and a lot of people are coming in day after day and sitting in these chairs and trying to do what’s right for the team. It’s a great reward, it’s a great step for us and it’s great to control the ability to do that, too. Happy for us, our team, our coaches, our families and our fans, and hopefully we can build on it and go play great next week.”
The Patriots trailed 17-13 entering the fourth quarter, which marked the first time they were behind at home through three quarters against a division rival since the 2016 season.
They scored the game’s final 11 points, sparked by Brady, running back Rex Burkhead and the return of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who had left the game in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. Burkhead’s 1-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining, followed by Brady connecting with Edelman on a 2-point conversion, put the Patriots ahead for good.
The crowd at Gillette Stadium serenaded the quarterback with chants of “Brady! Brady! Brady!” in what was an electric atmosphere. Soon, those chants turned to “Let’s go defense! Let’s go defense!” as the Patriots held off a late charge by the Bills, who drove from their own 25-yard line to the Patriots’ 15 before they were stopped on a final fourth-and-15 play in the end zone.
Coach Bill Belichick, who wore a white division championship hat to his postgame news conference, smiled when asked how he liked the fit.
“Love wearing this hat,” he said, after noting, “It’s a good feeling here. Great fourth-quarter drive offensively and defensively big stop there at the end. … There’s a lot of mental toughness in that locker room, and they showed it.”
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore wore a T-shirt that read “The East Is Not Enough,” which was a theme throughout the locker room.
“They’re all different, they’re all hard, and I love winning the division. You never take that for granted,” said Edelman, who has been a division champ in each of his 11 seasons. “But that’s not the ultimate goal.”
Edelman’s return in the fourth quarter was one of the top storylines of the game. He had missed almost a full quarter when he returned to the huddle with 9:01 remaining in the fourth, and Brady connected with him on a 30-yard pass over the middle on the first play.
That started a seven-play, 59-yard touchdown drive, and then Edelman hauled in a 2-point conversion toss from Brady.
Patriots captain Matthew Slater jokingly compared Edelman to the biblical character Lazarus because he was “back from the dead.”
Brady, who finished 26-of-33 for 271 yards and one touchdown, improved to 32-3 all-time against the Bills. He completed 79% of his passes, his best completion percentage since Week 11 of the 2017 season. Brady hadn’t reached 56% in his previous five games.
Meanwhile, the Patriots improved to 12-3 and maintained their position as the No. 2 seed in the AFC postseason chase. If they beat the Miami Dolphins at home next weekend, they would earn a first-round playoff bye.
The Patriots have won 12 games 12 times since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and the franchise tied San Francisco for the most 12-win seasons over that span.