Patriots dial up an old-school game plan and win a tough game vs. Bills

Bill Belichick had to love Monday night's game. You can envision the New England Patriots coach, who loves studying football history from when the players were still wearing leather helmets, throwing on his team's win over the Buffalo Bills at some point next offseason and being taken back to another era.

The Patriots played old-school football Monday. Ancient football, maybe. Through three quarters in crazy wind gusts they ran 39 plays, and 38 were runs. And that's how the Patriots took over control of the AFC East, and maybe the AFC period.

The Patriots went to Buffalo in the cold and wind and won with a game plan that would have been fitting against the Canton Bulldogs. They ran, ran and ran, and then the defense came up with a pair of huge fourth-quarter stops inside the red zone to seal the 14-10 victory. The Patriots have a game-and-a-half lead on the Bills in the division and a leg up for the tiebreaker too. It was New England's seventh straight win.

New England should have just run a single-wing formation all night. Belichick might have considered it.

Patriots run it 32 straight times

Winds were about 50 miles an hour at times. The first kickoff of the night, with the wind at the Bills' backs, went into the stands. The Patriots had a 15-yard punt in the first quarter when punter Jake Bailey dropped the ball to kick it and it moved, causing him to shank it out of bounds. It was hard to execute anything.

The safest approach was the run game, and that's what the Patriots did. Damien Harris took a run wide left, cut it back and ran for a 64-yard touchdown. The Patriots decided to go for two, got it and had an 8-0 lead. That changed the tone of the whole game. New England looked like it was protecting that lead from the middle of the first quarter.

Mac Jones completed one pass to Jonnu Smith for 12 yards, and that was it until 6:44 left in the game, when the Patriots tried a play-action rollout and Jones threw incomplete. They had run the ball 32 times in a row before that. A screen pass the next play was complete but short of the first down. Jones finished with just three attempts.

Strategically, it made for a rough night. When an NFL defense knows you're running it, it's hard to get yardage. But Belichick knew that's what his team needed to do to win, and the players gutted out a lot of rushing yards.

And, maybe, the coach who has done it all in this game and has an affinity for black-and-white history wanted to win a game with 32 straight run plays. Only the 1974 Bills, who beat the Jets with two passing attempts, have thrown fewer times in a win since the 1970 merger.

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary, left, is tackled by New England Patriots defensive end Lawrence Guy. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Bills still had a chance

The Bills didn't fade away. Josh Allen hit a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis in the first quarter after a muffed punt. In the fourth quarter, the Bills put together a long, hard-nosed drive with the wind against them and got inside the 10-yard line. But a run went nowhere, Allen was sacked, he threw incomplete and then the wind pushed a Tyler Bass field goal wide right. It was nearly impossible to execute an offense.

The Patriots had to punt it back, and the Bills had another chance in the final five minutes. Driving 75 yards for a score with the wind against them was going to be a hard task. Allen completed a nice pass to Stefon Diggs, a play that couldn't have been made without Allen having one of the NFL's strongest arms. Devin Singletary broke a long run outside when Patriots safety Adrian Phillips sold out toward the line to stop the run and Buffalo had the right play called against it. The Bills got back into the red zone inside of the final three minutes. But again, it was hard to run a normal offense. Another series got stuck and the Bills faced fourth-and-14 after Phillips made a nice third-down breakup in the end zone on a pass to tight end Dawson Knox. Buffalo had to go for it on fourth down right after the two-minute warning. The Patriots blitzed, Allen rushed a throw and it was knocked away and incomplete.

That Patriots have embraced modern football through the years, certainly when Tom Brady was their quarterback. Monday night was a throwback. It might end up being the biggest moment in them winning another division title.

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