Patriots’ Stranglehold Atop AFC East Won’t Be Broken In 2014

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Brandon LaFellORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It didn’t take long for the New England Patriots to regain their rightful place atop the AFC East standings.

The Patriots are the sole possessors of the division lead after outlasting the Buffalo Bills for a 37-22 win on the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf. Sunday was supposed to serve as a celebration of the team staying in Buffalo, and it wound up being a reminder that the Patriots still own the Bills — possibly more so than new team CEO Terry Pegula.

To answer many questions through the first five weeks of the season: No, the Bills are not for real.

I wrote after the Patriots nearly lost to the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 that New England was lucky that its wakeup call came in a 16-9 win — not a loss. I was a bit premature in my assessment, because apparently the Patriots hung up the phone and went back to sleep for eight days. Their real wakeup call came in Week 4 in an embarrassing 41-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on a national stage.

Since that loss, the Patriots have been a far different team. The Patriots’ offense showed few signs life through the first four weeks of the season, and now New England has scored 80 points in its last two games (the same amount they scored in their first four).

Quarterback Tom Brady is en fuego, tight end Rob Gronkowski looks like his old self and newcomers Brandon LaFell, Brian Tyms and Tim Wright are stepping up. Even injuries to starting middle linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley couldn’t stop the Patriots on Sunday against the Bills, though those ailment will no doubt have lasting effects on the team’s ultimate 2014 fortunes.

“We’re just clicking as a team right now,” Gronkowski said after the win. “We are clicking on offense and clicking on defense. We just have to keep it going and keep working hard. We can’t put our heads down no matter what it is, or what situation it is. We just have to keep looking forward to the next week and keep working hard.”

Unless true disaster strikes, the Patriots are winning the AFC East again this season, which might as well have been written in Sharpie entering the year. The Miami Dolphins (2-3) lost to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and the 1-5 New York Jets are coming to Gillette Stadium on short rest Thursday. The Patriots should exit the week with a 5-2 record.

Winning for 13 straight years has a funny side effect on a team’s fans and media. After the Patriots dropped to 2-2, the reactions were laughable. “Brady was finished, Jimmy Garoppolo should replace him and Bill Belichick the general manager was giving Bill Belichick the head coach a terrible team.” Or was it that Belichick the coach was misusing Belichick the GM’s players?

Either way, the Patriots are back and winning the games they should win. Brady was on the top of his game, and any drama that surrounded the team over the last two weeks should go away unless the Patriots put together another string of losses.

Despite Mayo and Ridley’s injuries, the sky is still the limit for the Patriots, and they’ll only get better as the season progresses.

“We are six games into the year,” Brady said Sunday. “We are a long way from the team we are going to be here in a couple months, but it was good to come on the road and grind it out and get a tough win.”

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