Final, Patriots 37-16: The Buffalo Bills gave the New England Patriots a scare but couldn’t spoil their Christmas Eve celebration.
The Patriots trailed midway through the third quarter but rallied for 24 unanswered points to put away their AFC East rivals.
With Rex Burkhead and James White out with injuries, Dion Lewis powered the Patriots’ offense, setting career highs with 24 carries for 129 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the win. Mike Gillislee also ran well in his game action since Week 8, rushing six times for 28 yards and a touchdown and catching one pass for 15 yards.
The Patriots clinched a first-round playoff bye with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers. New England can clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss or a win in Week 17 against the New York Jets.
Fourth quarter, 3:58, Patriots 37-16: Patriots fans are heading for the exits after Dion Lewis scored a 4-yard touchdown that should put this game out of reach.
Lewis now is up to a career-high 129 rushing yards on 24 carries, plus another 24 receiving yards on five catches.
Fourth quarter, 7:23, Patriots 30-16: A strip-sack by Malcolm Butler on third down ended a brutal drive for the Bills, who recovered the fumble but were forced to punt.
The Patriots can nail Buffalo’s coffin shut here.
Fourth quarter, 9:27, Patriots 30-16: The Patriots are beginning to pull away.
After Stephen Hauschka’s missed field goal gave New England quality field position, Tom Brady marched his troops 60 yards down the field in 3:41 for what could be the back-breaking touchdown.
Dion Lewis did the honors, catching a screen pass from Brady and scampering the final 12 yards to paydirt.
Fourth quarter, 13:08, Patriots 23-16: Trey Flowers tracked LeSean McCoy from across the field to stop the Bills short on third-and-2, and Stephen Hauschka followed by missing a 50-yard field goal wide — and we mean very wide — right to hand the ball back to the Patriots.
Third quarter, 0:55, Patriots 23-16: Welcome back to the scoresheet, Mike Gillislee.
After Rob Gronkowski drew a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone, Gillislee powered his way over the goal line for his first touchdown since Week 2.
Gillislee is enjoying a nice afternoon in his return to the Patriots’ lineup. He’s carried the ball five times for 28 yards and a score and also caught one pass for 15 yards.
Third quarter, 2:54, 16-16: The Patriots made quick work of the Bills on Buffalo’s latest possession, thanks in large part to a 15-yard sack by Malcom Brown on first down. Brown also stuffed Mike Tolbert for no gain on the next play.
New England has sacked Tyrod Taylor four times today and hit him seven times.
Third quarter, 5:08, 16-16: Video replay has been kind to the Patriots today.
After seeing a Kelvin Benjamin touchdown wiped away at the end of the first half, New England successfully challenged a fourth-and-1 run by Dion Lewis that initially was ruled short of the line.
Given new life after the review, the Patriots tacked on another field goal — the sixth of this game.
Third quarter, 10:21, Bills 16-13: RIP Elandon Roberts’ ankles.
LeSean McCoy’s 39-yard catch-and-run brought the Bills into the red zone, but they again were unable to find the end zone. They’re 0-for-4 on red-zone trips today and 0-for-6 against the Patriots this season.
Buffalo did retake the lead, though, thanks to a 30-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka.
Halftime, 13-13: Kelvin Benjamin appeared to make an incredible touchdown catch in the final seconds of the first half. The replay officials, however, did not see it that way.
They determined Benjamin didn’t get both feet down in bounds by the time he gained possession, taking the touchdown off the board and forcing the Bills to settle for another Stephen Hauschka field goal.
Right call? You be the judge:
The NFL’s official explanation:
Regardless of the final ruling, both Stephon Gilmore — who was in coverage on the play — and Malcolm Butler are having less-than-stellar days so far. Butler allowed a 33-yard pass to Deonte Thompson earlier in the drive.
The Bills also lost backup running back Travaris Cadet — a former Patriot — to a gnarly-looking leg injury during the drive. Trey Flowers, who tackled Cadet, looked visibly distraught after the play, and several Patriots players came off the sideline to offer their well-wishes to Cadet as he was loaded onto a cart.
Second quarter, 1:55, Patriots 13-10: The Patriots picked up 44 yards on a defensive pass interference penalty committed against Brandin Cooks and wound up with another Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Now, the Bills will look to respond before the break.
Second quarter, 4:55, 10-10: After holding the Bills to 17 yards on four plays, the Patriots have a chance to take their first lead of the game before halftime.
Second quarter, 7:06, 10-10: Here’s your periodic reminder that Rob Gronkowski can do things on the football field that should not be humanly possible.
Two plays after missing a wide-open Gronkowski over the middle, Tom Brady fired a pass toward the pylon that the big tight end snatched out of the air with one hand for a 17-yard highlight-reel touchdown. Safety Micah Hyde, a Pro Bowler this season, didn’t stand a chance on the play.
Mike Gillislee also picked up 15 yards on a screen pass earlier in the drive. It was both his first reception in a Patriots uniform and his longest gain since Week 1.
Second quarter, 10:28, Bills 10-3: There’s another pass Tom Brady is going to want back.
Brady attempted to hit new Patriots receiver Kenny Britt on third down but had his pass intercepted by safety Jordan Poyer, who returned it 19 yards for a Bills touchdown.
The Patriots QB now has thrown at least one interception in each of his last five games — six total during that span — after throwing just two over New England’s first 10 games this season.
Second quarter, 11:21, 3-3: Sean McDermott got greedy, and it cost him.
The Bills elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ 6-yard line, and Marquis Flowers sacked Tyrod Taylor to turn the ball over on downs. The Patriots had great coverage on the play, and Flowers did a nice job of chasing the elusive Taylor down near the sideline.
New England was forced to defend its own goal line again because Malcolm Butler had allowed a 46-yard pass play to Deonte Thompson, who torched the Patriots cornerback on a corner route. Buffalo has been punchless in the red zone against the Patriots this season, however, going without a touchdown in four opportunities.
Second quarter, 14:14, 3-3: The Patriots countered the Bills’ lengthy field goal drive with one of their own.
The stats: 13 plays, 79 yards, 6:16.
Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden all saw playing time at running back during the series — Gillislee picked up 6 yards on his first carry since Week 8 — Phillip Dorsett gained 24-yard on a catch-and-run, and third-string tight end Jacob Hollister got the ball on an end around near the goal line in one of the more unusual play calls we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Tom Brady also hit old reliable Danny Amendola for 13 yards on the Patriots’ first third-down conversion of the afternoon. Brady tried to find Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on third-and-goal from the 3, but his pass sailed high, bringing on Stephen Gostkowski to tie the game with a 21-yard field goal.
First quarter, 5:30, Bills 3-0: The Patriots allowed the Bills to hold the ball for more than eight minutes on their opening possession of the afternoon but stiffened up in the red zone, holding Buffalo to a field goal.
In a continuation of last week’s trend, New England again struggled on third down, allowing the Bills to convert on each of their first four opportunities before a Deatrich Wise sack on third-and-11 finally brought the field-goal unit out.
First quarter, 13:34, 0-0: The Patriots gained just four yards on their opening drive before being forced to punt.
The drive consisted of two Dion Lewis rushes and an incomplete pass down the seam to Jacob Hollister. Lewis was in for all three snaps, with Mike Gillislee remaining on the sideline thus far.
First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: The Bills won the opening coin toss and elected to defer. It’ll be Patriots ball first as we get underway here on this Christmas Eve.
After missing warmups, Nate Solder took the field with his teammates and will start at left tackle for the Patriots.
12:31 p.m.: Nate Solder is active today, but he did not participate in warmups. LaAdrian Waddle lined up at left tackle for the Patriots’ first-team offense.
It’s worth noting, though, that Solder missed warmups before one game earlier this season but still started. So we’ll see.
12:23 p.m.: Get prepared for kickoff with NESN.com’s official Patriots pregame show.
11:31 a.m.: Good news for the Patriots: Nate Solder is active and will start at left tackle. Bad news: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is inactive and will miss his third consecutive game.
Rounding out the inactives: Chris Hogan, Alan Branch, James White, Rex Burkhead, Cole Croston and Trevor Reilly.
Mike Gillislee officially is active for the first time since Oct. 29.
11:28 a.m.: A little pregame PSA:
10:44 a.m.: As we count down the final hours before kickoff, take a look back at some of our top Patriots stories from the week:
— Kenny Britt’s competitiveness was evident on his first Patriots snap
— Will Mike Gillislee become the Patriots’ next touchdown vulture? (Spoiler: probably)
— Tom Brady’s testy exchange with a reporter about the Alex Guerrero situation
— How twin brother Jacob and Cody Hollister are impressing and confusing Bill Belichick
— Patriots Mailbag: What to make of the reported Belichick-Guerrero rift
— The Steelers’ late-game confusion made Duron Harmon appreciate his Patriots coaches
— Hard work pays off for first-time Pro Bowler James Develin
— The Patriots have exceeded Britt’s expectations
10:15 a.m.: James White reportedly will miss today’s game with an ankle injury. Here’s the play he likely suffered that injury on:
This will the first time White ever has missed a game due to injury. He last was inactive in Week 9 of the 2015 season — the game Dion Lewis tore his ACL during.
8:24 a.m.: It sounds like the Patriots will be without both Chris Hogan and James White today, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
That means New England is down to just three healthy running backs, one of whom (Brandon Bolden) does not play on offense. Expect to see a considerable workload for both Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee, the latter of whom has not played since Oct. 29.
8 a.m. ET: Merry Christmas Eve, football fans, and greetings from Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills will square off this afternoon in the penultimate week of the NFL regular season.
The AFC East champion Patriots are looking to clinch a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage — both of which they can secure with a win today and some help — while the Bills are trying to maintain their hold on a wild-card spot and reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.
These teams are very familiar with one another, as they last squared off just three weeks ago, with the Patriots cruising to a 23-3 victory at New Era Field. The Bills have won in Foxboro just twice during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era (in 2014 and 2016), and Brady played a total of two quarters in those games.
One major storyline to monitor throughout this game is how Buffalo defenders treat Rob Gronkowski, who sent Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White into concussion protocol with an elbow to the back of the head during the teams’ first meeting. Both parties said this week they weren’t focused on the hit, but there’s always a chance one of White’s teammates could seek retribution, especially if the score gets out of hand.
Running back Rex Burkhead and defensive tackle Alan Branch both have been ruled out for New England, and nine other Patriots players are listed as questionable: wide receiver Chris Hogan, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, running backs James White and Brandon Bolden, defensive end Eric Lee, special teamers Matthew Slater and Brandon King, and offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Nate Solder.
Solder (illness) was added to the injury report late Saturday night.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET, but be sure to check back here throughout the morning for full pregame coverage.