Patriots Clinch AFC East for 11th Straight Season with 24-17 Win Over Bills

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Buffalo Bills in the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

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.”

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SOURCE: ESPN, Mike Reiss