Bills take control of AFC North with crucial win over division-rival Patriots

December 26, 2021
Bills take control of AFC North with crucial win over division-rival Patriots
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Josh Allen threw for three touchdowns and the Buffalo Bills hung on to beat the New England Patriots 33-21 on Sunday to vault themselves back into first place in the AFC East title race.

With the victory, Buffalo (9-6) now holds tiebreakers over the Patriots and Dolphins, and is in the driver’s seat to win its second straight division title.

Allen finished 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards, and he also rushed 12 times for 64 yards.

Isaiah McKenzie stepped up in place of Bills receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, who were both on the reserve/COVID-19 list, notching a career-high 11 catches, 125 yards and a touchdown. McKenzie’s big day came after the Bills shied away from using him even to field kickoffs during blustery conditions in Buffalo during their Week 13 loss to the Patriots.

The Bills were aggressive, going for it on fourth down three times in the first half, including a fourth-and-2 that helped set up a 12-yard pass from Allen to Stefon Diggs for a 17-7 lead. That grew to 26-14 early in the fourth quarter after running back Devin Singletary’s 2-yard touchdown run; Buffalo was denied on its 2-point conversion attempt.

The Patriots (9-6) got it to 26-21 with 7:37 to play on Damien Harris’ 8-yard TD run, his second of the game, but rookie quarterback Mac Jones struggled to find openings against the Bills’ top-ranked defence, ending his day making 14 of 32 passes for 145 yards and two interceptions.

Buffalo quickly faced third down on its next series before Allen hooked up with McKenzie for 15 yards along the sideline. The Patriots forced a fourth-and-1 on their own 34, but Allen was able to get outside for 8 yards.

The Bills were staring at third-and-10 with under four minutes to play when Allen came through again, this time creating space before flicking a pass to Diggs for 19 yards. Two plays later, Allen tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox.

In Week 13, the Patriots dominated on the ground, grinding out 200-plus yards in their 14-10 win on a cold and wet night. Jones attempted only three passes in that first meeting, but got there in just two drives Sunday.

The Pats’ changed strategy allowed Buffalo’s top ranked defence more cracks at Jones, and the Bills took advantage, tipping and intercepting a second-quarter pass by Jones in Buffalo territory.

Texans stun Chargers

Rex Burkhead ran for a career-high 149 yards and two touchdowns, and the Houston Texans took advantage of three turnovers to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 41-29 on Sunday with both teams missing more than a dozen players because COVID-19 protocols.

The Chargers’ playoff chances took a serious blow with the loss to the lowly, if recently improved, Texans. Outside linebacker Joey Bosa, running back Austin Ekeler, receiver Mike Williams and center Corey Linsley were among the major contributors on the COVID-19 list for LA (8-7), which entered in second place in the AFC West.

Houston (4-11) had 16 players miss the game on the COVID-19 list but managed to win consecutive games for the first time this season. The Texans beat Jacksonville last week.

Burkhead had TD runs of 25 yards and 1 yard as the Texans, who entered the game ranked last in the NFL in yards rushing, ran for a season-high 189 yards. Rookie Davis Mills threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

The Chargers’ Justin Herbert threw for 336 yards with garbage-time touchdown and two interceptions. Justin Jackson ran for 64 yards and two touchdowns and had 98 yards receiving filling in for Ekeler, but his fourth-quarter fumble led to a Houston field goal that hurt LA’s comeback bid.

Rams hold off Vikings

Brandon Powell returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to lift Los Angeles into the playoffs as the Rams pulled out a 30-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The victory also sent the Rams’ NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals into the post-season.

Sony Michel rushed for a season-high 131 yards and a score, Matt Gay made three field goals, and the Aaron Donald-led defense did its part, keeping the Vikings out of the end zone on two first-half trips inside the 10-yard line.

Matthew Stafford had his first three-interception game since Sept. 10, 2018, when he was picked off four times for Detroit against the New York Jets. But the Rams (11-4) still had more than enough to win their fourth straight game and pass Arizona (10-5) for first place in the NFC West.

Kirk Cousins had 315 yards on 27-for-38 passing with a touchdown to K.J. Osborn with 8:21 remaining that cut the lead to 27-20. But his interception in the end zone in the first quarter loomed large all afternoon.

Alexander Mattison filled in for COVID-19-absent Dalvin Cook and had 70 total yards and a score for the Vikings (7-8), who failed for the fourth time this season to push their record above .500. They lost control of the third and final NFC wild-card spot.



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