Dion Lewis (2 TD), Mike Gillislee (TD) pick up slack, Patriots inch closer to No. 1 seed with 37-16 win over Bills

Controversial overturn of Kelvin Benjamin TD sets stage for Patriots second-half domination

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Rob Gronkowski hauls in a one-handed TD grab in the first half Sunday. (New England Patriots)

FOXBORO — Another game loaded with controversy. Another game where the calls fell in favor of the Patriots. And another Patriots’ win.

Mike Gillislee scored a one-yard touchdown run against his former team while Dion Lewis caught a 12-yard dump-off pass for a game-sealing touchdown as the Patriots beat the Bills, 37-16 on Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium. Lewis had his second career 100-yard rushing game, finishing with a career-best 129 yards on 24 carries. For the full box score, click here.

“It’s Christmas Eve, I’m out there doing what I love to do with a great group of guys that I wouldn’t rather do it without,” Lewis said. “It was definitely a lot of fun, and I’m just happy we won.”

“I mean, he’s an unbelievable player,” Rob Gronkowski said of Lewis. “He’s a beast for his size. I look up to him. The way he plays, the way he doesn’t let people take him down inspires me because I’m like, ‘If that guy can do that, why can’t I be able to break tackles like that?’ So that just shows his inspiration of how hard he plays, how hard he works and a great dude to have on the team.”

The win improves the Patriots to 12-3 and puts the Patriots on the brink of sealing a bye week. The Patriots became the first team in NFL history with eight straight seasons of at least 12 wins.

“That’s pretty cool,” Tom Brady said. “We have a lot of goals and we’re trying to win every time [we’re] out and sometimes it looks great and sometimes it doesn’t. The goal is to win. We’ve played some good teams and we played a good second half, so I was really happy with that. [We’re] 12-3 with one game to go. 13-3 would be a pretty great year. We’ve just got to finish strong.”

The Patriots will secure a bye week with either a loss by the Jaguars or the Steelers. The loss drops to the Bills to 8-7, but still clinging to playoff life.

Like the Steelers last week, this time it was the Bills who had a touchdown called back at the end of a half.

As Kelvin Benjamin hauled in what appeared to be go-ahead touchdown before the half, but after a long review, the TD was taken off the board and the Bills had to settle for a 23-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal and a 13-13 draw at the half. Ironically before the Benjamin play, Charles Clay caught a pass in the end zone but lost control as he hit the ground, reprising the Jesse James scenario of a week before.

But it was the Benjamin overturn that caused outrage on Twitter, including from the former NFL director of officiating.

(See below for the official pool report from game referee Craig Wrolstad).

“It looked like his foot just didn’t drag,” Devin McCourty said. “I think the thing on the turf is always when the foot drags, you usually see the pebbles. So, I’m probably a little biased, but they weren’t too happy. We had a good conversation before they made that call. But, it turned out for the best, right?”

That was the culmination of a first half filled with great red area defense from the Patriots and not-so-great defense in other parts of the field.

“We needed it, I mean, because everything else wasn’t really that good today for us,” McCourty told me. “You know, third down was bad – it probably got a little better in the second half. We got some stops. But overall, second down was bad, again, so we needed to play good in the red area because we were letting them down there a lot. So, we always talk about that. If we can keep seven points off the board, it will continue to give us a chance in the game, and that’s what you saw – tied game at halftime and just consistently playing well in the red area gave us a chance to eventually pick it up and get it going and getting our offense better field position, so they were able to take advantage and go score touchdowns.

“Usually in the NFL, that’s the difference. When you can make a team kick field goals and you can score touchdowns, complement each other, you usually get wins.
Unlike Pittsburgh a week before, there was another half to be played. And another half filled with controversy.”

FOXBORO — Another game loaded with controversy. Another game where the calls fell in favor of the Patriots. And another Patriots' win. Mike Gillislee scored a one-yard touchdown run against his former team while Dion Lewis caught a 12-yard dump-off pass for a game-sealing touchdown as the Patriots

The Bills came out of halftime and drove down the field, sparked by a spectacular catch-and-run by LeSean McCoy of 39 yards. A 30-yard Hauschka field goal put the Bills back ahead, 16-13.

Then came the second controversy of the day. As the Patriots were driving the down, helped by a bullet of a pass over the middle to Rob Gronkowski, they came to the Buffalo 26 facing 4th and 1. The Bills appeared to stop Dion Lewis, as the ball was spotted at the 26 for no gain. But Bill Belichick challenged and won the challenge, as the ball was spotted at the 25. The Patriots stalled again and settled for a 34-yard field goal.

The Patriots took control on the next drive. The key play was a pass interference call on Rob Gronkowski in the end zone. Two plays later, it was Mike Gillislee running it for the touchdown and a 23-16 lead. Down seven, the Bills inexplicably went for a 50-yard field goal on 4th-and-1 instead of choosing to let LeSean McCoy gain the first down. The field goal never had a chance and the Bills were done at that point.

Lewis added a 12-yard touchdown reception and a 4-yard run to put the game away.

The Patriots were without James White and Rex Burkhead in the run game. They were without Kyle Van Noy and Alan Branch in the front seven. For a second straight week, the Patriots were without receiver Chris Hogan, who missed his sixth game in seven game weeks with a shoulder injury.

After winning the coin toss forcing a 3-and-out from the Patriots on the game-opening drive, the Bills nearly perfected a time-consuming drive, taking 16 plays and 8:04 off the first quarter clock. The Bills were able to play keep-away on the drive, taking advantage of the same problem that gave the Patriots defense fits in Pittsburgh. The Bills converted their first four third-down conversions on the drive before misfiring on the fifth. After a Deatrich Wise sack, the Bills settled for a 41-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal and a 3-0 lead.

FOXBORO — Another game loaded with controversy. Another game where the calls fell in favor of the Patriots. And another Patriots' win. Mike Gillislee scored a one-yard touchdown run against his former team while Dion Lewis caught a 12-yard dump-off pass for a game-sealing touchdown as the Patriots

The Patriots came back with a lengthy drive of their own, highlighted by a Dion Lewis 13-yard run to the Bills 47. That was followed by a Brady-to-Phillip Dorsett 24-yard connection to the Bills 24. But the Patriots had to settle for a 21-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, tying the game at 3-3 with 14:14 left in the second quarter.

The Bills came right back, thanks in part to a 46-yard Tyrod Taylor-to-Deonte Thompson. The Bills were able to drive to Patriots 6. The Patriots came up with stops on third and fourth down and gave the ball back to Brady.

But the Patriots quarterback did the Bills one better by hand-delivering a touchdown to Buffalo. Safety Jordan Poyer undercut a Kenny Britt route and picked off the pass. Poyer fell to the ground untouched, got up and ran 19 yards for Brady’s first pick-6 since Super Bowl LI. It also marked Brady’s fifth straight game with an interception, the first time that’s happened to him since 2002.

Brady rebounded like he usually does. He orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a spectacular one-handed grab at the pylon by Rob Gronkowski for the game-tying touchdown.

“It was a great catch,” Brady said. “I was trying to give him a chance – it was man coverage. I was trying to give him a back shoulder and it was probably a foot further back than I wanted to. He’s just an incredible player. He made the catch and got his feet in; it was a huge play in the game.”

“I think it was a run (initially). Tom alerted it. I think he saw man coverage, he alerted it, and the alert was me on a go and just made a play,” Gronkowski said. “He put the ball up there where I can only go get it, and I would say it started off in practice the last couple weeks. I mean, we’ve just been hitting the same page, we’ve been practicing hard and we’ve been just working on things and it just pays off – hard work throughout the week.”

There’s no one that Gronkowski likes to make pay more than the Bills, and he made that clear after the game.

“Sorry to them for that. But, I mean, I don’t know. It’s cool when you’re hometown team passes on you twice in that draft, and you kind of remember it still,” Gronkowski said. “So, no lie. I remember it every single time I play them.”

Gronkowski finished 2017 with 14 catches and 214 yards and a touchdown in two games against Buffalo.

The Patriots wrap up the regular season with another holiday eve home game, next Sunday on New Year’s Eve against the Jets.

Here is the media pool report from referee Craig Wrolstad:

Q: On the Kelvin Benjamin overturned touchdown, what was the conclusive evidence to overturn the call?

CW: When the receiver got confirmed control of the football, he was not able to get both feet down in bounds. So, his back foot was already off the ground and it stepped out of bounds. His firm control did not occur until after he had one foot off the ground.

Q: On replay, did you feel that was clear and obvious?

CW: It was clear and obvious that he did not have control of the ball until he brought it all the way down into his chest.

Q: Field Judge Steve Zimmer pointed towards Benjamin’s feet after the play and he was the closest official. Was he consulted during that replay process to share what he saw?

CW: Well, he might share it with me before I go into the booth, but during the replay process, Steve is not consulted at that time.

Q: Is there one decisive angle that clinched for you when you’re reviewing it?

CW: I think we looked at the angle where we had a foot drag early before he had control, and then we looked at when he had control and then we went back again to look at the feet. It was determined clearly that he was not able to get his second foot down after he had control.