ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills finally have a win over a divisional opponent — and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Buffalo’s 24-10 victory over New England on Thursday kicked off a critical December stretch for the Bills. After going 0-2 in the division to start the season, the win over the Patriots came in the first of three consecutive games against AFC East opponents.
Turning things around in the division is crucial for the Bills if they hope to win their third straight division title. The Bills (9-3) are looking to win three consecutive AFC East titles for the first time since a four-season stretch from 1988-91.
“A divisional win is important,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We knew coming in here it was going to be tough … we’re thankful to get a win, and in the division on top of that.”
Buffalo’s upcoming games will be hugely important in that divisional race. Ahead of games against the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins, the Bills still have one less divisional victory than every other team in the AFC East. At 8-3, the Miami Dolphins are currently behind Buffalo in the divisional standings, but have a 2-1 record in divisional games.
The key for the Bills against the Patriots was a balanced approach — which was lacking in the team’s previous losses to the Dolphins and Jets.
Josh Allen was terrific against New England, going 22 of 33 for 223 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was one of Allen’s most consistent performances of the season after a recent up-and-down stretch. But it was a breakout performance by the Bills running game that proved critical against the Patriots, providing the Bills with some much-needed balance on offense.
Rookie James Cook had a career day against New England, picking up a combined 105 yards from scrimmage. Devin Singletary had 51 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. The Bills outgained the Patriots 132-60 in rushing, which came as a surprise for the pass-heavy Bills and the run-heavy Patriots. That production allowed the Bills to control the time of possession, nearly doubling New England on the evening (38:08 to 21:52).
“They were playing some two-high shell and just kind of basically daring us to run it,” Allen said. “I thought (offensive coordinator Ken) Dorsey did a good job of staying patient. Our guys did a good job of holding on to the football and making some good cuts, making some good runs and moving the chains.”
Buffalo’s defense also did its part, stepping up after star pass rusher Von Miller was placed on injured reserve hours before the game. The Bills held the Patriots to 242 yards of offense and New England was forced to punt six times.
“I thought the offense did a good job and the defense complemented it, which is what football is all about, playing complementary football,” linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said.
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The running game. After struggling to run the ball with consistency for most of the season, the Bills have found more production in the ground game in recent weeks. Thursday’s game was the third time this season that the Bills had more rushing attempts than passing attempts, and the Bills are 3-0 in those games.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Production from receivers not named Stefon Diggs. Diggs had another big game against the Patriots with 92 yards and one touchdown, but the Bills still need more production from their other receiving targets.
James Cook. The second-round pick has become a much bigger part of the game plan in recent weeks after a slow start to the year.
Tight end Dawson Knox didn’t record a catch against New England and had only one target. The Bills gave Knox a big contract extension in September.
Miller will miss Buffalo’s next three games on injured reserve, but general manager Brandon Beane said the team is hoping to get the defensive end back for the stretch run. Left tackle Dion Dawkins missed the game with an ankle injury. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips injured his shoulder late against New England but said he was fine after the game.
4,930 — The Bills have 4,930 yards of offense through 12 games, a franchise record.
Buffalo’s divisional run continues with a home game against the Jets on Sunday.