Monday's NFL: Bills earn first sweep of Patriots since 1999 with 38-9 win

Kyle Hightower
Associated Press
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Foxborough, Mass. — The Buffalo Bills put a cherry atop the changing of the guard in the AFC East.

A week after unseating the Patriots as division champions, Buffalo became the first AFC East team in two decades to sweep New England in a season series with a 38-9 victory Monday night.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs crosses the goal line for a touchdown after catching a pass in the first half.

Josh Allen passed for four touchdowns to help the Bills stay in the mix for the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

The Bills (12-3) last swept the Patriots in 1999. The last division opponents to sweep the Patriots were the Jets and Dolphins in 2000. The Patriots’ 19 straight seasons without losing both games to a divisional opponent was an NFL record. New England (6-9) will finish with its first losing record since coach Bill Belichick’s first season in 2000.

Allen was 27 of 36 for 320 yards. He now has 34 touchdown passes, surpassing Jim Kelly to set a franchise single-season record. With his eighth 300-yard game, he also surpassed Drew Bledsoe’s single-season team record of seven.

“We’ve got one game left. And all that, it’s cool, the records, this and that,” Allen said. “But the plan is to get to 13-3 and give ourselves a chance in the playoffs. It doesn’t mean much if we can’t get it done.”

Stefon Diggs had nine catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns, setting a Bills single-season record for receiving yards.

“I’m new to this team so I’m basking in (the) ambience of everybody,” Diggs said. “I’ve got a young quarterback who’s balling.”

The Patriots struggled to move the ball for most of the night with running back Damien Harris out for the second straight game with an ankle injury. Cam Newton had a touchdown run but was just 5 of 10 for 34 yards passing before being pulled in the third quarter for backup Jarrett Stidham.

Newton’s 34 yards passing are the fewest by a Patriots starting quarterback since 1993.

He said the season has been frustrating because the work he has put in hasn’t translated into wins.

“I’ve sacrificed so much this year, and it hurts when you have an outing that you have tonight,” he said.

Belichick said he hasn’t made any decisions about who will start the Patriots’ finale Sunday against the New York Jets.

“It was the opportunity to give him a chance to play,” Belichick said of inserting Stidham. “Cam did a good job for us. I mean, that wasn’t the problem. We were just not very competitive in the beginning.”

The Bills had no trouble moving the ball against a depleted Patriots defense that was missing linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy due to shoulder injuries.

Their absences were most glaring in the passing game. New England struggled to put pressure on Allen, allowing him time to find open receivers. The Patriots allowed a season-worst 474 yards overall.

“They outplayed us across the board, outplayed us and out-coached us,” Belichick said.

The Patriots closed to 10-9 on Newton’s 9-yard TD run in the second quarter, but Nick Folk missed the extra point and the Bills pulled away from there.

Buffalo used its passing game to march down the field on the ensuing drive. Allen completed 5 of 7 throws for 59 yards and a 4-yard TD to Lee Smith.

After a quick three-and-out by New England, the Bills went right back to work.

Allen misfired on his first pass of the drive, and then connected with Diggs for 17 yards to get the ball to midfield. Diggs got free again on the next play, slipping behind J.C. Jackson on a slant and sprinting the final 32 yards for the touchdown to make it 24-9.

The Allen-Diggs connection worked again on the opening drive of the second half. Allen found Diggs three times during an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard TD play by the star receiver.

Bears alive

The Chicago Bears head into the final week with their eyes on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and their chances to grab a playoff spot still alive.

The Arizona Cardinals put the opportunity in Chicago’s hands by losing to San Francisco on Saturday. The Bears followed up with a 41-17 romp at Jacksonville on Sunday. 

“Our players and our coaches have battled,” coach Matt Nagy said Monday. “We’ve all now together put ourselves in the position where you win a football game, last game of the year, and you’re guaranteed to be in the playoffs if you win. That part’s exciting.”

A win over the Packers would send the Bears (8-7) to the playoffs for the second time in Nagy’s three seasons. They can still get in with a loss if the Cardinals drop their road game against the Los Angeles Rams. And if both games end in ties, Chicago would be in the playoffs. 

No matter which scenario plays out, the Bears are in a spot that was hard to envision a few weeks ago. They got blown out by the Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 29, two fourth-quarter touchdowns by Chicago making a 41-25 rout look a little closer than it really was.

If that wasn’t the Bears’ low point, a 34-30 loss to Detroit at home the following week was. They blew a 10-point lead in the closing minutes, a strip sack of Mitchell Trubisky deep in Chicago territory setting up the winning touchdown. That gave the Bears six straight losses — their worst skid since dropping eight in a row in 2002 — and fueled more speculation about the futures of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.

They have won three in a row since, beating Houston, Minnesota and Jacksonville. Those teams are a combined 11-34.

The Packers (12-3), with a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC, pose a different challenge. They have won 18 of the past 21 against Chicago, including the playoffs. Green Bay, which trounced Tennessee on Sunday, would get the top seed with a win over the Bears or a tie. A loss or tie by Seattle against San Francisco in a game played in Glendale, Arizona, would also do it.

Win or lose, one thing is certain for the Bears. They’ll finish .500 or better for the third time in as many seasons under Nagy.

Streaming success

Saturday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals set a record for the largest audience to stream an NFL game.

The game — which was streamed primarily on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch — delivered an estimated 11.2 total viewers and had an average minute audience of 4.8 million, more than doubling the previous high. The Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2015 game in London, which was streamed on Yahoo!, averaged 2.1 million.

The NFL and Amazon say that the average viewing duration was 82 minutes, which is 15 minutes more than the average engagement rate for an NFL game broadcast.

The game, which San Francisco won 20-12, was also aired on television stations in San Francisco and Phoenix, and averaged an additional 1.1 million viewers.


Gore out with bruised lung

Frank Gore reached a milestone on his final carry of the game — and maybe of his career.

The 37-year-old New York Jets running back has a bruised lung that coach Adam Gase said Monday will keep Gore out of the season finale at New England on Sunday.

Gore, who became the third player in NFL history to run for 16,000 yards, was hurt in the fourth quarter of the Jets’ 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. It was originally called a chest injury by the team after Gore left, but tests revealed the lung contusion.

“That’s going to be one of those ones where he will not be available for a few weeks,” Gase said. “Obviously, with one game left, he won’t be able to finish that last game.” 

Gore had 14 carries for 48 yards, leaving him at exactly 16,000 yards rushing. The third-leading rusher in NFL history is behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Gore has played in 240 games, a record for NFL running backs, over 16 seasons.

Gore recently said he hadn’t decided on whether this would be his final season, and would speak to his family during the offseason while weighing things. Gase said Gore hasn’t discussed his plans beyond this season. 

Gore signed a one-year deal worth $1.05 million with the Jets last May and will be a free agent in the offseason.


Browns’ COVID update

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said some of the players who missed Sunday’s loss because of COVID-19 protocols will be eligible to return to practice Thursday as Cleveland prepares to play Pittsburgh with a playoff spot riding on the outcome.

The Browns (10-5) were beaten 23-16 by the New York Jets, who took advantage of Cleveland being without its top four wide receivers, including leading target Jarvis Landry, starting left tackle Jedrick Wills and two linebackers after they were placed on the COVID list. 

They’ll be able to return this week as long as they test negative, Stefanski said.

Sunday’s loss — which came after a whirlwind 24 hours — put the Browns in jeopardy of missing the postseason and in a win-or-miss situation this weekend against the Steelers, who clinched the AFC North title and could rest some players in the season finale.

Cleveland’s trying to end a playoff drought stretching to 2002, the NFL’s current longest dry spell.

Landry was ruled ineligible along with receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan) and KhaDarel Hodge after they had come in close contact with starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for the virus and will also miss the Pittsburgh game.

Wills was kept out Sunday because he was showing COVID symptoms. He had been placed on the COVID list last week after close contact with someone outside the organization and then activated on Saturday.

Also, rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips was ruled out after having close contact with Goodson.

Stefanski said none of the six has tested positive.

The players had spent time together in the recovery pool area inside the team’s facility, which wasn’t a violation. 

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