Bills locked into fifth seed as Patriots' AFC East reign continues

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Those footsteps the New England Patriots have heard from atop the AFC East this season? They reached the door during Saturday night's 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, who nearly escaped Gillette Stadium with their first road win over Tom Brady in which the quarterback played the entire game.

Buffalo (10-5) rebounded from a putrid offensive performance in the first half, tying the score with one second left in the second quarter and taking the lead midway through the third. Ultimately, the Patriots (12-3) did what they've done best for the better part of two decades, scoring the go-ahead score with just under five minutes left.

The loss locks the Bills into the AFC's fifth seed and a likely matchup with the Houston Texans in the wild-card round. While they had a slim chance at a division title if they won their final two games of the season and the Patriots lost theirs, Saturday's result might be a blessing in disguise for the Bills, who can now rest their starters against the Jets in Week 17 with their playoff fate determined.

Describe the game in two words: Knock, knock. The Bills took the AFC East stalwart to the brink twice in 2019 and although they were swept by New England, the pair of one-score losses sent a message they are closer to their division's throne than most of the football world believed at the beginning of the season.

Pivotal play: The Bills were the clubhouse leader for the "pivotal plays" of the game -- until Brady found a wide-open Julian Edelman for a 30-yard gain on what ended up being the Patriots' winning drive in the fourth quarter. Buffalo's defense had given up chunk plays over the middle of the field throughout the game, but Edelman's catch put New England on the Bills' 29-yard line and the Patriots scored six plays later.

QB breakdown: Bills fans wondered for the past two months what could have been had Josh Allen not been knocked out of the game for the fourth quarter the last time these teams played. His performance Saturday won't do much to help ease those "what-ifs." Allen was not perfect but put Buffalo in position to tie the score late in the fourth quarter, orchestrating a 14-play, 65-yard drive that stalled at the Patriots' 15-yard line with 1:05 left. He finished 13 of 26 for 208 yards and two touchdowns, adding another 43 rushing yards in seven carries.

Silver lining: For Buffalo, this loss was the equivalent of winning on a slot machine, then losing the free play. The Bills clinched a playoff berth last week against the Steelers and were playing to keep their division title hopes alive. Instead of playing a must-win game against the Jets next weekend, Buffalo can give their starters a break -- including Allen, who has taken the second-most hits of any quarterback this season.