The Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, are playing in the franchise’s third straight Super Bowl after outlasting the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 in overtime of the AFC Championship game.
While the Patriots are no strangers to postseason success—this is Brady’s ninth Super Bowl appearance—the team credits a Week 16 game against the Bills as getting the franchise ready for this latest postseason run.
Heading into the Week 16 showdown between the Bills and Patriots in Foxboro, New England was coming off back-to-back losses to the Miami Dolphins (on a miraculous last-second touchdown play) and the Pittsburgh Steelers, when New England committed 14 accepted penalties and dropped to 9-5 with two games remaining.
The team had fallen out of the No. 2 seed in the conference, and with it, was faced with the prospect of playing in a Wild Card round rather than receiving the customary first-round bye.
So it was that the second match-up of 2018 between Buffalo and New England served as a wake-up call for Brady, safety Devin McCourty, and the rest of the Patriots.
“It was like, ‘We’re running out of time,’” McCourty told ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss. “Buffalo was like, ‘All right, guys, this is what it takes.’ Playing at home, winning a division championship, was like, ‘Guys, this is championship-level football. This is what we need to do.’ And then essentially playing another playoff game the next weekend against the Jets, we rolled with that kind of mentality.”
One of the biggest developments to stem from the game against Buffalo, a 24-12 triumph by the Patriots, was a return to the running game. Rookie Sony Michel rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown as the Patriots rushed for a season-high 273 yards on a season-most 43 carries.
The Patriots turned to the running game that week in part because of how effective the Buffalo defense was in containing Brady. The Patriots won that game despite Buffalo limiting Brady to 13 of 24 passing for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions—his lowest passing output since throwing for 123 yards in a season-opening 31-0 loss to the Bills in 2003.
Since that Week 16 win over Buffalo, which clinched New England’s tenth straight AFC East division title, the Patriots routed the New York Jets (31-3) in the regular-season finale, blew out the Los Angeles Chargers (41-28) in the divisional round of the playoffs, and held off the Chiefs in the AFC championship.
”We’ve found a way to play our best the last four games,” Brady said. “Buffalo, Jets, had the bye, played great against the Chargers, played really well [against the Chiefs]. We’re going to need one more great game.”