New England rests all alone atop AFC standings

Monday night’s game in Buffalo’s bucolic suburbs was supposed to provide a large, shiny clue as to how good the Patriots really are, how good the Bills really are, and if either of them are worthy Super Bowl contenders.

In quantifiable terms – countless analytic devotees went down with severe brain freeze by the start of the fourth quarter – it was a futile exercise.

The game was played in an ice-coated wind tunnel. For those who didn’t realize that by seeing goal posts sway and fans dressed in nine layers, the announcers felt compelled to offer at least one reminder per down.

Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick bloviated banalities from start to finish. There are only so many ways to say, “Gee, it’s cold and windy out here.”

Note to ESPN: Only put three men in the booth if all three sign a pledge to avoid witless prattle.

It was too cold and too windy to conduct business as usual. So, Pop Belichick and offensive coordinator Amos Alonzo McDaniels dipped into the Warner playbook, 1895 edition. They ran right, they ran left, they ran up the middle. They ran 46 times for 222 yards.

Jack Armstrong Jones, All-American Boy, was allowed to throw three forward passes. Two of them were completed for 19 yards.

The ghost of Papa Bear Halas smiled.

Damien Harris broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run, Brandon Bolden ran in the two-point conversion, and the Patriots led 8-0 late in the first quarter.

From there, Nick Folk kicked two field goals. The Patriots had their 14 points for the night. It was plenty.

Buffalo scored 11 points but the Pats defense was almost blameless in allowing them. A punt grazed N’Keal Harry’s helmet and Buffalo recovered it at the Patriots 14. It took the Bills one play to score their only touchdown.

Later, a horrendous unnecessary roughness call against Myles Bryant, who had the audacity to shove Bills quarterback Josh Allen out of bounds, 1 yard shy of a first down, gave Buffalo a first down at the Pats 20. That produced a field goal.

In classic 2001 fashion, the Patriots defense allowed lots of yards, then clamped down once the Bills were inside the 20. Allen, a whiner to the end, begged for penalties against those meanies who pounded him into submission.

Whiny Bills head coach Sean McDermott has taught his QB well.

There are big games, and there are Big Games.

Other than the network marketing squirrels who are paid to hype big games beyond all proportion, everyone can tell the difference.

Big Games, the regular-season breed, have an immediate impact on the NFL’s sense of order. In December, Big Games can weed out pretenders and affirm contenders. Big Games are the 4:25 p.m. show or the prime-time extravaganza on Sunday and Monday nights.

It took a medium game to change Monday night from big game to Big Game. Offer thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, of all dreaded foes, for beating Baltimore, making Patriots-Bills one of the season’s Biggest Games.

This morning, the Patriots rest atop the AFC standings.

Division titles are nice; first-round byes are golden.

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