FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots had no problem ending their brief two-game losing streak.
They still have a little work to do to wrap up another AFC East title.
Buoyed by yet another dominating performance by its defense which scored 17 points off five turnovers, New England improved to 11-3 on Sunday with a 34-13 win over Cincinnati.
The Patriots can clinch their 11th consecutive division crown with a victory over Buffalo (10-4) on Saturday. It would also keep New England in the race to secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
“You play to keep playing," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "You win four, five, six games ... you don’t really get anything for doing that. When you can win enough to play in the postseason, that is one of our goals. It’s a good thing."
While still not close to where the team hoped it would be at this point in the season, the Patriots' offense also had some promising moments. Tom Brady was just 15 of 29 for 128 yards, but had two touchdown passes. New England also ran for a season-high 175 yards.
One of Brady's TD passes was a 7-yarder to rookie N'Keal Harry, who is emerging as a solid red-zone option for a team that has struggled inside the 20-yard line.
Safety Devin McCourty said the expectations inside the locker room remain high.
“There’s ups and downs in a season, but I think, at the end of the day, we always give ourselves a chance,” he said. “Because of that, next week we’ll have a chance to play for a championship. That’s what you want. You want to have a chance to do that, and making the playoffs is always a part of the season. But for us, it’s about playing for championships."
New England's offensive line did a better job of protecting Brady on Sunday. Center Ted Karras returned to the starting lineup following a one-game absence because of a knee injury and no penalties were called on the starting five lineman. Brady was sacked twice, but hurried only six times on his 29 pass attempts.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Brady's receivers were again guilty of multiple dropped passes. According to STATS, the Patriots have 20 drops on the season, tied with Buffalo for the second most in the NFL.
Second-year running back Sony Michel was looking to bounce back after rushing five times for just 8 yards in the loss to Kansas City. He did just that, rushing 19 times for 89 yards on Sunday. It was his second-highest output of 2019.
Receiver Mohamed Sanu had a rough day, catching two passes for 13 yards on eight targets. He also had a drop. Since catching a season-high 10 passes against the Ravens on Nov. 3, in his past four games he has eight total catches, totaling 44 yards. His catch rate is 54.1 percent, the second lowest among New England receivers. When the Patriots traded for Sanu on Oct. 22, there was an expectation that he could be another dependable option in the slot for Brady. The Patriots will need more from him if they hope to go far in the postseason.
6 — Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had third-quarter interceptions on consecutive drives, one that he returned 64 yards for a touchdown. He has six INTs in 2019, a single-season career high. He had five interceptions in 2016 with Buffalo.
Right guard Shaq Mason left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. It's the latest bit of bad luck for an offensive line that has dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season.
It's a short week for New England to prepare for Buffalo's much-improved offense. The Patriots intercepted Bills quarterback Josh Allen three times in the September win, holding the Bills to just 10 points before Allen was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. It was Buffalo's lowest-scoring output of the season. The Bills have averaged 22 points over their past 10 games.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL