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FOXBOROUGH — The lighthouse was flashing a bright blue in the north end zone and the accompanying haunting horn was blaring.
And there was Josh Allen, lost in a fog of Patriot defenders.
The Buffalo quarterback, who had shown steely resolve in twice leading his club back from deficits Saturday evening, couldn’t do it a third time. He couldn’t navigate his way through these uncharted waters.
Staring at a 7-point deficit, Allen drove the Bills to New England 8-yard line, where the New England defense sank the ship.
Allen was dropped for a pair of losses and the New England secondary held tight on his final two passes to clinch New England’s 24-17 win at Gillette Stadium.
The victory gave Bill Belichick’s crew their 11th straight AFC East crown, their seventh straight win over the Bills, and a 12-3 record. They can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye either with a Kansas City loss in Chicago on Sunday, or by beating Miami in Week 17.
“It’s pretty cool,’’ said Brady. “To win and know that you win the division is pretty cool. So, happy for us, happy for our team, and our coaches, and our families, and our fans.’’
The playoff-bound Bills (10-5) didn’t make it easy, and came in brimming with confidence after big road wins over the Cowboys and the Steelers.
“Don’t let them score. That’s what it comes down to,’’ said safety Duron Harmon, asked about the defense’s mind-set on the final stand. “They had to score 7 points and we couldn’t allow them to score 7. I think the coaches do a good job of calling the right plays, and the defense did a good job of playing what was called with good technique. We forced him both times to make errant throws and that’s how we want to finish the game.’’
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy said the club was confident taking the field after running back Rex Burkhead’s touchdown run put them ahead for good with five minutes left.
“I think at the end of the day if we just minimize our mistakes and do what we need to do, it’s going to be tough for teams to drive the length of the field on us,’’ said Van Noy. “I think we proved that tonight.’’
The Patriots’ initial drive was cut short before most of the 65,878 had tucked their fannies into the seats. After three straight gains, Brady hit Burkhead, who sifted through traffic and broke into the Buffalo secondary.
He was caught from behind, however, by the Bills’ Jordan Poyer, who knocked the ball loose. It bounced to Micah Hyde, who returned it 31 yards to the New England 31-yard line.
The Bills could only muster 14 yards, and had to settle for Stephen Hauschka’s 35-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
Brady and Co. answered immediately.
Relying heavily on Sony Michel’s legs and Elandon Roberts’s broad shoulders, the Patriots moved 75 yards on 11 plays in an important tone-setting drive.
Michel (21 carries, 96 yards) followed fullback Roberts, as the pair consistently found paths and played physical against an equally physical Buffalo defense. Roberts crashed into bodies and Michel shrugged off defenders in some of his most authoritative runs of the season.
The big uglies up front did their job, too, helping the runners grind out 143 yards.
“The offensive line did a tremendous job tonight. They take pride in what they do, and guys were hungry for this team,’’ said Michel.
Brady capped it by hitting Matt LaCosse for an 8-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
In snagging his first touchdown as a Patriot, LaCosse became the 76th player to snatch a scoring strike from Brady in the regular season, extending the quarterback’s NFL record. It was Brady’s 539th career regular-season touchdown, tying Peyton Manning for second all-time.
New England’s defense got the ball back to the offense in short order, and the Patriots went on another lengthy drive to extend their lead to 10-3 on Nick Folk’s 36-yard field goal.
The 17-play drive was the third longest in team history (in terms of plays, not distance), and included one that may end up in Brady’s highlight reel.
After pitching to Burkhead, Brady took off up field. Burkhead flipped it to N’Keal Harry, who followed a convoy of blockers, including his quarterback.
Brady picked off Tre’Davious White, sending the Bills cornerback keister over teakettle as Harry steamed down the sideline for an 18-yard gain.
“I’m pretty poor at just about everything other than throwing the ball,’’ said Brady. “So, I was trying to just get in his way.’’
The drive stalled at the Buffalo 18, leading to Folk’s 3-pointer.
Allen struggled throughout most of the first half, but caught fire on the final drive. The Bills took over on their 41 after Harry was stopped for no gain on a fourth-down jet sweep, courtesy of a terrific tackle by cornerback Kevin Johnson.
Allen dropped a 34-yard dime into tight end Dawson Knox’s hands that was originally ruled a touchdown before he was ruled down at the 1 after a review.
Two plays later, Allen hit wide open tackle-eligible Dion Dawkins for the score and a 10-10 game.
The see-saw battle continued in the second half.
New England took a 13-10 lead on Folk’s 51-yard field goal — his longest as a Patriot — but it didn’t last long. Just 2:30 later, Allen hit his longest completion of the season, a 53-yard touchdown to give the visitors a 17-13 lead.
The Patriots scored the next 10 points and Buffalo couldn’t counter.
Folk trimmed it to 17-16 with a 20-yard chip shot to cap an 11-play drive without Julian Edelman, who was in the locker room being evaluated for a concussion.
Burkhead then scored on a nifty, second-effort, 1-yard run, as Bills defenders bounced off him like candlepins hit by a runaway bowling ball.
Fittingly, Brady hit Edelman for the 2-point conversion for the final points.
“It’s a good feeling here today. This football team competed hard,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “There’s a lot of guys with a lot of mental toughness in that locker room and they showed it today.’’