More than half of their season remains, but the New England Patriots’ two-decade stranglehold on the AFC East certainly looks as if it’s coming to an end.
Cam Newton fumbled with the Pats in range for a game-tying field-goal try at the Buffalo 14-yard line with 37 seconds remaining, and Dean Marlowe recovered for the Bills to seal their 24-21 victory Sunday in Orchard Park.
“It’s unacceptable. I have to protect the ball better,” Newton said. “It affects you more that I still am jeopardizing this team’s success because of my lackluster performances protecting the football.
“Coach [Bill Belichick] trusts me with the ball in my hands and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I just have to do a better job of protecting it.”
The Patriots (2-5), winners of the AFC East in each of the past 11 NFL seasons, have lost four straight games for the first time since 2002. They also had won the previous seven meetings with Buffalo (6-2) — and 35 of 40 against the Bills under Belichick.
“This is the third time we’ve been in this situation this year and haven’t been able to make enough plays to win,” Belichick said of having a chance to win on the final drive. “All of us have to continue to work hard and play better and improve … and fix the things that need to be fixed.”
The Hall of Fame coach also issued a vote of confidence for Newton, the former league MVP who is in his first year replacing six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.