Even as the New England Patriots won a 10th game for the 15th consecutive season to move closer to yet another AFC East title and a No. 1 seed for the playoffs, a late hit to an opponent’s head by Rob Gronkowski and a sideline spat involving Tom Brady made things interesting for the defending Super Bowl champs.
Not that anyone on the Patriots was willing to say anything revelatory about either episode. Nothing new there, either.
Still, as much as coach Bill Belichick will want to ignore it all and move on to the next game, there are some key talking points about the Patriots for the coming days that have zero to do with what the scoreboard said at the end of Sunday’s 23-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
There was Gronkowski, driving his shoulder into the back of the helmet of cornerback Tre’Davious White, who already was down on the sideline after an interception.
“That’s just dirty football,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “There’s nowhere in our game for that.”
Hard to argue.
The play was done. White was face-down on the ground, the very definition of defenseless. And Gronkowski went right at his head.
Gronkowski wasn’t ejected — even former head of NFL officiating Dean Blandino said he was surprised by that — and now could face a suspension and/or fine from the league.
The Brady episode was not punishment-worthy, but it was the sort of thing that would generate a full week of chatter and speculation in other NFL cities: After a third-down incompletion during a zero-TD first half, the QB barked at offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels , then ripped off his helmet and cursed.
“It’s just football. We’ve been around each other a lot,” Brady said through a hide-everything-at-all-costs smile. “I love Josh.”
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season’s 13th Sunday:
THROW THE FLAG
Nothing is going right for Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs, who have completely come undone after a 5-0 start, losing six of their past seven games to drop into a three-way tie atop the AFC West at 6-6 with the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders. And during their 38-31 loss at the New York Jets, the Chiefs really looked like a team without discipline or direction, undone by so many penalties down the stretch that cornerback Marcus Peters flipped out and flipped a yellow flag into the stands after one whistle.
With only four weeks left to go, not a single postseason berth has been clinched. MVP contender Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles had a chance to secure the NFC East title with a victory Sunday night, but they lost 24-10 to the Seattle Seahawks, who got three TD passes from Russell Wilson. That means the Eagles and Minnesota Vikings — who won again with Case Keenum at the controls, 14-9 over Atlanta — are tied atop the conference at 10-2. The New Orleans Saints nosed ahead in the NFC South at 9-3, breaking a first-place tie with Carolina by topping the Panthers 31-21. And over in the AFC, in addition to the logjammed West, the South could go down to Week 17: That’s when the Titans and Jaguars play each other. For now, they are tied for first with 8-4 marks after Tennessee beat the Houston Texans 24-13, and the Jacksonville easily defeated the Indianapolis Colts 30-10.
What an unusual sight: Eli Manning on the sideline while the New York Giants have the football. Yet there was Manning wearing an earpiece and without a helmet as Geno Smith took the opening snap and quarterbacked the Giants during their 24-17 loss at Oakland. It ended a 210-game starting streak for two-time Super Bowl MVP Manning that began in November 2004. Manning said afterward that he does plan to continue playing — somewhere — next season. Still lingering: Questions about coach Ben McAdoo’s job security. “I’m going to coach this team as long as my key card works,” McAdoo said.
STAT OF THE DAY
Chargers WR Keenan Allen became the first player in NFL history with at least 10 catches, 100 yards and one TD in each of three consecutive games.
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