Mike ReissESPN Staff WriterClose
- Covered Patriots since 1997
- Joined ESPN in 2009
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots clinched their 10th consecutive AFC East championship Sunday, putting them in rare company in professional sports.
A win over the Bills would have done it, but the Patriots didn’t have to wait, clinching when the Dolphins lost. The Patriots went on to win 24-12.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Patriots join the Atlanta Braves as the only franchises from the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL to win at least 10 straight division titles. The Braves won 14 straight from 1991 to 2005, excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season.
The 10 straight division titles also extends the Patriots’ own NFL record. The Los Angeles Rams, who won the NFC West for seven straight seasons from 1973 to ’79, had held the record before the Patriots broke it in 2016.
In addition, the Patriots became the first franchise in NFL history to earn a playoff berth in 10 consecutive seasons. They had entered Sunday tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and Indianapolis Colts (2002-2010) as the only teams to qualify for the postseason for nine consecutive seasons.
While the Patriots (10-5) haven’t been as dominant as they’ve been in past seasons under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, they rode a six-game winning streak from Sept. 30 to Nov. 4 to give themselves some margin for error.
Tom Brady speaks to the media after the Patriots clinch their 10th straight AFC East title in Foxboro Sunday afternoon.
That cushion over division rivals Miami, New York and Buffalo was important as they entered Sunday on a two-game losing streak.
Even though the game against the Bills was under control for long stretches, the Patriots struggled in the passing game, sparking questions of how deep of a playoff run they might be able to make. But the defense, helped by some struggles from rookie Bills quarterback Josh Allen and pass-catchers who struggled to hang on to the ball, nicely complemented a strong Patriots running game.
After their win, the Patriots were surely keeping an eye on the Texans’ last-second loss to the Eagles, which means New England can earn a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Jets next Sunday at home.
One individual milestone of note: Brady surpassed 4,000 passing yards this season, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in at least 10 seasons.