Relying on defense, the Patriots gut out victory over the Bills

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sometimes you win going away. Sometimes you win ugly.

The New England Patriots' 20-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night falls into the latter category, with the 20 points a season low.

This was a struggle for the Patriots, in part because they are still adjusting to life without No. 1 receiver Julian Edelman. But credit also goes to the Bills and head coach Rex Ryan, whose defensive plan was executed well, keeping Buffalo had quarterback Tom Brady under duress often.

In a long game that featured long stoppages as referees huddled multiple times to sort out some unusual situations (e.g. an inadvertent whistle early in third quarter), the Patriots gutted it out, with defense and special teams critical to the outcome.

Good teams find a way to win in multiple ways, and this was a different formula than we've seen this season from Bill Belichick's team. Belichick often talks about mental and physical toughness as the foundation for some of the best teams he's coached, and this was a game where the Patriots needed to call on that toughness in both areas.

It wasn't pretty, but they'll obviously take it.

What it means: The Patriots improve to 10-0 and are in position to remain atop ESPN's Power Rankings for an 11th straight week.

We'll be talking about the inadvertent whistle: One of the more unusual turn of events one will see in an NFL game unfolded early in the third quarter, when a member of the officiating crew blew an inadvertent whistle on a play in which Brady rolled out to the sideline and hit receiver Danny Amendola on a 14-yard pass down the field that could have gone for more if not for the whistle blowing (with Bills defenders pulling up). Ryan was also penalized on the play for unsportsmanlike conduct, as he appeared to induce the whistle from the official. An official pool report was requested with officials, with more details to come on how that unfolded.

Ouch: Receiver Aaron Dobson left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. He was charted on the field for 22 snaps in the game (including penalties) before the injury. Then late in the third quarter, Amendola left with a knee injury and did not return. That left the Patriots with Brandon LaFell and undrafted rookie Chris Harper as the lone pure receivers on the roster.

One reason to be concerned: Another week, another run of injuries. Just as the Patriots were getting some relief on the injury front along the offensive line, they got hit with multiple injuries at receiver in the game. Two weeks ago, they lost running back Dion Lewis to a season-ending torn ACL. Last week, Edelman injured his left foot and is out for the foreseeable future. On Monday, it was Dobson and Amendola, with the severity of both unknown at this point.

One reason to get excited: The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win at Denver next Sunday night, coupled with a Jets loss at home to Miami. That is always the team's first goal, with the bar raised high and the understanding that bigger goals are ahead.

Fantasy watch: Amendola rewarded fantasy owners with a nine-catch, 117-yard performance before leaving. It was a quiet night on the fantasy front for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was held to one catch for 10 yards in the first half and two catches and 37 yards overall. In terms of snaps played by Patriots running backs, LeGarrette Blount was charted on the field for 35, followed by James White (21) and Brandon Bolden (12). In the Sept. 20 game against Buffalo, Blount had played just seven snaps, so this was a change in approach for New England the second time around against the Bills.

Stats of note: Second-year running back James White scored his first career touchdowns -- first on a 20-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, then a 6-yard rushing score in the third quarter. ... White became the 60th player to catch a regular-season touchdown pass from Tom Brady, and the ninth different player in 2005. ... Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season, a 54-yard attempt in the third quarter. ... The team's streak of scoring points in consecutive quarters was snapped at 38, as they didn't score in the fourth quarter. Prior to the fourth quarter, the last quarter in which the Patriots didn't score was the opening quarter of Week 1.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Broncos on Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET), with Denver announcing that Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback over Peyton Manning.