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Patriots pound past the Bills, 34-20

Sunday, December 29, 2013

 

Little to play for? Depends on who you root for.

With New England ticketed for a home playoff game at the very least, would the Buffalo Bills go quietly into the off-season, or make the Patriots squirm a bit? Thanks in part to a punishing rushing attack, and a defense that played just well enough in wet weather, NE bullied the Bills 34-20 to finish the regular season 12-4, and owners of a first-round bye for the upcoming playoffs.

With the rain beginning more than an hour prior to the kickoff, it was no small wonder that field goals ruled the roost early. With a slippery football to try and hold onto, the ground games were featured prominently, and each team managed successful field goal kicks on their opening possessions. Stephen Gostkowski from 43 yards, Dan Carpenter from 51...then Gostkowski hit again on the next possession from 35 yards for a 6-3 lead.

With 12:14 left in the 2nd quarter, and the Patriots continuing to pound away at Buffalo's middle, LeGarrette Blount broke free on a cut-back run for a 36-yard touchdown - going over the 100-yard mark for the day - to give NE a 13-3 advantage. The play, however, might have been a costly one as Pro Bowl left tackle Logan Mankins was helped off of the field during the TD celebration, favoring his right leg. He did return, however, before the end of the first half.

For a second straight possession, the Bills' were stopped short by the Patriots' defense, with Rob Ninkovich and Jamie Collins stopping QB Thad Lewis short on a 4th-and-1 attempt at the NE 45. But the wet ball began to play tricks on the Pats, bouncing away from Tom Brady to force the first Ryan Allen punt of the day with 6:35 left before the half. Then, after another defensive stand, behind the running of Blount and the catch-and-run ability from Shane Vereen, Gostkowski booted a 3rd successful FG of the half, from 29 yards, to give the Pats a 16-3 halftime lead.

With a driving rain continuing to make the conditions slippery at best, the highlight of the 3rd quarter came with 7:43 remaining, when facing a 3rd down and 32 from near mid-field Brady pooch-kicked the ball to the Bills' Jim Leonhard at the Buffalo 22. It was Brady's first quick-kick as an NFL quarterback. That was a Patriots' highlight, however. Because Buffalo kept playing...scoring on a 12-yard pass from Lewis to T.J. Graham, capping an 80-yard drive to bring the Bills within 16-10, and 1:29 to play in the period.

Blount responded to the score with an 84-yard kickoff return, setting up the offense at the Buffalo 20. As the kick team lined up for a possible 28 yard field goal, Buffalo jumped off-sides, giving NE a first down at the five on the first play of the 4th quarter. And Brady made the Bills pay for the mistake, hitting Vereen on a five-yard pass and Julian Edelman on a two-point conversion play to make it 24-10. Still, the Bills did not go quietly into the off-season, as Lewis hit Fred Jackson for 37 yards up the middle, and Jackson ran in the score from five yards out to keep them in it...24-17 and 10:20 to go.

Blount again responded with a huge kick return, going for 61 yards to put the Patriots at the Buffalo 40. But the drive stalled on a questionable 3rd-and-two play call, with Brady misfiring on a pass play intended for Edelman...leaving Gostkowski to clean up with a 35 yard FG for a 27-17 margin, and 7:57 to play. Time for the Patriots defense to step up - which they did, albeit with a little help as Graham bobbled a 4th down pass fromn Lewis, and the wet ball fell to the turf to give the Pats possession at midfield.

And still, Buffalo would not go away. Manny Lawson intercepted Brady with 5:03 left, giving the Bills the ball at their 48. Lewis connected with Scott Chandler on a tight-rope sideline route for 19 yards to the NE 14, then Rob Ninkovich sacked Lewis to force a Carpenter FG kick from 37 yards for a 27-20 margin. And 3:26 left.

Nate Ebner recovered the subsequent on-side kick attempt, leaving the offense to run out the clock. Literally. Blount bounced outside for a 35-yard score to put things away, finishing his day with 189 rushing yards and 145 in the return game...as NE made it 34-20. Now, the post-season has arrived...with plenty still to play for.

Post Game Notes

The win for the Patriots is their 22nd in the last 24 games against the Buffalo Bills...New England clinches the #2 seed in the AFC, with Denver's win over Oakland, and they will host a home game in the Divisional Round in two weeks...Blount's rushing performance was the top game for a NE runningback this season...

 

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