FOXBOROUGH — If you love police dramas, then you can understand when we tell you that the Buffalo Bills died Sunday night of Blount force trauma.
LeGarrette Blount had the game of his career on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. With the Patriot playoff seeding hanging in the balance, Blount responded with a career high in rushing yardage and two monster kickoff returns. Tom Brady was able to have a subpar game by the numbers, and the Patriots nailed down the two seed in the AFC playoffs with a 34-20 win over Buffalo. The Bills gave a good effort despite having nothing to play for, but in the end mistakes by the Bills and the Patriot superiority decided the contest.
Denver secured the top seed with a 34-14 win at Oakland, so the Patriot loss at Miami cost the Patriots the chance to have home field throughout the playoffs. Still, the Patriots did get the cherished week off next week, allowing them to heal up and prepare for whomever their next opponent will be.
The opponent will be the Cincinnati Bengals if they hold serve at home next week. San Diego survived the crazy chase for the six seed and head for Paul Brown Stadium next week. But if they could barely handle a Kansas City team at home with nothing to gain or lose and who rested all their defensive starters and their starting quarterback and running back, look for Cincinnati to be a solid favorite at home. But if somehow San Diego should win, they would head for Denver and New England would then get the winner of Indianapolis-Kansas City.
Blount finished with 334 all-purpose yards. He had 189 yards rushing, his career best, averaging just under eight yards per carry and ripping off a late 36-yard touchdown run to seal the win. He also had kickoff returns for 83 and 62 yards in an area he has never been known for. On a day where the ball was incredibly slippery and Brady was not able to sustain any consistent passing attack, Blount's effort proved to be the critical difference in the game.
As a team, the Patriots had 267 rushing yards and a 6.2 yards per carry average. Stevan Ridley had 72 yards rushing, which also proved to be handy for the passing-challenged Patriot offense. Another interesting element of the game was that the Patriots suffered four fumbles, all of which should be blamed on a slippery ball, but lost none of them. The Bills were not able to take advantage of some breaks the Patriots offered them.
The rain slowed the game down considerably. Stephen Gostkowski was also one of the secondary heroes of the game, hitting on all four field goal attempts (43, 35, 29, 35). Dan Carpenter was also perfect in field goals (51, 37), so the field goal kickers did their job when they were needed the most.
One stat that Bill Belichick should pay heed to, even though he says that "stats are for losers", is that the Bills did wind up with more total yards than the Patriots at game's end. The Bills outgained the Patriots 393-382. The Patriots won by two touchdowns, but the game was in doubt until Blount's late touchdown scamper. The Patriot defense did not consistently stop the Bills all game long.
Buffalo quarterback Thad Lewis finished with a 95 passer rating, compared to a 68.4 figure for Brady. Lewis threw for 247 yards and a touchdown. C.J. Spiller rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries, and Fred Jackson chipped in with 60 rushing yards on 14 carries. The Bills had three drives of eight or more plays, resulting in ten points and losing the ball on downs.
What partially dragged the Bills down was that Lewis was sacked four times for 23 yards in losses. The Bills were also flagged six times for 54 yards, including two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on one play. One of those penalties was an offside call on Marcell Dareus on the first play of the fourth quarter as Gostkowski lined up for a field goal attempt. The penalty gave the Patriots a first down at the Bills' six-yard line, and Shane Vereen caught a screen pass for a touchdown on the first play after the penalty.
Still, it turned out to be a rough day for the Patriot defense. You expect Spiller and Jackson to get their yards. But Lewis isn't the kind of quarterback that should have a near-100 passer rating. T.J. Graham, Scott Chandler and Jackson each had over 50 receiving yards. To be fair, Graham and Jackson's numbers are a little skewed thanks to one long gain by each player, but Graham's 41-yard catch was in double coverage, and Jackson's 37-yard catch was a slant pattern where someone named Michael Buchanan was beaten in coverage.
Despite not getting the top playoff seed, the Patriots are nicely set up for the playoffs. The Patriots could still host the AFC Championship Game as they did last year.
Denver, the top seed last year, was upset at home by eventual champion Baltimore. This year, they will get either San Diego, Indianapolis or Kansas City. If Cincinnati beats San Diego, they automatically go to Foxborough. Either the Colts or the Chiefs could upset Denver. And if the weather is cold or otherwise adverse, it will be bad news for Peyton Manning, who made most of his career hay playing indoors in a dome or under covered conditions. Manning has never shown to be a good quarterback in bad weather other than perhaps his one and only Super Bowl win, which was played in rainy (but balmy) Miami against a Chicago Bears team lacking in offensive punch.
If the Patriots get Cincinnati at home, they have a chance to avenge an earlier loss in the regular season. That loss was at Paul Brown Stadium, where Andy Dalton plays much better at home. But with the Bengals having to travel, all bets are off. If Dalton has a bad game, the Bengals have almost no chance. Of the four teams seeded lower than the Patriots, the Bengals would be the most attractive opponent. If they handle San Diego next week at home like they should, they would also be the most likely.
But the Patriots have next week off. They won't care who they play right now. They will watch the games, Belichick will glance at all three teams they could play (all except San Diego), and focus on the one who will come when they know who it will be. Until then, it's enjoy the win, relax, heal up, and stay focused on the big prize.
And hopefully, the Patriots will Blount any opponent's hopes of an upset in two weeks.