FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Now, it is on to the real season for the New England Patriots.
Seeking their fourth championship of the Bill Belichick era, but their first since the 2004 season, the Patriots overcame all kinds of adversity to finish the regular season as the AFC East champs with a 12-4 record, landing the No. 2 seed and a bye in the conference playoffs.
"This team earned it, and I'm happy for them," Belichick said after hulking running back LeGarrette Blount carried the Patriots to a rain-soaked 34-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Adversity? Start with the tight end problem, the loss of the arrested Aaron Hernandez, the delayed start and then the loss again of Rob Gronkowski. The defense suffered season-ending injuries to nose tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and tackle Tommy Kelly.
The list of problems is long, but the Patriots won five of their last six games to get right back where the team expects to be every year.
"We'll see what we're made of here in a couple of weeks," quarterback Tom Brady said.
The Patriots, 8-0 at home, will rest for a week before hosting a divisional playoff game.
Blount ran for a career-high 189 yards, including touchdown runs of 36 and 35 yards, and also recorded kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards (both besting the previous team high for the season) in the second half.
The 189 rushing yards represents the fifth-highest total in franchise history, the most since Robert Edwards had 196 in 1998. The 344 all-purpose yards is a Patriots record, the 11th-best total in NFL history.
Blount, who posted his second consecutive two-touchdown game, left to a huge ovation and a hug from Belichick as the Patriots were running out the clock.
"He carried the team on his back most of the day," said Belichick, who thanked "assistant pro personnel director (Aqib) Talib" for advising him to acquire Blount. "It was definitely a running game (because of the rain)."
Blount denied carrying the team.
"On the returns I had, I didn't get touched for like the first 30 yards, so I tip my hat off to those (blockers)," he said. "And the offensive line played amazing, so you can't give them enough credit."
Asked about the hug with Belichick, he said, "It was just the excitement of us winning the game and getting the first-round bye into the playoffs."
The Patriots ran for a season-high 267 yards in beating Buffalo for the 13th straight time in Foxboro, the last 12 at Gillette Stadium.
What the Bills said
"I just think it was us not tackling. I give credit to (LeGarrette) Blount because he ran the ball hard today and I can't take anything away from him. ... We have to do a lot better job. We have to do our job. The offense scored points but we have to help them out. Hopefully, we can use that as motivation for next year." -- Linebacker Jerry Hughes, after Blount ran all over his team Sunday.
What the Patriots said
"We'll see what we're made of here in a couple of weeks." -- Quarterback Tom Brady.
What we learned about the Bills
1. That they don't quit under difficult circumstances. A week after beating Miami 19-0 to damage the Dolphins' playoff chances, the Bills trailed almost throughout in the pouring rain Sunday, but played hard and still had a chance to take the game in the fourth quarter. "I thought Buffalo played hard, like they always do," said New England coach Bill Belichick. "They're a tough football team. They battled us all the way."
2. That Thad Lewis might have a future as an NFL quarterback. Playing in the rain, the third-year Duke product, playing for an injured EJ Manuel, did plenty of good things in the 34-20 loss. "I think he played well," said wide receiver Robert Woods. "He executed the game plan and made some key throws, especially to Scott (tight end Chandler) on the sideline. And then on the touchdown, he made a play with his feet and set it up for T.J. (Graham)."
What we learned about the Patriots
1. That LeGarrette Blount is one difficult person to tackle. It's been seen before but Sunday was a career game for the running back. "He's big (6-foot, 250) and when he gets going downhill, he's just a big guy -- bigger than anybody that's trying to tackle him," said quarterback Tom Brady. "So he can just put his head on the pile and the offensive line knows that if they've got a hat on a hat, we're going to make some yards."
2. That this Patriots team can score without Brady running up big numbers. They showed it at Baltimore and showed it again in the rain on Sunday. "I think we've shown that we can win different ways, too," says Brady. "We've had some pretty. ... The weather conditions have been interesting this year.
By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: December 29, 2013 09:51:51 PM
Bills-Patriots: What we learned
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