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The New England Patriots (13-3) made sure that the AFC playoffs will go through Foxborough this postseason, coming back from a 21-0 first-quarter deficit to top the Buffalo Bills 49-21 to conclude the regular season at Gillette Stadium. The win is the Patriots’ eighth consecutive triumph, and they split the season series with the Bills (6-10).
Seeing his first action after missing seven weeks, Patrick Chung’s return to the New England secondary provided dividends. Sure, Coach Bill Belichick’s defense was abysmal in the opening quarter, but his defense shut down the potent Bills’ explosive offense the rest of the way. The Bills took a 7-0 lead after an eight-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a three-yard Tashard Choice plunge. Buffalo extended their edge with an 18-yard touchdown reception by Stevie Johnson to cap a 10-play, 70-yard drive. CJ Spiller made it 21-0 after a 15-yard touchdown catch to end a six-play, 82-yard march.
Chung finished the game with seven tackles, a clutch QB hit on a fourth down stop, and was constantly jawing with Buffalo players.
Once the offense got in rhythm and the defense got a few stops, Buffalo could not keep up. Mark Anderson was another defensive standout with seven tackles and a sack, while Sterling Moore registered a pair of interceptions, including a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown. Devin McCourty and Antwaun Molden also had interceptions for the New England defense, who won the turnover battle 4-1.
The Patriots’ offense was forced to open up the playbook and increase their tempo after being down early. And boy, did the changes work. Starting in the second quarter, Brady led touchdown drives of 77, 81, 25, 47, and 88 yards. The Michigan alum finished the game with 338 yards with three touchdowns and one interception on 23/35 passing.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis broke the shutout with a one-yard scamper to make it 21-7, before Aaron Hernandez’s 39-yard strike from Brady made it 21-14. A pair of Stephen Gostkowski field goals from 47 and 20 yards cut the deficit to 21-20. Rob Gronkowski gave the Patriots the lead for good with a 17-yard touchdown reception to bring the score to 35-21. Green-Ellis recorded his second touchdown of the game and his 11th of the year with a three-yard touchdown run, while Gronkowski put an exclamation mark on the Patriots’ day with a seven-yard score midway through the fourth.
Rookie Stevan Ridley topped the New England ground game with 81 yards on 15 carries, while the offense gained 138 yards on the ground.
Despite a rough opening frame, the Patriots were successful in cutting into a 21-0 second quarter deficit. Tom Brady finally got into rhythm were a no-huddle attack, and lead two scoring drives to make the halftime score 21-14. The two drives were essential in changing the momentum of the game.
Anderson continued his second half resurgence after replacing the injured Andre Carter. Anderson sacked Bills’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick once, was a constant menace in the backfield, and finished with seven total tackles.
New England young tight ends are, without a doubt, the toughest matchups in the NFL. Sophomore Aaron Hernandez had 138 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, while Gronkowski had 108 yards and two scores on eight catches.
The Patriots once again started sluggishly, falling behind 21-0 before the crowd at Gillette had settled in. New England was able to muster just one first down, and totaled only 10 yards.
It’s a rarity that Wes Welker makes this list, but on a day where many contributed, someone has to. Welker finished the afternoon with six catches for 50 yards, but the shifty slot receiver had a few drops and was targeted 11 times on the afternoon.
Fourth Down Defense
The Patriots thought they had forced Buffalo to punt on the Bills’ first possession, but a fake punt attempt continued their opening scoring drive. The Bills extended their second scoring drive with a 4th and 4 conversion to Stevie Johnson.
With the regular season over, the Patriots will now await their Divisional Round opponent. New England will host the lowest seed remaining on January 14 at 8 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.