Final, 34-20 Patriots: It’s all over. The Pats are the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and they’ll have next weekend off. It wasn’t pretty, especially in these rainy conditions, but the Patriots — thanks largely to LeGarrette Blount — got the job done.
A 12-4 record, and a first-round bye. We’ll see you in the divisional round.
Fourth quarter, 1:50, 34-20 Patriots: It’s all over now but for the final whistle, after Thad Lewis’ fourth-down pass falls to the turf. A few kneeldowns, and the Pats will have the No. 2 seed locked up.
Fourth quarter, 2:31, 34-20 Patriots: After review, the touchdown stands, and LeGarrette Blount has 189 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and 145 kick return yards on two attempts.
What a day for Blount.
Foruth quarter, 2:31, 33-20 Patriots: First down? That’s not enough for LeGarrette Blount. He wanted a touchdown.
He got it, bursting through the left side of the line and falling forward across the goal line for six. It’s currently under review.
Fourth quarter, 3:24, 27-20: Nate Ebner is on the team solely for special teams, and he came through on the onside kick attempt. Carpenter kicked a soft one right up the middle, similar to Gostkowski’s vs. Cleveland, and Ebner secured the ball before any Bills could get there.
The Pats just need a couple of first downs to fully ice this one.
Fourth quarter, 3:26, 27-20: The Bills were threatening to get in the end zone, but Aqib Talib wrapped up Fred Jackson behind the line on second down, and Rob Ninkovich sacked Lewis on third down to force the Bills to kick the field goal.
It was good, and an onside kick awaits…
Fourth quarter, 5:29, 27-17 Patriots: It’s a ball game, still.
On a third-and-6, Shane Vereen bobbled a screen pass that hit him in the chest near midfield. Manny Lawson was in the right place at the right time, and he caught the ball before it fell to the turf, and the Bills have life.
Fourth quarter, 5:38, 27-17 Patriots: The Bills had no choice but to go for it on fourth-and-2 near midfield, and they just about pulled it off, as Thad Lewis found a wide-open T.J. Graham up the left seam. But Graham inexplicably jumped to catch the pass, and he bobbled it. Dane Fletcher closed in on Graham and hit him just as he tried to haul in the ball on the bobble, and it fell harmlessly to the turf.
The Pats take over on downs, looking to drain some clock and tack on a few more points.
Fourth quarter, 7:57, 27-17 Patriots: Stevan Ridley’s 15-yard run to start the drive was an encouraging start for the Patriots, but their drive stalled after Brady and Edelman weren’t on the same page on a third-down pass that fell incomplete.
Stephen Gostkowski came on for his fifth field goal of the day, this one a 35-yarder, and it was money.
Fourth quarter, 10:09, 24-17 Patriots: LeGarrette Blount with a 62-yard kick return! This one came with a nifty spin move to slip a tackle.
First-and-10 Patriots from the Buffalo 40.
Fourth quarter, 10:20, 24-17 Patriots: Aqib Talib just let an interception slip between his arms after Kyle Arrington tipped a Lewis pass. On the next play, Fred Jackson caught a pass over the middle and took off for 37 yards. Two plays later, C.J. Spiller ran it up the gut and got the Bills to the goal line, and even after a false start penalty, Fred Jackson barreled his way into the end zone for six.
It’s once again a one-possession game, and the Patriots might need one more score from Brady and Co. before this one is all said and done.
Fourth quarter, 14:56, 24-10 Patriots: The Pats were going to attempt a field goal, but Marcell Dareus boneheadedly jumped offsides. (Yes, that’s a made-up word.)
Gifted a first down, the Pats went to Shane Vereen on a quick out, and he found the end zone for six.
The Pats then went for two, and Edelman was left all alone in the end zone. Brady rolled to his right and connected with No. 11, and the Pats lead by 14.
End of third quarter, 16-10 Patriots: The Patriots are in position to pick up some points, thanks to an 89-yard kickoff return by … LeGarrette Blount.
The big man doesn’t fit the bill as a kick returner, but he looked the part on that one, taking the kick from the end zone and burning past nearly every white jersey on his way down the field. He threw a couple of jukes and cut back from the right sideline late in the return, eventually getting taken down at the Buffalo 20-yard line.
The Pats will have a fourth-and-1 from the 11-yard line to start the fourth.
Third quarter, 1:29, 16-10 Patriots: Don’t look now, but we’ve got a ball game.
It came because of a suspect penalty called on Chandler Jones for illegal hands to the face on a third-down stop, but it counts nevertheless.
Thad Lewis scrambled to his left, and he drew the attention of four Patriots defenders. That left T.J. Graham all alone at the goal line, and Lewis made an easy pass over the defenders and into the arms of Graham for a TD.
Graham caught a 41-yard pass down the left sideline earlier in the drive, which got the Bills from their own 32 to the Pats’ 27.
Third quarter, 4:19, 16-3 Patriots: The Pats were stopped rather quickly, but Ryan Allen dropped a beauty of a punt deep in Buffalo territory. Kanorris Davis, called up from the practice squad yesterday, was in pursuit of the ball and jumped on it to down it inside the 3-yard line, but the ball slipped right out from under him and squirted into the end zone.
We’ll see if the Bills take advantage of that gift.
Third quarter, 6:28, 16-3 Patriots: The Bills go three-and-out, thanks to heavy pressure on first and third downs. On third down, Chandler Jones forced Thad Lewis to retreat to the turf to save his own neck, and Chris Jones was there to jump on top of the QB for the sack.
The Patriots take over at their 38-yard line after a seven-yard punt return by Edelman.
At this point in the game, you have to think that one more touchdown for New England might put it out of reach for Buffalo.
Third quarter, 7:43, 16-3 Patriots: Facing a third-and-32, the Patriots figured … eh, let’s punt.
Their hope was likely to have Brady boot the ball over the safeties’ heads and have it roll toward the goal line, but Jim Leonhard was back deep and called for a fair catch at the 23-yard line.
Bill’s trickery didn’t work that time.
You’ll remember that Brady punted back in that blowout playoff win over Denver a couple of years ago, and it nearly started a massive brawl along the sideline. This one went off without incident, fortunately.
Second quarter, 12:47, 16-3 Patriots: Fred Jackson dropped a third down pass, but even if he had hauled it in, he likely would have come up short of a first down, and the Bills punt on their opening possession of the second half.
Edelman called for a fair catch at his own 8-yard line but let the ball bounce right off his chest. For the fourth time of the day, though, a Patriots player was there to jump on the loose ball. It was either Edelman himself or Justin Green, but regardless, the Patriots have the ball.
Third quarter, 15:00, 16-3 Patriots: Some halftime stats:
Brady has just 93 passing yards after completing 10 of his 17 passes.
LeGarrette Blount has 118 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Thad Lewis is 3-for-8 for 62 yards.
Julian Edelman leads the Patriots with seven receptions for 50 yards. Shane Vereen (2) and Aaron Dobson (1) are the only other Pats with receptions.
And we’re underway in the second half…
Halftime, 16-3 Patriots: LeGarrette Blount fumbled and very nearly coughed away some points, but Matthew Mulligan was there to pounce on the loose football to keep possession. Though the Pats were unable to get six before the quarter ended, Gostkowski trotted out for a 29-yard chip shot to extend the Pats lead to 13 points.
In doing so, Gostkowski set the Patriots record for most field goals in a season with 37, breaking a record he set previously.
The Bills will get the ball to begin the second half.
Second quarter, 4:43, 13-3 Patriots: With Arrington on the sideline, Justin Green — who was promoted from the practice squad yesterday — stepped in and covered Robert Woods on a third-and-4. Green’s tight coverage helped prevent the catch from being made, and the Bills had to punt.
And now in encouraging news … Logan Mankins returned to the game. That is a bit of a stunner, because he did not look good at all on his way off the field earlier. But on his first play, he was out in front of Shane Vereen looking to bowl over some Bills.
Second quarter, 5:34, 13-3 Patriots: And now Kyle Arrington is down.
He appeared to suffer a leg injury while tackling C.J. Spiller, and he stayed down and required attention from the trainers. This isn’t how the Patriots wanted today to go at all.
Second quarter, 6:35, 13-3 Patriots: Coming out of a timeout, Brady fumbled a shotgun snap and fell on the ball, killing that drive rather quickly.
Ryan Allen came on to punt, and he landed it perfectly at the 7-yard line. The Bills’ decision to go for it on fourth down didn’t prove costly in terms of points, but they’re now in tough field position to start this drive.
Second quarter, 7:15, 13-3 Patriots: It seems like the news on Logan Mankins isn’t quite terrible for the Patriots. He suffered an ankle injury, and his return is questionable.
If it were a knee, and if he had been listed as out for the rest of the game, there’d be bigger reasons for concern. For now, it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Still, with a playoff bye perhaps awaiting them next week, I’d be surprised to see Mankins return to the game.
Second quarter, 8:29, 13-3 Patriots: The Bills tried to sneak one up the gut on fourth-and-1 near midfield, but they didn’t fool Rob Ninkovich, who slipped right through the line and wrapped up Thad Lewis before he could even think about moving forward, and the Pats take over on downs.
Second quarter, 12:14, 13-3 Patriots: LeGarrette Blount has been impossible to take down today, so it’s fitting that he was the one to get into the end zone. He burst through the middle and beat Jim Leonhard in a foot race for a 36-yard touchdown, giving the Pats a 13-3 lead and putting Blount over 100 yards rushing already.
But the touchdown came with some bad news for New England, as Logan Mankins was injured on the play and needed to be helped off the field. That would be a devastating loss for an already-thin offensive line, so the Patriots just have to hope it’s not serious. However, Mankins played half a season a torn ACL, so for him to require any sort of attention from the trainers tells you it’s likely not good.
First quarter, :03, 6-3 Patriots: The Patriots caught a bit of a break, as Scott Chandler had a case of alligator arms on a third-down pass from Thad Lewis that went right off the tight end’s hands. That pass fell to the turf, and the Bills had to punt. It was downed on the 6-yard line, so there’s some work to be done for Tom Brady and Co. here.
First quarter, 2:41, 6-3 Patriots: Gostkowski made the 35-yard field goal in the rain look easy, and the Pats are once again on top by three.
Stevan Ridley had the play of the drive, as he burst through the right side of the line and took off for a 29-yard gain. He was helped by a big block by Edelman, who also made two catches on the drive to bring his season total to 98.
First quarter, 3:03, 3-3: The Patriots will momentarily attempt a field goal, but they lost Aaron Dobson on this drive. The receiver ran a deep post and came up limping, and he headed to the sideline and quickly went into the locker room.
He battled a foot injury for a solid month before returning last week against Baltimore, so it’s easy to speculate that the foot injury caused today’s return. We’ll get official word shortly.
First quarter, 6:14, 3-3: The Bills were threatening to score seven, but thanks to the pass rush of Chandler Jones and Sealver Siliga which caused That Lewis to twice fumble while running away from the line of scrimmage on a third down, they were forced to attempt a 51-yard field goal. In these conditions, that’s especially tough, but Dan Carpenter got just enough behind his kick to tie this game at three.
The big play on that drive came on a 24-yard run by C.J. Spiller, as he was able to break a Steve Gregory tackle and find loads of running room on the left side. Marquise Goodwin also made a nice toe-tapping catch on the right sideline for a gain of 22.
First quarter, 9:41, 3-0 Patriots: The Patriots’ drive was moving along nicely, thanks to some heavy runs by LeGarrette Blount. But it seemed to be stopped at the Buffalo 40 when Tom Brady’s deep pass to Julian Edelman was incomplete on third-and-5. But a defensive holding penalty on Stephon Gilmore gave the Patriots a first down.
It was nearly stopped again three plays later, when Vereen was stripped by Jairus Byrd on his way down to the turf, and it was recovered by Edelman beyond the first down marker.
Despite the bonus first down, the Pats couldn’t fully capitalize, as Danny Amendola dropped a pass that hit his hands on second-and-7 and Brady threw an incompletion into tight coverage on thitrd down.
Stephen Gostkowski stepped up and drilled a 43-yarder, and it was perfect, as it has been so many times this season. And the Pats lead 3-0.
First quarter, 14:54, 0-0: Shane Vereen caught the opening kick at the 2-yard line and took it out the 24, and the Pats will start there.
4:23 p.m.: The Bills won the opening coin toss and elected to defer until the second half, so the Pats will be receiving to start this game. Just a couple of minutes away now.
4:20 p.m.: Five minutes to kickoff, and the Patriots — who claimed they wouldn’t be scoreboard-watching — know that they need to win to secure the bye. The Bengals and Colts both won big.
3 p.m.: After he suffered a concussion last week, it was expected that Devin McCourty would sit this one out. The inactives list confirmed that, and it also announced that cornerback Alfonzo Dennard won’t play, either.
That leaves the Pats a man down at safety and at cornerback, so the Bills may very well have some opportunities to move the ball today.
Of note, Shane Vereen is active. How much he’ll play, we’ll find out, but he will be suited up for this one.
Here are all of the Pats’ inactives:
DE Jake Bequette
OL Chris Barker
DT Isaac Sopoaga
CB Alfonzo Dennard
S Devin McCourty
LB Steve Beauharnais
WR Josh Boyce
And here is the list of Bills inactives, which contains no surprises:
QB E.J. Manuel
WR Stevie Johnson
WR Cordell Roberson
RB Ronnie Wingo
DB Brandon Smith
G Mark Asper
G Antoine McClain
2:28 p.m.: Looking around the NFL, it looks like the Patriots won’t be getting that help. The Bengals head to halftime leading 17-6 over Baltimore, and the Colts lead 20-3 over the Jaguars.
As expected, the Pats are going to need to win today to secure that first-round bye.
1 p.m.: Last week, the Patriots were able to clinch an AFC East title without even stepping on the field. Will they be lucky again this week with regard to a first-round playoff bye?
It’s possible, sure, but the Bengals would have to lose to the Ravens and the Colts would have to lose to the Jaguars in order for the Pats to wrap up that first-round bye before their game kicks off in Foxboro. And the likelihood of either of those happening, let alone both, is pretty slim.
So it’s very likely that if the Patriots would like to take in the first round of the playoffs from their living rooms rather than the football field, they’ll have to earn a victory over the Bills today in Foxboro.
One factor that should be a big one today is the weather. It’s supposed to start raining an hour before kickoff, and it’s not supposed to stop until midnight, so ball security will be crucial for whichever team wants to win this one.
I’ll have all the updates from pregame right here in the live blog, and it’ll keep you updated all the way until the final play, when we find out if the Pats can earn that No. 2 seed in the AFC.