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What we learned: Bills upend Patriots as several starters sit for New England

12.28.14 at 3:45 pm ET
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Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was sandwiched by Buffalo defenders on this second-half sack. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was sandwiched by Buffalo defenders on this second-half sack. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — In a contest that had a distinct preseason feel, the Bills ended up taking a 17-9 win over the Patriots in the regular-season finale for both teams Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Bills end their season 9-7 — the best record for the franchise since 2004 — while the Patriots head into the playoffs with a 12-4 mark and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It was the first win at Gillette Stadium in franchise history for Buffalo.

The Patriots sat a large number of starters in this one — right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Julian Edelman, guard Dan Connolly, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Brandon Browner were all inactive for the contest. And many of the starters who did play were done by halftime. As a result, backups like wide receiver Brian Tyms, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, wide receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Steve Maneri and cornerback Malcolm Butler got plenty of time out of the gate in this one.

In terms of actual game action, the Bills were able to connect for touchdowns on two of their first three drives of the game, taking a 17-6 halftime lead on the strength of a touchdown pass to Robert Woods, a 1-yard run from Boobie Dixon and a 48-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter. Orton finished 16-for-23 for 176 yards and a touchdown.

Meanwhile, the Patriots got three field goals from Stephen Gostkowski (35, 44 and 24 yards). Quarterback Tom Brady — who was yanked after two quarters — finished up 8-for-16 for 80 yards. Jimmy Garoppolo played the second half and ended 10-for-17 for 90 yards. Brandon LaFell had four catches for 70 yards.

Here’s what we learned about the Patriots:
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Halftime analysis: Bills 17, Patriots 6

12.28.14 at 2:19 pm ET
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Kyle Orton gets off a pass before Jonathan Casillas can get to him in the first half of Sunday's game. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Kyle Orton gets off a pass before Jonathan Casillas can get to him in the first half of Sunday’s game. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Bills hold a 17-6 lead. Here are a few quick notes:

Tom Brady is 8-for-16 for 80 yards. Meanwhile, Brian Tyms has four catches for 39 yards.

— On the other side of the ball, Kyle Orton is 11-for-15 for 143 yards and one touchdown. Robert Woods has three catches for 33 yards, and Fred Jackson has seven carries for 29 yards.

— Predictably, with so many starters on the sidelines for this one, the game was a bit of a showcase for New England’s middle of the roster players, including Tyms, Danny Amendola, Steve Maneri, Malcolm Butler and Jonathan Casillas all of whom saw plenty of snaps in the early going.

— On defense — other than the scratches that were announced prior to kickoff — the Patriots went with their starters, including defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, cornerback Darrelle Revis, safety Devin McCourty and end-of-the-line players in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Wilfork, who is line for a nice bonus if he hits 70 percent of the snaps for the season, is likely to hit his bonus after playing most of the first half.

— Easily, the best defensive play of the first half for the Patriots came midway through the second quarter when Jamie Collins came flying up the middle. He was slowed briefly by running back C.J. Spiller — who looked like he didn’t want anything to do with Collins on the play, truthfully. Collins beat that block, and then circled back around to Orton with a terrific second effort. He punched the ball loose, forcing the fumble. (The Patriots cashed in the turnover with a 44-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 14-6 with 5:07 left in the half.) One of the best defensive plays of the year for the Patriots and another highlight reel play for Collins, who continues to shine as a playmaker for the New England defense.

— The Bills offense put it in the end zone on two of their first three drives. On Buffalo’s first offensive series of the afternoon, a 43-yard connection between Orton and Sammy Watkins got the Bills into New England’s red zone, and Orton found Woods a few plays later for a six-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0 with 11:59 left in the first quarter. Following a Patriots field goal, the Bills added to it with a nice 13-play, 80-yard drive of their own, a series that ended with a 1-yard plunge from Boobie Dixon to make it 14-3 midway through the second quarter.

— The best Patriots drive of the first half likely came at the end of the first quarter when Brady steered the New England offense into the Buffalo red zone, thanks in part to some nice work by Tyms, who had an 18-yard catch to start the drive. The Patriots stalled out near the goal line, and had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Gostkowski to make it 7-3 with just over three minutes left in the first quarter. (In all, it was a 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 5:33.) On the drive, running back Shane Vereen was able to pick up his 50th catch of the season, making him the first New England running back since Kevin Faulk (2008) to finish with at least 50 catches and 50 carries in a single season.

— Dan Carpenter added a 48-yard field goal before the end of the half to make it 17-6 Buffalo.

— There were no injuries in the first half for the Patriots, although Nate Solder limped off the field to the locker room, as he appeared to suffer a right leg injury one of the final plays in the half.

Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Brandon Browner among Patriots’ inactives vs. Bills

12.28.14 at 11:39 am ET
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FOXBORO — The following Patriots players are inactive for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Bills: running back Jonas Gray, cornerback Brandon Browner, offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer, wide receiver Julian Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Gray had already been ruled out on Friday with an ankle injury.

It’s clear the Patriots are being very cautious with their players as the game is essentially meaningless with the Patriots already wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Connolly and Vollmer were listed as questionable with knee and back injuries respectively. Defensively, Hightower (shoulder) and Browner (groin) were both listed as questionable, but it’s likely the team is being very cautious with them as well.

Edelman missed last weeks game with a thigh/concussion injury, and although he did practice on a limited basis this week, he will miss his second game of the year. Gronkowski will be a healthy inactive, as he wasn’t on the injury report this week, but the Patriots can not afford to have their tight end get hurt in a meaningless game, so they are not taking any chances.

Alfonzo Dennard isn’t on the list as he was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday. Josh Boyce will be active after being promoted to the active roster on Saturday, as will running back James White for just the third time all season. Kyle Arrington (hamstring) and LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) will also be active after missing last weeks game.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Report: Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio signs extension through 2020

12.28.14 at 10:52 am ET
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Nick Caserio

Nick Caserio

FOXBORO — According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots have extended director of player personnel Nick Caserio’s contract through the end of the 2020 season.

Caserio had been one of the biggest names rumored in potential general manager openings, but Caserio won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. He’s played a big part in the success of the team this season, having a major role in trading for Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in middle of this season.

“Nick obviously is the key guy in all this, but on any individual one there could be other people that are involved,” Belichick said earlier this year when asked who was the point man in their in-season deals. “€œThere wouldn’€™t be any [transactions] that wouldn’€™t include Nick, I’€™ll put it that way. But there are some where I’€™d say Nick is maybe the guy who has the most information, sometimes it might be somebody else who it gets processed through Nick or myself. There’€™s no set formula.”

He’s been with the Patriots since the 2001 season and has been the director of player personnel since 2008. Caserio did interview for the Dolphins general manager job last year, but ultimately stuck in New England.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Live blog: Patriots take on Bills in regular season finale

12.28.14 at 10:38 am ET
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Live Blog Patriots vs. Bills, live blog
 

Week 17 fantasy football live chat, 11 a.m.

12.28.14 at 10:14 am ET
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Join Pete Davidson of WEEI.com and Rotobahn.com for a fantasy football live chat, Sunday starting at 11 a.m. Let Davidson help you set all your lineups …

Live Blog Week 17 fantasy football live chat
 

Setting the scene: Patriots wrap up the regular season at Gillette against the Bills

12.28.14 at 10:13 am ET
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Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense look to go into the playoffs with momentum. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense look to go into the playoffs with momentum. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Cloudy skies and temperatures approaching 50 are expected for the regular season finale between the Patriots and Buffalo Bills here at Gillette Stadium.

There is the chance of showers for the 1 p.m. kickoff with skies becoming partly cloudy by the second half. A slight breeze is expected out of the west at the start of the game but winds could pick up by the start of the second half, with gusts of 10 to 15 MPH possible.

The Patriots enter the game with nothing at stake except to stay healthy for the playoffs. They are 12-3 with the AFC East and No. 1 seed in the AFC already clinched. With that comes home field advantage throughout the playoffs until the Super Bowl.

The Bills enter the game 8-7 after blowing their chance to make Week 17 relevant when they lost in Oakland last Sunday. They were eliminated from playoff contention.

The biggest question is who will play and who will sit for the Patriots. Tom Brady figures to start but come out midway through. Julian Edelman is likely to sit out as a precautionary measure after suffering a concussion in the week leading up to the Jets game at MetLife Stadium. Josh Boyce was activated Saturday from the practice squad and could expected to take his place. Running back Jonas Gray was also ruled out Saturday.

Rob Gronkowski has played in every regular season game but is likely to see limited time, if any at all, in the finale. Unlike 2011, Gronkowski enters the game with no significant milestones or records at stake. He has 12 receiving touchdowns, five shy of the 17 he scored in the 2011 season, setting an NFL record for tight ends.

Gronkowski said earlier in the week he is preparing to play the entire game.

A win today against the Bills would extend Bill Belichick‘s record of seasons with 13 wins to six.

With the Patriots figuring to rest most of their significant starters in the second half and players like Edelman possibly sitting out, this represents a golden opportunity for the Bills to finally break through and win a game at Gillette Stadium.

They are 0-12 against the Patriots at Gillette and have lost 13 straight in Foxboro, dating to their last road win, 16-13, in New England on Nov. 5, 2000.

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