|12.29.13 at 10:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A pattern has been established. A startling 11 of the 16 games the Patriots played this season were decided by one possession, and there’s no reason to expect that the playoffs should be any different as the intensity of contests ramps up. In close games, there are few positions that are more important than the place-kicker, and the Patriots have a pretty good one in Stephen Gostkowski.
Gostkowski proved just how valuable he could be come the playoffs in Sunday’s 34-20 win over the Bills. Amidst a driving rain storm at Gillette Stadium, the eighth-year kicker booted four field goals, tying a career-high, and three came from 35 yards or more. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, the 29-year-old didn’t let them affect him.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than that, as far as rain goes,” said Gostkowski. “I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something that sloppy, but when it’s like that you’ve just got to increase your focus and increase how you go about things. You’ve got to slow things down a little bit and just make sure everything goes smoothly. [Long-snapper] Danny [Aiken] and [holder] Ryan [Allen] did a great job.
“One thing that stinks about playing here, but also that’s good is we practice outside everyday, no matter what it is. You complain and gripe when it’s 35 degrees outside and it’s raining or snowing or really windy. It pays off though. The coaches know what they’re doing when they put us out there for games like this.”
Sunday’s regular season finale put a cap on an outstanding season for the kicker, who was voted an AFC starter for the Pro Bowl late last week. His 29-yard field goal at the end of the first half gave him 37 on the year, besting his franchise record of 36 set in 2008. He finished the year with 38. He also broke Gino Cappelletti‘s Patriots record for most points in a season as he finished the year with 158, topping Cappelletti’s 155 in 1964. The 158 points led the league in scoring and Gostkowski is now just one of five players in league history to lead the league in scoring for at least three seasons (he also led the league in scoring in 2008 and 2012).
|12.29.13 at 9:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — There were only two certainties Sunday: The driving rain and the driving legs of LeGarrette Blount.
Blount established a new Patriots franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards, rushing for 189 yards and two touchdowns while returning two key kicks 145 yards to lead the Patriots to a 34-20 win over the Bills at waterlogged Gillette Stadium.
“Obviously, it was a tremendous game by LeGarrette,” Bill Belichick beamed. “Clearly, the best player on the field. He had a tremendous day. He carried the team on his back for most of the day.”
Blount, being the humble man he is, declined to accept that assessment from his coach. Instead, he chose to thank the offensive line and the special teams units that he insisted opened huge holes for him all day.
‘I wouldn’t say that,” Blount said. “On the returns that I had, I didn’t get touched for like the first thirty yards, so I tip my hat off to those guys, the core special teams guys. We have a Pro Bowler in [Matthew] Slater, so I tip my hat off to those guys. And the offensive line played amazing for both of us, me and [Stevan] Ridley and Shane [Vereen]. The offensive line played amazing, so you can’t ever give them enough credit.’
Belichick said the weather definitely turned the contest into a “running game.” Blount excelled given the chance.
‘I mean, I like touching the ball no matter what the weather is,” Blount said. “I’m not going to argue with them if they want to give it to us.
‘I feel like we had to man up and play tough football with the conditions, and whoever played better football physically is going to be the winner. It was cold and it was rainy, and it was hard for a lot of guys to keep their footing. We just went into the game with the mindset to run the football and play physical football, and that’s what we did. It’s a mindset and the will of what’s at stake and the urgency that we have to have to continue to be successful, and how important this first round bye was.’
Blount was without question the most important player on the field. In addition to his two touchdown runs, everyone saw why Belichick saw such promise in Blount as a return man way back in training camp. He returned one kick for 83 yards after the Bills cut the lead to 16-10. That led to a Patriots touchdown that made it 24-10.
The Bills came right back and made it 24-17. No worries, Blount was there again to save the day, returning the ensuing kick 62 yards and setting the Patriots up at the Bills 40. The field goal made it 27-17 and the Patriots dodged two speeding bullets.
‘It was a good feeling, man,” Blount said. “Those core guys ‘ I mean, we’ve been close a few times, but a few times it’s been us, it’s been the returners that haven’t ran the return to the point to where we could’ve broken it, and we finally got to the point where we read it perfectly, and they brought the perfect play and it broke.”
|12.29.13 at 7:27 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots put the capper on the 2013 regular season and clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs with a 34-20 win over the Bills Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
New England ends the regular season with a 12-4 mark, and will have wild card weekend off as they prepare to host a divisional playoff game the following weekend at Gillette.
The Patriots traded first-quarter field goals with Buffalo, but then tacked on 13 straight points to take command, with the highlight coming on a 36-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount in the second quarter. (Blount added a 35-yard touchdown late in the fourth to put the game out of reach.) Shane Vereen tacked on a second-half touchdown when he hauled in a five-yard touchdown from Tom Brady, and Stephen Gostkowski knocked home field goals of 43, 35, 29 and 35 yards yards.
For the Patriots, Brady was 14-for-24 for 122 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Julian Edelman had nine catches for 65 yards, and Blount had one of the best games ever for a New England running back with 24 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Thad Lewis was 16-for-29 for 247 yards and one touchdown, while C.J. Spiller had 19 carries for 105 yards.
Here are a few notes on what happened at a cold and soggy Gillette Stadium:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– The Patriots were able to take care of business. Armed with the knowledge that the Bengals and Colts both won their one o’clock games, which left the second seed still up for grabs, they were able to effectively shut down the Bills when it counted. Buffalo posted just three first-half points, and that cushion was enough to lift New England past the Bills. Read the rest of this entry »
|12.29.13 at 5:21 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In a season already marred by season-ending injuries to five starters, the Patriots watched their Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins helped off the field with an ankle injury. The Patriots listed his return as questionable. Just two series later, Mankins was back on the field.
Mankins was providing the seal block that sprang LeGarrette Blount for a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter when his legs appeared to buckle. As Blount was running for paydirt, several Patriots offensive lineman waved frantically for medical staff to hurry onto the field and assist.
Mankins was tended to on the sideline and then gingerly made his way to the locker room steps behind the Patriots bench and slowly down the steps into the trainer’s room.
Meanwhile, Aaron Dobson appeared to re-injure his left foot on a deep post route early in the first quarter when he sprinted for a deep ball from Tom Brady. After the pass fell incomplete, Dobson came up lame and limped off the field. Dobson missed three games after injuring his left foot in the Nov. 24 win over the Broncos. He wore a protective walking boot for two weeks before returning to practice. After initially being listed as questionable to return with a foot injury, he was ruled out of the game shortly after halftime.
|12.29.13 at 4:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots will have to earn their first-round bye.
The Bengals beat the Ravens, 34-17, in Cincinnati and the Colts beat the Jaguars, 30-10, at Indianapolis. Those two results mean the Patriots will have to beat the Bills to earn a weekend off when the playoffs begin next weekend.
If the Patriots lose, the Broncos will be the No. 1 seed and the Bengals will be the No. 2 and both will advance to the divisional round and have next weekend off.
A Patriots loss would also ensure the Patriots would play the Chiefs next weekend in the 4-5 matchup at Gillette Stadium.
Cincinnati’s win also eliminated the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens from the playoffs as the Steelers won and the Dolphins lost.
A win over the Chiefs would put San Diego into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed while a Chargers loss would allow the Steelers to earn the final spot with an 8-8 record.
|12.29.13 at 3:05 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The following players were listed as inactive for Sunday’s game against the Bills: linebacker Steve Beauharnais, safety Devin McCourty, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, wide receiver Josh Boyce, defensive end Jake Bequette, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and offensive lineman Chris Barker. Here’s what the moves mean and who is most affected:
McCourty: When he went out last week against the Ravens because of a head injury, Duron Harmon saw plenty of time in his place. McCourty missed practice all week because of concussion-related issues, so expect the same to be the case again this week against the Bills.
Dennard: The corner has had knee and shoulder issues over the course of the last couple of weeks, and was limited to just six snaps last week against the Ravens. Logan Ryan will likely see most of the snaps in his place.
Boyce: He’s struggled with an ankle issue he sustained late in the loss to the Dolphins earlier this month. The release of Austin Collie likely means the health of the rest of the receiving corps is as good as can be expected at this time of the season — expect some of the other rookies (Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson) to see an uptick in reps as a result.
Bequette: A healthy scratch for much of the season, he’s fallen behind Andre Carter when it comes to working as a backup defensive end.
Beauharnais: The rookie linebacker has been up and down over the course of his first year in the league, and was active last week in place of linebacker Dane Fletcher. The fact that Fletcher is active this week likely led to Beauharnais picking up another healthy scratch.
Barker: The rookie offensive lineman has also been up and down over the course of the year, but the fact that he’s a healthy scratch likely means the Patriots feel better about their offensive line depth — particularly the health of tackle Nate Solder, as well as the production of rookie guard Josh Kline — heading into this one.
Sopoaga: Since being acquired from Philadelphia, Sopoaga’s playing time has dipped, and last week he was a healthy scratch against the Ravens. The same appears to be the case this week against Buffalo, which means more time for Sealver Siliga.
|12.29.13 at 1:33 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Steady rain and winds are expected for the regular season finale Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The rain is expected to begin well before the 4:25 p.m. kickoff and continue throughout the game. Temperatures are expected in the low 40s before dropping into the upper 30s by the end of the game.
The Patriots clinch a first-round bye with a win and could wind up with the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win and Broncos loss to the Raiders in Oakland.
The Patriots have the best possible opponent visiting Foxboro as the Bills are 0-11 lifetime at Gillette Stadium and Tom Brady is 11-0 against the Bills lifetime in Foxboro, beating them in old Foxboro Stadium in 2001 but not facing them in 2008 due to his knee injury. Brady is 21-2 lifetime against Buffalo, with his only losses coming in 2003 and 2011.
The Bills haven’t beaten the Patriots in Foxboro since Nov. 5, 2000 in a 16-13 decision at Foxboro Stadium.
The Patriots are attempting to finish a perfect 8-0 at home at for the sixth time in team history, with all previous five coming at Gillette (2003, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010). The Patriots won both home playoff games in ’03, 04 and 07 but were beaten in their first home playoff game in 2009 and ’10.
This also marks the fifth time in team history the Patriots are opening and closing the season with the same opponent, beating Buffalo 23-21, on a last-second field goal from Stephen Gostkowski in Orchard Park on Sept. 8. The Patriots opened 2003 with a 31-0 loss in Buffalo before gaining revenge by the identical score in the season finale that season. It happened in 1987 against Miami, in 1981 against the Colts and in 1974 against Miami.
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