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Patriots’ divisional playoff game set for Jan. 10 in Foxboro

12.28.14 at 10:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots will open their postseason schedule at home on Saturday, Jan. 10, at 4:35 p.m. in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

New England will host the lowest-remaining AFC seed. The Patriots could play the Colts (fourth seed), the Ravens (sixth seed) or the Bengals contest (fifth seed).

While the lowest-remaining seed would travel to New England, the highest-remaining seed will journey to Denver for a date with the Broncos.

The Patriots announced a limited number of individual tickets will go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. exclusively through Ticketmaster.

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Vince Wilfork collects big payday after playing in Sunday’s regular-season finale

12.28.14 at 10:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork earned a big chunk of change in Sunday’s game, despite the Patriots losing, 17-9, to the Bills.

One of the incentives in Wilfork’s incentive-heavy contract was if he played in at least 70 percent of the team’s defensive snaps during the regular season, he would earn a $1.25 million bonus, per CSNNE’s Tom E. Curran. Entering Sunday’s game, Wilfork had played in 74 percent of the snaps, 780 of 1,051, according to Pro Football Focus.

With the game being meaningless in terms of playoff positioning with the Patriots already locking up the No. 1 seed, big-name players like Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower were inactive as the Patriots prioritized health. There was some questioning during the week of whether or not Wilfork would play enough to collect the bonus.

That was answered in the first half with a big yes, as Wilfork played all but two of the defensive snaps. The 33-year-old played 38 of a possible 58 snaps by our count overall in the game, and thus finished the season playing a total of 74 percent of the snaps (818 of 1109).

Playing that many snaps was even more important and special to Wilfork after missing the vast majority of last season with an Achilles injury. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve after Week 4.

“I worked my tail off just to get back and play football like I normally play,” Wilfork said last week. “I never take nothing for granted. I’€™ll tell you that. It’€™s fun to come and work with the guys I have in this locker room. Devin [McCourty] has been with me sometimes in the offseason so he’€™s seen some of the things I did and how important it was to me to get back and play with these guys, especially the level we’ve been playing at. I’€™m very thankful.”

Wilfork also will collect a roster bonus ($500,000) for the Patriots finishing in the top 10 defensively in points allowed. The Patriots finished eighth in the NFL, allowing 19.6 points, after surrendering 17 Sunday.

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Jimmy Garoppolo shows he can run with the big boys, but ‘there’s plenty of room for improvement’

12.28.14 at 10:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Jimmy Garoppolo knew he would play in the regular-season finale. He just didn’t know when.

The when came to start the second half, as Tom Brady took a seat to get focused on the postseason.

“€œYou have to get acclimated fast,” Garoppolo said. “You get tossed in there, and that’€™s my job as a backup to be ready to go whenever, and the speed is what it is. You’ve just got to play with it.”

When Garoppolo got his chance to play he completed 10-of-17 passes for 90 yards, 10 more than Brady on a day when the Patriots offensive line was missing two starters and lost another to a knee injury.

But Garoppolo’s biggest impression didn’t come through the air but on the ground. With the Patriots offensive line in flux, Garoppolo was forced to use his legs to make some plays. Twice on a drive in the fourth quarter Garoppolo had to take off and scramble to avoid a strong Bills rush.

“I don’€™t get hit in practice, so that was a little different,” Garoppolo said. ‘€œIt’€™s good and bad. It’€™s been a while. It’€™s always nice to get that first hit out of the way. But the less the better.

“If I have to do it, [I] have to do it,’€ Garoppolo said of his rush attempts. “It’€™s one of those things, you never know on a play if you’€™re going to have to or not, so you just have to be ready for either one.”
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Game-changers: Patriots prepare for heightened intensity of playoff football

12.28.14 at 8:04 pm ET
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Matthew Slater know the game changes when the postseason rolls around. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater know the game changes when the postseason rolls around. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — In the wake of Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Bills, the Patriots will spend the next few days flipping the calendar — and the mindset — from the regular season to the postseason. The veterans who have been through the playoff grind in years past understand the pace of the game also shifts. Things get quicker, and considerably more intense.

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who has played in nine playoff games since joining the Patriots in 2009, said that the best way to describe the changes in the pace of the game for a rookie (or any young player who has never experienced the postseason before) is that the move from the regular season to the postseason brings the same sort of spike in intensity players get when they move from the preseason into the regular season.

“Everything is magnified,” he said following Sunday’s contest against the Bills. “Everything means that much more, and it always comes down to a play here, a play there, for the outcome of these games. It comes down to execution — the best teams are in the playoffs. You have to really work hard during the week and prepare well to know who you’re playing and understand what they do well. It all comes down to studying.”

“That comparison is adequate,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater when told of Ninkovich’s assessment. “It’s like going from preseason to regular season. It’ll be like nothing they’ve experienced before. They’ve got to realize everything is on the line. The whole season. It started back in OTAs, it’s all on the line now. There’s got to be a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose, a drive that every play in practice and in the game is the season. That’s the message we have to send out as leaders on this team. And hopefully, everybody understands that.”

Then, there’s the danger that comes with resting on your laurels. The Patriots finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark and the top seed in the AFC, but now that the playoffs loom, everyone is back to 0-0.

“I think it’s important for us to understand all we’ve done is we’ve put ourselves in good position, but the real work remains,” Slater said. “I think what we have to do over the next week-and-a-half or so is to make sure our focus is on continuing to show improvement. The teams that are able to continue to improve at this point in the season will move forward. For us, what we’ve done in the 16 games over the course of the regular season isn’t good enough. We have to keep getting better.

“And the other half of that is taking advantage of the bye. Guys getting rest. That doesn’t mean guys flying all over the country. That doesn’t mean guys staying up late. We have to do a good job of taking are of ourselves physically, or that bye really doesn’t mean anything if we don’t do that.”

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Patriots OL needs to be better going into postseason

12.28.14 at 7:57 pm ET
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Ryan Wendell

Ryan Wendell

FOXBORO — If there is one thing to be hesitant about going into the postseason for the Patriots offense, it is the play of its offensive line.

Without starters Dan Connolly (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer (back), forcing a starting offensive line (left-to-right) of Nate Solder, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon Sunday against the Bills — Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, particularly Garoppolo in the second half, were under constant pressure all game long.

Overall, the Bills hit Patriots quarterbacks six times and recorded four sacks in the game. This comes after last week’s game against the Jets where the Patriots were reshuffling their line all game without Connolly to give Brady more time, but allowed a season-high four sacks and 11 quarterback hits.

“We didn’t play very well. We just didn’t do our jobs,” Wendell said Sunday.

The Patriots did some reshuffling again against the Bills, as late in the first half the Patriots subbed out Kline, and replaced him with Wendell at left guard and Cameron Fleming at right guard. Then, just before the half Solder appeared to injure his right leg on a play he was called for holding on. He finished the last minute of the half before limping to the locker room. In the second half, Cannon moved to left tackle, so the line went: Cannon, Kline, Stork, Wendell, Fleming.

Missing key players in Connolly and Vollmer, then losing Solder in the game made things difficult to get any sort of continuity up front.

“It was a good opportunity to get some other guys some reps,” Wendell said. “We’€™re going to need everybody moving forward. You never knew who’€™s going to get called up, so a game like this was a great opportunity to get a lot of those guys more reps that they normally don’€™t get.”

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Mike Petraglia, Chris Price detail the real takeaways from Patriots loss to Bills

12.28.14 at 7:06 pm ET
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FOXBORO —’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price discuss the important takeaways after the Patriots lost to Buffalo Bills, 17-9, in season finale for both teams at Gillette Stadium. The game had no playoff impact on the Patriots, who finished 12-4 and will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Tom Brady played just a half and was replaced by rookie Jimmy Garoppolo to start the second half. Brady completed just 8-of-16 passes for 80 yards while Garoppolo was 10-of-17 for 90 yards.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, Chris Price, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots

Despite sluggish game Sunday, Tom Brady and offense ‘confident’ going into postseason

12.28.14 at 7:00 pm ET
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Despite not playing his best Sunday, Tom Brady and the offense "confident" going into the postseason. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Despite not playing their best Sunday, Tom Brady and the offense “confident” going into the postseason. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It wasn’t ideally how Tom Brady and the offense wanted to go into the postseason.

While priority No. 1 was getting into the postseason healthy — which for the most part the Patriots did with only Nate Solder getting banged up in the game, along with a number of premier players being inactive — the offense led by Tom Brady didn’t have the best of days in their 17-9 loss to the Bills in the regular-season finale.

Brady played only the first half in the loss and went 8-for-16 for 80 yards. Four of the five drives led by Brady went for 18 yards or less — the longest was a 80-yard drive at the end of the first quarter, which eventually stalled and ended with a Stephen Gostkowski 24-yard field goal.

The offense was missing valuable pieces in Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer, but there was never any flow or rhythm with Brady in the game, as the team finished with just 121 net yards at the half. Even with their performance Sunday, Brady is confident in the offense going into the postseason.

“We’re confident. We have a lot of confidence as an offense,” Brady said. “We’ve been able to score points against a lot of good teams, a lot of good defenses. Nothing that we’ve done this past season is going to help in two weeks from now. What’s going to matter is how well we prepare this week and how well we prepare next week and how ready we are to go whenever we play. We’ll have a lot of confidence. I’m not worried about us lacking confidence going out there and executing. We’ve got a lot of good players.”

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