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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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Bill Belichick on meeting with trainers after Sunday’s game: ‘It’s no big deal’

12.28.14 at 6:05 pm ET
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Bill Belichick said after missing his usual postgame press conference Sunday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick said, “I’ll be all right” after missing his usual postgame press conference Sunday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It was an usual couple of minutes at Gillette Stadium following the Patriots’ 17-9 loss to the Bills in the regular-season finale, as coach Bill Belichick did not speak to the media at the podium immediately after the game.

It was announced that he would hold a conference call later in the evening because he was meeting with the trainers, but it was nothing serious.

Belichick held a conference call with the media at 5 p.m. — about 45 minutes after he normally would have spoken — saying everything was OK.

“I just want to apologize to everybody,” Belichick said. “I didn’€™t want to hold anybody up here today. I had to spend a few minutes in the training room after the game — nothing serious, just a little thing to look at with the trainers and a doctor. Like I said, I didn’€™t want to hold up everybody’€™s story and all that.”

When asked to expand on what forced him to the trainer’s room, Belichick didn’t have much to add.

“It’s no big deal. I don’t want to get into it,” said Belichick. “I’ll be all right.”

As for the game itself, the team went into it without many of its key players, as Rob Gronkowski, Jonas Gray, Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Brandon Browner and Dont’a Hightower were all inactive. Tom Brady played just a half  before turning it over to Jimmy Garoppolo for the second half. Brady went 8-for-16 for 80 yards, while Garoppolo went 10-for-17 for 90 yards, and the Patriots didn’t reach the end zone for the first time in a game since Oct. 7 of last season against the Bengals.

Defensively, most of the starters played just a half as well, with Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich being a few exceptions playing into the third quarter.

“It was a competitive game,” said Belichick. “We just couldn’€™t make enough plays, really at any point in the game — the beginning or the end, in any phase of the game to ever really take control of it or be in a position to win it. [I’€™m] looking forward to moving ahead this week to work on things that we need to work on. Once we find out who we’€™re going to play then obviously we’€™re looking forward to the postseason. We just have to take it as it comes, but certainly there are things that we can do this week that will help us in the long run so we’€™ll try to hit on some of those.”

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Brandon Spikes on return to Gillette Stadium: ‘A lot of love’

12.28.14 at 5:16 pm ET
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Brandon Spikes returned to Foxboro for on Sunday in the Bills' 17-9 win over the Patriots. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brandon Spikes returned to Foxboro for on Sunday in the Bills’ 17-9 win over the Patriots. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Brandon Spikes‘ biggest impact on the game Sunday wasn’t anything he did during the game, as he was virtually a no-show, finishing with zero tackles, but it was his emotion before the game that fired the Bills up in their 17-9 win over the Patriots, snapping a 13-game road losing streak against the Patriots.

It was Spikes’ first game back in New England since signing with the Bills this past offseason.

“It was an awkward experience, but a lot of love,” Spikes said. “All the fans showed the love and to get this victory it feels great.”

The middle linebacker said he spoke to a number of his former teammates both before and during the game, as he was seen constantly joking around with Patriots players after plays. Spikes did catch up with coach Bill Belichick after the first meeting in Buffalo, but did not get a chance to catch up with him this time around.

“Every play, guys talking to me, laughing and I miss those guys,” said Spikes. “I am still in contact with a lot of those guys.”

Spikes’ time with the Patriots didn’t end peacefully, as he was put on injured reserve late in the season last year, thus missing the playoffs. Spikes felt like it was a suspension from Belichick.

He said he has moved on from that and is at “peace.” He also added he will be cheering on his former team in the postseason.

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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.

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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.

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