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Snap Judgments: Patriots 49, Bills 21

01.01.12 at 4:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO - Stop me if this sounds familiar: On Sunday the Patriots looked pathetic in the first quarter, were booed by the fans at Gillette Stadium, fell behind 21-0 and then woke up and rallied behind Tom Brady to a victory over an AFC East opponent.

The Patriots gave the doubters plenty of early ammunition against the Bills (Ryan Fitzpatrick shredded them for the first 30 minutes) but were dominant after trailing by three touchdowns and collected win No. 13 of the season on Sunday, a 49-21 triumph that means this: The AFC road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxboro.

As the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots will have a bye and then host a Team To Be Named Later (could be the Jets, Titans, Broncos, Raiders, Bengals, Steelers or Ravens) in two weeks.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

- Tom Brady (23-of-35, 338 yards) passed the 5,000-yard mark (and later moved past Dan Marino’s 5,084 total) in the win, and now stands behind Drew Brees on the single-season chart. Brady wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen in recent weeks (couple of passes that skipped in front of Rob Gronkowski and an interception from Nick Barnett that was thrown well behind Wes Welker), but made plays when he had to, including the three TD passes, one to Hernandez and two to Gronkowski.

- Sterling Moore jumped in front of Ruvell Martin and picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick in what was a game-changing turnover in the third quarter. Nice hustle play from Moore, and the Patriots converted the turnover into eight points, with Danny Woodhead punching in the two-point conversion following the Gronkowski TD. Devin McCourty – playing much of the game at safety – intercepted Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter (thanks to a Spiller drop) and returned it 38 yards. Moore had his second interception of the game with just under three minutes left, picking off Fitzpatrick and returning it 21 yards for his first career touchdown.

- Stevan Ridley started at running back and received the bulk of the carries, finishing with 81 yards on 15 carries. Ridley’s biggest gainer of the game was a 21-yard rush on the first New England TD drive. There is no doubt — none — that Ridley is clearly the most explosive back on this team, and it would be a surprise if he isn’t given a significant role in the postseason. Look, this things are fluid with the Patriots, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis has just a single carry (a one-yard TD) in the first half and six total (for just 20 yards, though he added a second TD). A storyline to watch over the next couple weeks: Has Ridley assumed the lead spot?

- Aaron Hernandez (Pro Bowl snub?) was terrific again, catching seven passes for 138 yards, including a 39-yard TD pass in the second quarter (set up by play-action from Brady to Ridley). He also had a 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter, a catch-and-run special that set up the second TD rush by Green-Ellis. Rob Gronkowski (eight catches, 108 yards) also had two TD’s (17 TD catches on the season and 18 total) and now holds the NFL record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,327.

- Mark Anderson pulled off the ol’ swim move on Chris Hairston and sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter, his 10th sack of the season. Anderson and Andre Carter are the first New England teammates with 10 or more sacks in a season since 1985 (Andre Tippett and Garin Varis).

- Green-Ellis wasn’t much of  a factor in the running game, but had a key 53-yard reception on a screen in the third quarter. Superb work by the offensive line – particularly Brian Waters – on the play. It was the longest catch of Green-Ellis’ career.

WHAT WENT WRONG

- The defense was again hideous early in the game, allowing three first-quarter touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 13-of-16 for 156 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in the quarter, finding Stevie Johnson for an 18-yard score (Johnson- who beat Kyle Arrington to the corner of the end zone -was flagged and benched for taunting after the score) and C.J. Spiller for a 15-yarder that gave the Bills a 21-0 lead. Spiller beat Dane Fletcher on the TD, one of several times Fletcher failed in pass coverage. Heaps of ineptitude from the secondary in the first half, with both Arrington and Antwaun Molden unable to stop Derek Hagan. No defense has allowed more passing yards in a season in NFL history It’s swell that this defense has played better as games have gone on the last couple of weeks, but isn’t fair to at least ask what will happen if this team falls behind 21-0 to the Steelers or Ravens?

- The Patriots were flat-out fooled by a fake punt by Buffalo in the first quarter, a George Wilson seven-yard rush on 4th-and-1 at midfield on the first drive.. The Bills also converted a 4th-and-4 on the next drive, as Nate Jones was easily beat by Johnson in the open field. Impressive grapefruit showing by Chan Gailey in defeat, right down to the Johnson benching.

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