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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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Read More: Buffalo Bills, Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots,
Mike Petraglia, Chris Price detail the real takeaways from Patriots loss to Bills at 7:06 pm ET
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FOXBORO — WEEI.com’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
Setting the scene: Patriots wrap up the regular season at Gillette against the Bills 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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Read More: Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski
10 things for Patriots fans to look for Sunday 12.27.14 at 1:00 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski could hit his goal of playing in all 16 regular-season games in 2014 Sunday against the Bills. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski could hit his goal of playing in all 16 regular-season games in 2014 Sunday against the Bills. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Because the relative worth of Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Bills is debatable — and because of that, trying to figure out potential matchups might very well be an exercise in futility — we’ve decided to eschew our usual game preview. Instead, we’ve created a checklist for New England fans as to what to look for come Sunday. Here are 10 things (in no particular order) the Patriots would like to accomplish Sunday against Buffalo:

1. Stay healthy: There are plenty of other elements for the Patriots to consider going into this one, but the singularly most important thing is to steer clear of injury heading into the postseason. (Because, as we all know, health trumps momentum at this time of the year.) That includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Given how Bill Belichick has approached these games in the past — and given the fact that they have two weeks between this game and their playoff opener — it’s reasonable to think that each one of these players will at least play some before being pulled.

2. Try and gauge the overall state of the offensive line: Despite the fact that it looks like Marcell Dareus might not play on Sunday, if Buffalo does roll out the same front seven it’s had over the course of most of the first 15 games, it’ll provide a nice test for the New England offensive line. The Bills are one of the best pass defenses in the league — they lead the league with 50 sacks — thanks in large part to the group that gets after the quarterback. Mario Williams has 13.5 sacks, while Dareus has 10. Jerry Hughes (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Williams (5.5 sacks) round out the group, which is an impressive collection of pass rushing talent as there is in the league. Left guard Dan Connolly (ankle), guard/tackle Cameron Fleming (ankle) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) were all questionable as of Friday afternoon, so a few backups could see time. But regardless, the New England line will face a stern test from a Buffalo front that should prepare them nicely for the playoffs.

3. Develop some confidence and consistency on offense heading into the postseason: Our scout hit on this in his game preview earlier in the week, but it bears repeating that the New England offense is looking to head into the playoffs on a better note than last week. In that contest against the Jets, the Patriots struggled to achieve any sort of real offensive rhythm, with only two drives that could best be described as anywhere near crisp and efficient. In the 2010 regular-season finale — a game similar to this one in that the top seed was already decided going into the game — the Patriots were a little sluggish out of the gate before Tom Brady and the rest of the offense got things together with a nice series at the start of the second half. It’s likely that the coaching staff will be looking for the New England offense to go out on a similar high note in this one before Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the backups take over.

4. Try and figure out your best option at nickel corner: The Patriots are going to be without Alfonzo Dennard on Sunday, but given how frequently he’s been a healthy scratch this season, it’s reasonable to question how much he’ll be in New England’s plans come the postseason. (EDIT: The Patriots put Dennard on season-ending IR Saturday evening.) With the assumption that Kyle Arrington will remain in the slot, that leaves Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, as well as the possibility of seeing Devin McCourty in a limited corner spot (something he’s done occasionally over the course of the second half of the season) for postseason. Smart quarterbacks and deep receiving corps have done well zeroing in Ryan and Butler over the last month, and that figures to be the case heading into the postseason. The Patriots need one of these younger players to assert themselves and seize control of the job.

5. Work on defending tight ends: The Patriots have struggled to contain good tight ends over the course of the season (Football Outsiders has them 29th in the league when it comes to defending tight ends), and they’ll get a chance on Sunday to go up against a guy who has done a really impressive job against them the last few seasons in Buffalo’s Scott Chandler. The Iowa product is not a high-profile target, but in eight games against New England he has 27 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns. That includes six catches on nine targets for 105 yards in the October contest against New England in Buffalo. “He’s got good skills — long, tall guy,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick of the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder. “Big target, big catch radius; he’s a hard guy to match up on. We’ve had a lot of trouble with him.” As a result, Sunday could represent a good barometer of where the Patriots are when it comes to their ability to slow elite tight ends come playoff time.

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Read More: Buffalo Bills, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady,
No matter what Bill Belichick, Tom Brady say, Patriots have historically dominated Bills 12.25.14 at 12:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — No matter what is said this week praising the Bills and how much of a threat they could pose Sunday, historically Tom Brady and the Patriots have dominated the Bills.

For starters, the Patriots have 67 wins against the Bills, the most against any other opponent in the NFL. In their last 28 games against the Bills, the Patriots are 26-2, and furthermore the Patriots have won 13 straight home games against the Bills, including a perfect 12-0 at Gillette Stadium.

“It will be a big challenge for us there Sunday all the way across the board,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday. “Obviously, they beat the Jets handily in both games, beat Green Bay, played very competitively in the Denver game on the road a few weeks back. Good football team, well coached, tough, physical. We had our hands full with them up there and I’€™m sure we will on Sunday, too.”

Brady had his best game statistically of the season Oct. 12 in Buffalo when he was 27-for-37 with 361 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. The 361 yards were a season-high, and the four touchdowns were second to his five touchdown game against the Bears.

Overall, Brady is 23-2 against the Bills and the 23 wins are tied for the second-most wins by a quarterback against an opponent — Brett Favre has 26 wins against the Lions.

“They’€™ve got a great defense. They challenge you,” Brady said of the Bills. “They’€™ve got good coverage. They’€™ve got 50 sacks, 30 turnovers. So, when you get two a game sacking the quarterback that means you’€™re forcing them into long-yardage situations and punting. So, between the turnovers and the punts, you just don’€™t score many points. They really have a lot of good players at every level of the defense, a very mentally and physically tough team. We’€™re going to have to match that, we’€™re going to have to bring our own intensity, bring some emotion and try to go out there and execute really well.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Tom Brady,
Rob Gronkowski is ‘expecting to play the whole game’ Sunday vs. Bills 12.23.14 at 8:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Most Patriots fans wouldn’t mind seeing Rob Gronkowski get the entire game off on Sunday against the Bills in a game with no impact on the team’s playoff position. As a matter of fact, most fans figure why risk losing an indispensable part of the offense?

But that’s not how football players think and certainly not one that loves to hit and get hit like the Patriots all-world tight end.

Asked about his expectations on playing time in Sunday’s regular season finale and playoff tune up against the Bills, Gronk said he’s mentally prepared to play all 60 minutes.

“I’€™m preparing to my ability that I do every single week,” Gronkowski said. “I’€™m preparing to my max and expecting to play the whole game.”

This might come as a surprise to those thinking Gronkowski, who’s made a remarkable recovery from ACL reconstruction 11 months ago, would get the game off. As Gronkowski reminded everyone Tuesday, a player never assumes the day off unless told so in advance. Gronk said Tuesday he’s not been told anything (yet) but be ready to play Sunday.

Gronkowski has caught 82 passes for a team-high 1,182 yards and a team best 12 touchdowns. In 2011, Gronkowski set the all-time single season touchdown and yardage marks for a tight end in the season finale, outdistancing New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham. There are no such records on the line Sunday.

Gronkowski is also coming off a game in which he played in all 64 offensive snaps against the Jets.

“It feels good,” Gronkowski said. “It feels back to normal. [I’€™m] playing football and just doing whatever the coaches ask me to do and just going out and doing my job.

“That’€™s what the coaches ask of me and I’€™m going to take pride in what the coaches ask me to do and do it to my max potential and do it at full speed. It’€™s good, it feels good.”
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Read More: Buffalo Bills, Gronk, New England Patriots, nfl
Tom Brady actually thinks Sunday’s game against Bills is still ‘important’ at 7:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As he took the dais Tuesday for his weekly press conference at Gillette Stadium, Tom Brady was asked how much he’s looking forward to Christmas on Thursday and if he’s looking forward to getting something special under the tree.

“It’€™s better to give than receive. Things are good,” Brady said.

Certainly, the Bengals gift-wrapped a nice present on Monday, putting a nice bow on the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the Patriots and Brady, giving them home field throughout the playoffs before they take the field against the Bills.

“That was really out of our control [Monday] night,” Brady said, turning to more of a serious and somber mood. “I think we did our best to do our part on Sunday, which was good, but still the season is not over for us. There is plenty of time to think about things down the road down the road. This isn’€™t the time for it. We’€™ve got to go play well this week. That is the attitude and that is what all the leaders of the team have to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

But if you think that means Sunday doesn’t mean anything to Brady, think again.

“It’€™s important. They’€™re all important,” Brady said of the divisional matchup between the 12-3 Patriots and the 8-7 Bills. “I think they all take on different meanings, and this is a big game for us in that it gives us an opportunity to try to improve certainly on last week’€™s performance and with the week off, you realize we’€™re going to have a little time to rest up. We just want to go out and play well and see if we can string together as many good plays as possible.

“This defense will challenge you. They’€™ve got a good front, one of the best defenses in the league, one of the best defenses we’€™ve faced all year. They’€™re tops in the league in almost every category. We’€™ve played a lot of good defenses this year. This one doesn’€™t really take a backseat to anybody. We’€™ll have to, on a Christmas week, deal with a little bit of a different schedule like we are today and have enough mental toughness to go out there and try to be at our best.”

Brady said the team isn’t worried about entering the playoffs with momentum. The bigger concern, Brady said, is playing a solid game against the Bills.

“You can’€™t look past this week,” Brady said. “I think we have to improve our execution this week, and it starts with practice today to see if we can do a better job with our communication, with our overall understanding of one another and what we’€™re trying to accomplish out there on every play.

“When you don’€™t do it consistently, it’€™s hard to score points. The more we can be on the same page, the more we can understand the anticipation of each other and the more we understand what we’€™re all trying to do, the better we’€™re going to be and the more we’€™re going to score points. It’€™ll be good for us to go out there and try to score a lot of points this weekend. That’€™s really the goal is to try to score every time we touch the ball. This defense challenges you in a lot of ways to stop you from doing that, so it’€™ll be good for us to be able to do it.”
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Read More: Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
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