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Quick Hits: Mike Petraglia, Chris Price break down Patriots’ bye-clinching win 12.29.13 at 10:46 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount: ‘We had to man up and play tough football’ at 9:39 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount was cutting through the Bills defense at will on Sunday. (AP)

LeGarrette Blount was cutting through the Bills defense at will on Sunday. (AP)

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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œIt 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.”

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Logan Mankins helped off field with ankle injury, returns later, Aaron Dobson (foot) won’t return at 5:21 pm ET
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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.

Mankins, who played through an ACL tear in Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants, returned two series later and provided the lead block on a 22-yard screen pass to Shane Vereen.

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.

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Setting the scene: Patriots host Bills in regular season finale at 1:33 pm ET
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Steady rain is expected for the Patriots season finale at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Steady rain is expected for the Patriots season finale at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

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.

Devin McCourty isn’t expected to play with a concussion while Josh Boyce was ruled out with an ankle injury on Friday’s injury report.

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Patriots Friday injury report: Josh Boyce ruled out, Devin McCourty doubtful, 11 questionable 12.27.13 at 4:28 pm ET
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WR Josh Boyce (AP)

WR Josh Boyce (AP)

FOXBORO — For a second straight week, rookie receiver Josh Boyce will miss a game with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, Devin McCourty is listed as doubtful to play after missing practice all week with a concussion. By injury report standards in the NFL, a “doubtful” designation indicates only a 25 percent chance of playing. McCourty and Boyce were both spotted in the locker room on Friday chatting with teammates but neither spoke with reporters. They were the only two players to miss practice the entire week.

The Patriots finished up practice Friday on a frigid day outside Gillette Stadium. Rob Ninkovich did participate but was limited for a second straight day and is questionable for the season finale. Ninkovich is one of 11 players officially listed as questionable.

Ninkovich, with an ice pack on his injured left ankle, did speak to reporters on Friday and said he would be “all right” to go and play Sunday in the season finale. For the Bills, Thad Lewis will start at quarterback as EJ Manuel (left knee) is doubtful while receiver Stevie Johnson (mother’s death) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs) have both been ruled out.

Here is Friday’s complete Patriots report:

Did Not Practice
WR Josh Boyce (ankle) OUT
S Devin McCourty (concussion) DOUBTFUL

Limited Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin) QUESTIONABLE
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle) PROBABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) QUESTIONABLE
LB Dane Fletcher (groin) QUESTIONABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee) QUESTIONABLE
DL Rob Ninkovich (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
OT Nate Solder (concussion) QUESTIONABLE
LB Brandon Spikes (knee) QUESTIONABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (groin) QUESTIONABLE

Full Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) PROBABLE
CB Aqib Talib (hip) PROBABLE

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Thad Lewis gets starting nod over injured EJ Manuel against Patriots at 1:11 pm ET
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Thad Lewis will get the starting nod Sunday in the season finale against the Patriots. (AP)

Thad Lewis will get the starting nod Sunday in the season finale against the Patriots. (AP)

The Patriots won’t have to worry about EJ Manuel this Sunday when they play the Buffalo Bills in the season finale at Gillette Stadium.

Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced Friday that Thad Lewis will get the start against the Patriots in place of Manuel, who is out with an LCL injury to his left knee. Lewis led the Bills to a 19-0 win over the Dolphins last week in Orchard Park.

“It was a tough decision,” Marrone said. “EJ was practicing hard all week trying to come back and basically it goes back to the injury didn’€™t progress as well as I wanted it to. He wanted to go out there and play, but I need him to play at 110-percent for us to win. So he wasn’€™t going to be able to go out there and play at 110 percent. He could have played but not at the level that we need for us to win. Thad has done a nice job and he’€™s the backup quarterback so we’€™re putting him in there and he’€™ll be the starter Sunday.”

The Bills also ruled out wide receiver Stevie Johnson (mother’s death) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs) for Sunday’s game in Foxboro.

Manuel has had three different knee injuries has now missed six regular season games. Lewis, meanwhile, has thrown for 845 yards this season and has completed just over 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

“I think we all, starting with EJ, have a sense of frustration but there’€™s also a sense of excitement,” Marrone said. “Here’€™s a guy that did play 10 games and he probably practiced less than anyone else who played 10 games. There were points in those games where he played well, either won the game for us or put us in a position to win. And there were points where he did not play well. From that standpoint, there’€™s a sense of excitement of having someone coming back, full offseason, getting ready to go and really seeing his game take off.”

For Lewis it’€™s another opportunity to help solidify himself as the team’€™s backup quarterback heading into the 2014 season. The third-year signal caller out of Duke will make his fifth start for the Bills Sunday.

“Thad is 2-and-2 playing for us and really doing a good job,” said Marrone. “We know that he’€™s capable being that backup. It’€™s a big game for him. As a backup, you’€™re always trying to prove yourself. It will be very good for us to be able to go into the offseason and having, believe it or not, an experienced I guess quarterback in Thad, maybe not from the standpoint of games played, but from the standpoint of years in the league.

“He brings a lot to our football team. Our team has confidence that they can win with him and I think that’€™s the most important thing.”

 

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Patriots practice Friday: Rob Ninkovich present, Devin McCourty (concussion), Josh Boyce (ankle) miss again at 10:46 am ET
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Rob Ninkovich was not spotted Friday at practice for first time this season. (AP)

Rob Ninkovich was not spotted Friday at practice for first time this season. (AP)

FOXBORO — After much debate and conflicting reports, it was confirmed Friday that linebacker Rob Ninkovich did attend practice. He told reporters he’ll be ready to play Sunday in Buffalo.

“I haven’t missed a practice all season,” said Ninkovich, who had an ice pack on his left ankle in the locker room after practice.

Asked if he’ll be ready to play in the season finale, Ninkovich said, “I’ll be all right.”

The Patriots practiced in sweats and shells on a frigid Friday morning on the lower grass fields.

Ninkovich didn’t appear to injure himself during Sunday’s win in Baltimore but appeared on Thursday’s injury report as limited with an ankle injury, opening the door to the possibility that he was injured during Thursday’s practice. He was not spotted by most reporters in the team’s stretching drills in the first 10 minutes of practice open to the media. However, TV cameras spotted him late in practice and he did participate.

Practice squad running back Cierre Wood was not spotted and was released before practice while rookie running back Sam McGuffie was signed to the practice squad to take his place, wearing jersey No. 39.

Devin McCourty and Josh Boyce were also not in attendance Friday as the Patriots continued their preparations for the 6-9 Buffalo Bills Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

McCourty suffered a concussion in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Ravens when he went low, trying to make a tackle on Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson.

Boyce missed the game on Sunday altogether with an ankle injury suffered on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the loss in Miami on Dec. 15.

Neither player is expected to suit up for Sunday’s game after missing Tuesday’s walkthrough and practice on Thursday and Friday.

With a win in the regular season finale, the Patriots would improve to 12-4 and clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming AFC playoffs.

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