Bills Can't Close Gap On Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play. An offside that helped turn a field goal attempt into a touchdown. A kickoff unit that allowed returns of 62 and 83 yards.
The Buffalo Bills had thought they were close to finally beating the Patriots in New England.
They left Foxborough again for another offseason of thinking about how far they have to go.
"To say that you're close or anything like that," coach Doug Marrone said, "until you win, we don't have a leg to stand on."
LeGarrette Blount slogged through heavy rain for a career-high 189 yards rushing and two touchdowns, adding another 145 on two kickoff returns Sunday to lead New England to a 34-20 victory and help the Patriots (12-4) clinch a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
The Bills, who had won two in a row, lost for the 13th straight time in Foxborough and extended their playoff drought to 14 seasons — the longest in the NFL.
"It would be much different if we were ending on a three-game winning streak," Marrone said. "We had the opportunity to do some things. There was a lot on the line, and we left it out there."
Twice in the second half, the Bills (6-10) scored touchdowns to make it a one-possession game.
Each time, Blount brought the ensuing kickoff back into Buffalo territory.
After T.J. Graham's 12-yard reception from backup quarterback Thad Lewis made it 16-10, Blount took the kick 3 yards deep in the end zone and brought it all the way to the Bills 20, faking out the kicker before he was brought down from behind by Marcus Easley. Buffalo forced a fourth-and-1, but when New England lined up for a field goal from the 11, Marcell Dareus jumped offside; one play later, Tom Brady hit Shane Vereen for a 5-yard touchdown pass that, with a 2-point conversion, made it 24-10.
The Bills marched 80 yards to cut the deficit to seven points on Fred Jackson's 4-yard run. But again on the kickoff Blount brushed off tacklers before Chris Hogan brought him down at the Buffalo 40. The Patriots settled for a field goal — Stephen Gostkowski's fourth of the game.
"Things like that just show how close you are," Lewis said, "but you're not there yet."
The Bills played without quarterback E.J. Manuel, who has a small tear in a left knee ligament, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, excused for the second straight game after his mother's death. They also played the first half without Dareus, who was benched for the second straight game for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Lewis completed 16 of 29 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. C.J. Spiller ran 19 times for 105 yards, giving him 10 career 100-yard games to tie Cookie Gilchrist for seventh-most in franchise history. Jackson's 28th career touchdown put him in fifth place on Buffalo's career list.
"Missed tackles. That's what it came down to," said linebacker Jerry Hughes, who claimed he didn't know what he said to draw a 15-yard penalty while referee Ed Hochuli was already announcing another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. "We knew (Blount) was a big fella. We just have to do a better job tackling."
Brady completed 14 of 24 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and one interception, content for most of the rain-soaked game to hand it off to Blount against a team leading the NFL in sacks and ranked second in interceptions. The Patriots' running back scored from 36 and 35 yards out — the second with a belly-flop onto the wet turf as he reached for the end zone — and his 334 all-purpose yards were a franchise record.
"He carried the team on his back most of the day," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. The rain "got worse as the game went along. It was definitely a running game."
As the public address system serenaded fans with "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Singin' in the Rain," the Patriots earned their eighth bye in Belichick's 14 seasons as coach, finishing with the second seed and a home game in the divisional round of the playoffs. Denver, which beat Oakland 34-14, has the top seed in the AFC.
The game even featured a punt by Brady on third-and-32 from his 46-yard line midway through the third quarter with the score 16-3. It traveled 32 yards, where Jim Leonhard made a fair catch.
NOTES: The previous Patriots record for most all-purpose yards was 273 by Larry Garron in 1962 at Buffalo. ... Dan Carpenter's 51-yard field goal that tied the game at 3 made him the first player in Bills history with four field goals of 50 yards or more in a season. ... Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd left with an ankle injury and did not return.
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