Going into this game, I thought the Patriots' game plan should go something like this: jump out to an early lead, then run the ball as much as possible to run out the clock.
And that's exactly what they did.
Regardless of the outcome of the two 1 o'clock games that impacted New England (Cincinnati and Indianapolis both ended up winning, meaning the Patriots had to win to retain their grip on the second seed), it was an ugly day here in Foxborough, with heavy rains soaking the field. The Bills were playing for nothing other than pride. Just get the easy win, get dry, and get home for a nice New Year's break.
Buffalo didn't make it easy, though. Every time New England looked like they were poised to pull away, backup QB Thad Lewis would lead his troops back to narrow the lead. But they couldn't do enough to stop LeGarrette Blount, who ran over, around, and often through the Bills defense and special teams.
"I don't have words to explain it," Blount said of his 334 all-purpose yards (189 rushing, 145 on kickoff returns), which established a new franchise record, breaking Larry Garron's 51-year-old mark of 273 (coincidentally, also against Buffalo). Blount's rushing total were the most by a Patriots back since Robert Edwards' 196 in 1998, and put him in fifth place on the team's all-time single-game rushing yardage list.
On special teams, Blount was just as special. His 83-yard kickoff return in the third quarter was the second longest non-scoring play of its kind in team history (only Kevin Faulk's 95-yarder in 199 was longer).
"I mean, shoot, a bear jumped on my back," a grinning Blount joked with reporters afterward, explaining why he didn't take the kickoff all the way to the end zone.
On that play and his 62-yard KO return in the fourth, Blount flashed his "deceptive" speed, as he described it. But when he carried the football on offense, the 250-pounder often gained extra yards by plowing ahead with several Bills defenders hanging onto him.
It was such a jaw-dropping day for Blount that even Bill Belichick –famously reticent when it comes to praising individual players after great performances – had to gush.
"Obviously it was a tremendous game by LeGarrette – clearly the best player on the field. He had a tremendous day," the head coach raved in his opening post-game remarks to the media. "He carried the team on his back most of the day."
With the win, New England secured a first-round playoff bye by virtue of their 12-4 record and second-place seed in the AFC bracket. This is the ninth time the Patriots have earned a playoff bye since the current postseason format was instituted in 1990 – a mark that leads the league (Pittsburgh and San Francisco are tied for second with eight each). New England also became the first AFC team and just the third overall to earn a bye in four straight seasons, joining Dallas and San Francisco.
The Patriots could certainly use the extra time off to help heal their wounds – one-third of the 53-man roster was listed on last week's injury report.
"It's huge, just to have that week there to recover," defensive end/co-captain Rob Ninkovich observed after the game. "When you can get that, it definitely helps your team as far as getting as healthy as possible. I'm happy that we were able to get the win and give ourselves a little time here to recover."
"It's great," added fellow d-end Chandler Jones. "It's a good opportunity for our team to get some rest. I'm definitely going to get some rest and then get ready for whoever we have to play [in the Divisional Round]."
"It was a good team win, and good to clinch that first-round bye," noted wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Blount gave Belichick a huge hug on the sideline as the last seconds ticked off the clock.
"It was just the excitement of us winning this game and getting that first-round bye in the playoffs," Blount acknowledged. "We can go into this week and get a lot of rest, and now we have two weeks to study a lot of film on whoever we're going to play."