Patriots vs. Bills: Takeaways from New England's 34-20 Win over Buffalo
The New England Patriots concluded their regular season on Sunday behind a record-setting performance by LeGarrette Blount, winning 34-20, and securing the second AFC seed and the valuable first-round bye that comes with it.
Blount set a Patriots franchise record for all-purpose yards with 334 (189 rushing, 145 returning kicks) and also chipped in two touchdowns. Blount was the only standout for the Pats on offense, as they struggled to move the ball for most of the game.
The Patriots now get a much-needed week off to rest and recover from another collection of injuries that seemingly have become custom this season.
What else did we learn in the final regular-season act for the 2013 Patriots?
Here are the takeaways!
Stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.
Injuries Strike Yet Again
There were three main injuries to monitor coming out of the season finale.
First, there's Logan Mankins, who hobbled off the field with the help of two trainers, then exited to the locker room. It didn't look good until Mankins suddenly re-appeared on the bench and then played the rest of the game.
Mankins' toughness is legendary now; he played most of 2011 on a torn ACL but just how bad is this ankle injury and will it affect his status for the divisional round in two weeks? He was likely running on adrenaline against the Buffalo Bills, and the real damage might not be known until later this week.
If he can walk, he'll likely be out there, but if his effectiveness is reduced, it's a blow to the Patriots. He's their best offensive lineman and the tone-setter.
Brandon Spikes also left the game late in the fourth quarter appearing to injure his knee. Pregame reports, such as that of Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young, had Spikes likely to get surgery on that same knee this offseason, so the hope is that there was no further damage done, and the week off will be a boost for him.
Aaron Dobson also appeared to re-injure his foot, something that had kept him out of action for the last two weeks. He left the game and did not return.
Dobson was just starting to find a rhythm with Tom Brady before the injury and now, with another potential setback, it looks like his ability to contribute in the playoffs might be negated.
What a Season for Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski finished the season with a perfect game, hitting all four of his field goals and capping off one of the best years of his career.
The Patriots' lead was tenuous in the second half, with the offense failing to generate much outside of what Blount delivered. That's why they needed to lean on Gostkowski to maintain their lead as the Bills tried to mount a comeback with each possession.
Gostkowski's four field goals kept the Pats just far enough ahead until they could pull away on the back of Blount's big returns and runs.
Gostkowski hit nearly every pressure kick this season and looks primed to deliver in the playoffs when the Patriots will need him most.
Sloppy Defensive Effort Is Concerning
The Patriots missed numerous tackles, partly due to the weather, and allowed their second-highest rushing total (169 yards) since their bye week in early November.
Yes, the rain was a factor, but overall, the Pats defense was sloppy and gave the Bills far too many chances to bounce their runs outside for big gains.
The Pats were fortunate to only allow one rush longer than 20 yards.
With Brandon Spikes battling a knee injury, the Patriots' run defense has to be a concern in the playoffs. Sealver Siliga has provided a big boost, but the rest of the defense must do their job around him.
With possible opponents like Jamaal Charles and Giovani Bernard looming in two weeks, the Pats will need to make sound tackling and gap responsibility their top priorities.
The loss of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at the defensive tackle position has been well-discussed, and Joe Vellano, Chris Jones and Isaac Sopoaga did a decent job filling the void during the middle part of the season.
But it has been Siliga who has truly made an impact inside. He had arguably his best game of the season against the Bills, leading the team in tackles (nine total, five solo) and also adding a sack and a forced fumble.
Siliga has joined with Jones to form the top tackle pairing for the Patriots and his presence has helped settle a run defense that was gashed early and often after the losses of Wilfork and Kelly.
Siliga will be a huge key for the Patriots in the playoffs and figures to play a significant number of snaps. The more he plays, the better he gets. That's a positive sign, and one that signals Siliga could have a long-term future with the Patriots.
The Patriots gave up five passes over 20 yards, including gains of 37 and 41, in a clear sign that they missed their defensive captain, safety Devin McCourty, on the back-end.
Duron Harmon didn't get beat over the top for a long touchdown, but there were far too many open receivers downfield. The coverage looked more disjointed than we've seen most of this season.
Thad Lewis averaged 7.7 yards per attempt throwing for 247 yards.
McCourty's status is still uncertain after sustaining a concussion against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16, but it's clear the pass coverage struggled a bit more than usual without their leader.
Edelman Gets His 100 Catches and 1,000 Yards
Julian Edelman picked up nine receptions on 11 targets, for 65 yards, and finished the season with a solid performance that cemented his breakout 2013.
On the season, Edelman ends with 105 receptions, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.
He looks every bit the part of a Welker-replacement, emerging as Brady's trusted target on big downs, moving the chains.
The seventh-round college quarterback has lived up to every bit of potential he flashed as a rookie, when he was thrust into the role in a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens and caught two touchdowns.
The free-agent-to-be will have to come through on third downs and in the red zone in the playoffs for the Patriots offense to not look as lethargic as they did against the Bills.
Blount Is a Record-Setter
Some might've dismissed Blount when he was acquired during the draft from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he has been the Patriots' best running back this season and has only gotten better with each game.
Sunday's record-setting 334 yards of total offense carried the Patriots to the much-needed bye almost single-handedly. Every time Buffalo seemed to seize some momentum, Blount killed it with a big kick-off return or solid gains on the ground.
Expecting a similar performance in the playoffs might be a little much but there's no question Blount is the Patriots' top back and will have a chance to replicate the kind of dominant performances fellow big-back Corey Dillon was able to put together in 2004's playoff run.
Stevan Ridley is running well behind Blount as well, and when combined with Shane Vereen, the threesome look potent heading into the playoffs.
The Patriots Are 12-4 and Get a Bye
It certainly wasn't a pretty win for anyone outside of Blount, but given the circumstances, the Patriots will take it.
They finish up a remarkable 12-4 season that saw them more devastated by significant injuries than any season in recent memory. But most important is getting the week off to try and regain any health that they possibly can.
Concussed Nate Solder and McCourty, along with moderately injured Kyle Arrington, Spikes, Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory will benefit most from the week off.
The Bills avoided any turnovers, so once again we saw a game that went down to the fourth quarter. If the Patriots can't force turnovers in the playoffs, they likely won't be headed very far.
But for now, the Pats can be proud of another 12-win season, and despite their flaws, they prepare for another run at the Super Bowl for the Belichick-Brady Pats.