Patriots Pound Bills, Clinch Second Straight AFC East Championship

Patriots Pound Bills, Clinch Second Straight AFC East Championship
Final, Patriots 34-3: The Patriots have won the AFC East title for the second consecutive season and the eighth time since 2001. They've got a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs, too. With next week's game at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots won't be leaving New England again unless they reach the Super Bowl.

Fourth quarter, 1:50, Patriots 34-3: C.J. Spiller's head hasn't been in it, and he muffed a punt and did very little to retrieve his own fumble. Sergio Brown recovered the fumble, and unless the Bills make senseless use of their timeouts, Brian Hoyer can take a knee and put this one to rest. By the way, Brown and Dane Fletcher are good friends, so that will be a happy section of the locker room this week.

Fourth quarter, 2:00, Patriots 34-3: Dane Fletcher notched his first career sack last week, so this is a good stretch for him, especially since he's getting more playing time in the absence of Brandon Spikes.

Fourth quarter, 3:31, Patriots 34-3: Dane Fletcher recorded the first interception of his career, and in doing so, he halted another Buffalo trip to the red zone. Tom Brady has been replaced at quarterback by Brian Hoyer, who will likely do a whole bunch of handing off.

Fourth quarter, 3:44, Patriots 34-3: Just went through all of the game books and found an interesting stat. The Patriots have received the second-half kickoff 10 times this season, and Sunday marked the first time they failed to gain a first down. I'll break this down a little more later in the week, likely in the Two-Minute Drill.

Fourth quarter, 10:15, Patriots 34-3: Shayne Graham added a 26-yard field goal to give the Patriots 34 consecutive points. Wes Welker also snapped his run of three consecutive drops by hauling in a seven-yard pass on third down. I'm guessing that might have been Tom Brady's last series of the game.

End of third quarter, Patriots 31-3: Tom Brady will point to an ineffective stretch in the third quarter during this week's meetings. At any rate, with all of the turnovers, short possessions and one challenge, that was a seriously long third quarter.

Third quarter, 2:42, Patriots 31-3: The Patriots didn't gain a first down again and punted it back to the Bills, who will take over underneath some snowy skies.

Third quarter, 4:49, Patriots 31-3: Another Bills possession, another turnover. Ryan Fitzpatrick fumbled for the second time in the game, and the Patriots recovered at their own 37. Credit Devin McCourty with his second forced fumble of the season, and Eric Moore recovered.

Third quarter, 6:26, Patriots 31-3: The Patriots didn't gain a first down for the third straight possession of the half, and this series was marred by a Logan Mankins holding penalty and a pass interference flag on Rob Gronkowski that staked the Pats to a first-and-30. Tom Brady is heated with the offense's second-half inefficiency. Don't tell that man his team is up 31-3 and about 21 minutes away from wrapping up the division title.

Third quarter, 8:00, Patriots 31-3: Yup, the Patriots won the challenge, and they've got the ball at the Buffalo 34.

Third quarter, 8:07, Patriots 31-3: Jerod Mayo's monstrous day has gotten better, as it appears as though he forced a C.J. Spiller fumble that was recovered by Dane Fletcher. Spiller was initially ruled to be down, but Bill Belichick challenged the play, and it should be New England's ball.

Third quarter, 8:07, Patriots 31-3: Wes Welker dropped his third pass of the game and got his bell rung by linebacker Paul Posluszny, and the Patriots went three-and-out. Two of Welker's drops have been on third down, and the passes would have been enough to move the chains.

Third quarter, 9:27, Patriots 31-3: The Bills have turned it over on downs for the second time, and the Pats will take over at their own 22. This thing got out of hand pretty quickly. At this point, the only thing Bill Belichick needs to think about is when to pull Tom Brady and some of the starters.

Third quarter, 11:27, Patriots 31-3: Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for another eight-yard touchdown pass, and Brady has thrown an NFL-record 310 consecutive passes without an interception. Brady has thrown 24 touchdowns during that span, and the Patriots will improve to 10-1 in that stretch, including the Baltimore game in Week 6 and Sunday's win in Buffalo.

Third quarter, 12:11, Patriots 24-3: Jarrad Page turned around in coverage and found a football heading straight for his gut. Page's interception set up the Pats at the Buffalo 11-yard line, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's nightmarish game continues.

Third quarter, 12:56, Patriots 24-3: Well, that wasn't very impressive. The Patriots went three-and-out, and Tom Brady's record-tying 308th straight pass without an interception fell one yard shy of a first down.

Third quarter, 14:54, Patriots 24-3: Tom Brady and the offense are back on the field to start the second half.

Halftime, Patriots 24-3: The Bills' first possession was an ominous sign for the Patriots, but they rebounded like their hair was on fire. Tom Brady has two touchdown passes, Danny Woodhead (72) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (66) have amassed 138 rushing yards and the defense has forced two turnovers.

Second quarter, 0:26, Patriots 24-3: Two numbers to update: Tom Brady has thrown 307 consecutive passes without an interception, which is one shy of Bernie Kosar's allll-time record. And the Patriots have now scored after 21 of their 31 forced turnovers, accumulating 127 points in those possessions. As I pointed out last week, the Patriots have only had four unproductive possessions after a turnover all season.

Second quarter, 0:33, Patriots 24-3: The Patriots are just killing it right now. Tom Brady threw a dime to Alge Crumpler, who made a nice catch for his first touchdown as a Patriot. Crumpler doesn't get many opportunities, so this is a nice reward for an extremely popular player in that locker room. Crumpler is one of the league's elite blockers, and his dirty work doesn't always get the attention it deserves. But the Patriots named him a captain midseason, which was a respectable nod to Crumpler's importance, both on the field and behind the scenes.

Second quarter, 2:24, Patriots 17-3: Ryan Fitzpatrick panicked in a clean pocket, double-clutched and threw an interception off his back foot. Patrick Chung went to the ground to pull off a nice pick, and he returned it 18 yards to the Buffalo 27. A late turnover that turns into points before halftime should be enough to force this Buffalo team to call it a day.

Second quarter, 3:57, Patriots 17-3: Shayne Graham kicked a 34-yard field goal after Wes Welker dropped passes on second and third down, and the Patriots are zeroing in on their AFC East title. It's weird seeing Welker struggle like that on back-to-back plays. The first drop was on a quick bubble screen that would have gotten blown up anyway, but the second drop negated a play that would have resulted in a first down.

Second quarter, 7:32, Patriots 14-3: Jerod Mayo rocked Stevie Johnson, who couldn't hang onto a fourth-down pass, giving the ball back to New England at the 32. Johnson then got up and threw an elbow at Patrick Chung, but the refs missed it. Chung, Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington have all made some nice plays in this game to knock away passes.

Second quarter, 12:27, Patriots 14-3: Rob Gronkowski caught an eight-yard touchdown pass after breaking free into the right flat because the Bills bit on play-action. Gronkowski missed a pair of balls on the Pats' opening drive, but he made a huge one-handed, 23-yard, third-down catch on the scoring drive. Big day for the kid who's got roots in Buffalo. By the way, I talked to Gronkowski on Friday, and he spouted off a string of his nicknames, but he wants to know what nickname that Patriots fans have for him. Look for that post soon on NESN.com.

End of first quarter, Patriots 7-3: The Pats have moved into Buffalo territory and are looking smooth on offense, particularly on the ground. It would be especially important for the Patriots to build a big lead in this game because they could force the Bills' offense to stay away from the effective rushing attack.

First quarter, 1:52, Patriots 7-3: Good friends Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo teamed up to force a turnover in the red zone. Rob Ninkovich forced early pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, who ducked forward toward the pocket, but Gary Guyton knocked the ball out and Mayo recovered it at the New England 20. The Patriots have scored 19 times after 29 turnovers this season, and they'll have an opportunity to make it 20 of 30 here.

First quarter, 3:46, Patriots 7-3: The Patriots hit the easy button on that drive, and Danny Woodhead split through the line on a halfback draw out of a shotgun set and dashed 29 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots ran the ball on all four plays on that drive, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis picking up 11 yards on two carries and Woodhead rushing for 37 yards on a pair of touches.

First quarter, 5:33, Bills 3-0: Never underestimate play-calling ineptitude. After rushing seven times for 64 yards on their opening drive, the Bills didn't attempt a single run on their second drive, and they went three-and-out. The wind grabbed Brian Moorman's punt, which traveled just 32 yards to the Buffalo 48, and the Pats have great field position to start their second drive.

First quarter, 6:24, Bills 3-0: Tom Brady missed a wide-open Rob Gronkowski on the first play of the drive, as a better throw down the middle likely would have led to a 77-yard touchdown. The Patriots could run on that drive, but the passing game was ineffective with Brady completing just 1-of-4 throws for three yards. Gronkowski dropped Brady's third-and-9 bid, and New England punted to the Buffalo 13.

First quarter, 10:03, Bills 3-0: As expected, Ryan Wendell will get his first career start at right guard in place of Dan Connolly. The Patriots' first drive starts at their 23.

First quarter, 10:08, Bills 3-0: Buffalo ran straight through New England's defense but only came away with a 26-yard field goal from Rian Lindell. Fred Jackson rushed five times for 50 yards, breaking the edge twice and bursting between the tackles on other runs, and C.J. Spiller added two rushes for 14 yards. However, a curious decision to throw a pair of fade routes to Steve Johnson in the end zone killed Buffalo's drive. If the Bills are able to keep running like this, it could be a long day for the New England defense.

First quarter, 14:54, 0-0: C.J. Spiller returned the opening kickoff to the Buffalo 28, and the Bills' offense will start it off.

1:02 p.m.: The Patriots won the toss and elected to kick off, so this thing is about ready to get started.

12:05 p.m.: Last week, I started keeping a tally of the Patriots' injury reports to figure out the likelihood that a player will be active based on their status as probable or questionable. I use the final injury report of the week, which includes the downgrades that are announced Saturday.

This week, all three players listed as questionable and all four players listed as probable will be in uniform against the Bills. For the season, 20 of the 45 questionable players were active, and 32 of the 34 probable players were active. And since Dan Connolly was downgraded from doubtful to out, the Patriots still haven't gone into a game with a doubtful player on their injury report.

As I mentioned in a story earlier this week, the only two probable players who didn't play this season were defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick (toe) in Week 1 and cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot) in Week 6, but I believe they were inactive because of their place on the depth chart and not because of that week's injury. Therefore, if a Patriot is listed as probable, you know he's healthy enough to play in the game.
12:00 p.m.: The most important player on Sunday's inactive list, in my opinion, is linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who is probably the Patriots' most effective player in edge containment, and that will be a key area against Bills running back Fred Jackson.

11:33 a.m.: Wide receiver Taylor Price and running back Thomas Clayton are the Patriots' other two inactive players. This means, without Dan Connolly, they'll dress eight offensive linemen. Ryan Wendell is expected to start in place of Connolly, and Quinn Ojinnaka, Mark LeVoir and Rich Ohrnberger will be ready as backups.

11:18 a.m.: The Patriots announced 75 percent of their inactive list Saturday when they released the names of six players who didn't travel to Buffalo. Right guard Dan Connolly (concussion), tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip), linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (calf), defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick (shoulder), defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) and defensive lineman Myron Pryor (back) will not play. The other two inactive players will be announced in a few minutes.

8 a.m.: There are no more guessing games, no more what-if scenarios and no other scoreboards to watch. It's simple now. The Patriots will clinch the AFC East title, as well as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, with a victory Sunday in Buffalo.

It's on them, and it couldn't come against a better opponent. The Patriots have won 14 consecutive games against the Bills, which is the third-longest streak for any team against one opponent in NFL history.

Of course, in the unlikely event of a New England stumble, a Jets loss or tie to Chicago could bail out the Patriots on Sunday. Regardless, stay with NESN.com's live blog to stay up to date with what happens throughout Sunday afternoon.
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