Patriots Live Blog: New England Rallies for 49-21 Victory, Claims Top Seed in AFC Playoffs

Patriots Live Blog: New England Rallies for 49-21 Victory, Claims Top Seed in AFC Playoffs

Final, Patriots 49-21: The Patriots scored the last 49 points of the game to finish the regular season with a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Plenty more coverage to follow, so stay with NESN.com.

Fourth quarter, 1:30, Patriots 49-21: This is like Christmas for the Patriots' defensive backs. Kyle Arrington had an interception called back due to Devin McCourty's penalty, but Antwaun Molden's interception held up there. McCourty was injured during the play but jogged off and looks all right.

Fourth quarter, 2:55, Patriots 49-21: Sterling Moore, having a day. He was cut after getting turned around by Pierre Garcon late against the Colts, and he just picked off his second pass of the game and then scored his first career touchdown. Moore jumped in front of David Nelson's out-route and took the ball to the house. Heck of a play.

Fourth quarter, 3:02, Patriots 42-21: That's it, and that's all. Rob Gronkowski caught his second touchdown pass of the day and scored his 18th of the season (17 receiving, one rushing) to take over second place on the Patriots' single-season touchdown record. It was also Tom Brady's 300th career touchdown pass, tying him with John Elway for fifth all-time. The records, they are crumbling.

Fourth quarter, 10:34, Patriots 35-21: Great play by Jerod Mayo to jump and break up a third-down pass for C.J. Spiller down the left sideline. That's how you play the ball in the air.

After the Patriots came back and built a two-possession lead last week against Miami, the defense couldn't hold up, but it's doing a much better job this time around. The Bills are making mistakes, but the Patriots are making plays, too.

Kyle Arrington returned to the field on that drive, so health probably wasn't the issue. It was either a chance to give him rest or rotate him with Sterling Moore.

The fans at Gillette are loudly cheering each Dolphins highight that's shown on the video boards. Pretty funny stuff.

It sounds like Drew Brees' day is done, and he's up on Tom Brady by 299 yards. Brady needs 300 for the record in the next 10 minutes, so it looks like he'll have to settle for second place.

Fourth quarter, 11:16, Patriots 35-21: Well, that didn't take long. Tom Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for 44 yards on the first play of the drive, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis added his second touchdown of the game on the second play. Hernandez was open when he caught the ball, made some players miss and reversed across the field in a snap. Defenders must get nauseous trying to tackle him.

Fourth quarter, 12:04, Patriots 28-21: The Bills are destroying themselves with self-inflicted wounds, and C.J. Spiller dropped a pass when he was wide open on a slant route, and the ball deflected high in the air to an opportunistic Devin McCourty, who knew what to do with it. McCourty returned it 38 yards to the Buffalo 47 to give the Patriots a chance to put a seal on the No. 1 seed.

Kyle Arrington is still on the sideline, having been replaced by Sterling Moore, who is active in this half. I wonder if Arrington's foot is bothering him.

Third quarter, 1:32, Patriots 28-21: And there's the lead. The Patriots have successfully erased a 21-0 deficit, and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 17-yard touchdown on third down. Gronkowski beat safety Bryan Scott on a double move toward the back right corner of the end zone, and Scott's drop was way, way too shallow. Then, cornerback Aaron Williams tried to jump in and save the play, but he couldn't leap high enough to snag the throw. Awful job by Scott.

Danny Woodhead took a hand-off in the shotgun formation to run it in for the two-point conversion. Nice blocking by the interior linemen on that play, especially without Logan Mankins in the lineup.

Gronkowski, by the way, spiked the ball into the pylon and knocked it over. That's a new one.

Third quarter, 3:54, Bills 21-20: Wow, Sterling Moore, nice job there. Moore jumped to nab a poor pass that was intended for Ruvell Martin and recorded the first interception of his career. Heck of a play from the youngster, and the Patriots have the ball at the Buffalo 25.

Third quarter, 5:13, Bills 21-20: Tom Brady surpassed Dan Marino's previous single-season passing record with a 53-yard screen to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who made use of his blockers in a big way. But the drive halted on the goal line after first-and-goal from the 1. Brady threw the ball away on first down, Green-Ellis was stuffed on second down and Brady scrambled for nothing on third down before Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal.

Brady took a good hit on that play and took off his jersey to readjust his pads on the sideline. I didn't notice anything around his left shoulder, for what it's worth, so that's a good sign.

Third quarter, 8:38, Bills 21-17: New England's defense has kept Buffalo off the board for four straight possessions, and now it's the offense's turn to repay them. The drive ended with a poor throw to Tashard Choice, who was covered by Jerod Mayo. One of those plays where Choice was going to get killed if the throw was good, but that one had almost no chance.

Sterling Moore replaced Kyle Arrington on that series, too. Arrington was on the sideline with his helmet on, so he might have just gotten a break. He made a nice play at the end of the first half to break up a pass down the left sideline, so it would be a strange time to sit him.

Steve Johnson's day might be over. He's still on the sideline without a helmet. That should be an interesting storyline after the game.

Third quarter, 12:19, Bills 21-17: Stephen Gostkowski's 47-yard field goal helped the Patriots continue to chip away, but that was a drive that was heavy on slop. It included a very short hop from Tom Brady to Wes Welker, a Stevan Ridley fumble, a Rob Gronkowski drop and a Welker trip. Yet, they managed to score.

Third quarter, 14:55, Bills 21-14: The Patriots start this thing at their own 22 after Danny Woodhead's kickoff return.

Halftime, Bills 21-14: The Bills lost a chance to steal back the momentum, as new kicker Brandon Coutu pulled a 45-yard field goal attempt at the buzzer. The Patriots receive the second-half kickoff, so they'll have their second chance to tie the game after trailing 21-0.

The Patriots said all week about how they owed the Bills some payback. Clearly, I misinterpreted those messages by thinking it meant they'd get off to a hot start. Obviously, the Patriots just wanted to repay the Bills by overcoming their own 21-point deficit to even up the score. Just like they repaid them with that 31-0 victory in the 2003 finale.

Second quarter, 0:51, Bills 21-14: That was the type of mistake that cost the Patriots in Week 3, when two of Tom Brady's interceptions were off deflections. Brady's pass for Wes Welker was errant and tipped up in the air to Nick Barnett, who returned it into New England territory before a very poor call erased some of the yardage. Drayton Florence hit Brady at the end of the play and drew the personal foul, but the replay showed there was nothing special about the hit, which is even more maddening before referee Bill Leavy said Florence drove Brady to the ground.

There are new rules protecting quarterbacks after the interception, which makes sense, but that was a terrible call.

Second quarter, 1:58, Bills 21-14: The Patriots might erase this deficit in about a quarter. The Bills went for it on fourth down again and failed, as Patrick Chung blitzed through the B-gap on the right side of the offensive line and drilled Ryan Fitzpatrick as he unloaded the ball in no particular direction. Very poor job by Fitzpatrick on the read because that gap was wide open. He had no plan for if Chung blitzed, and he took one on the chin because of that.

Second quarter, 5:42, Bills 21-14: Aaron Hernandez isn't a Pro Bowler, but that doesn't mean the Bills don't have to cover him. Wow, what a bust there, as Hernandez ran free down the right sideline, caught an easy pass and high-stepped his way toward a 39-yard touchdown. This comeback bid was predictable, and it's on now.

On the pass, Tom Brady eclipsed 5,000 yards this season to become the third player in history to do that. So that's good.

By the way, on the play before the touchdown, Matt Light pulled to the right to lead Stevan Ridley for a 13-yard gain. Great job by Light, and he looked quick there, too. So much for the ankle injury.

Second quarter, 8:59, Bills 21-7: The Patriots' defense finally held up, and Mark Anderson's sack really helped the cause. Bill Belichick has been yelling, I believe, for the refs to call holding on the Bills, who have gotten away with it at least twice so far. The Patriots have pressured Ryan Fitzpatrick a little bit, but the Bills have gotten away with a little cheating.

Brandon Spikes replaced Dane Fletcher on that drive, and Devin McCourty is still lining up at safety in the nickel. The problem is Antwaun Molden hasn't covered anyone in McCourty's spot.

Steve Johnson remained on the sideline with no helmet in sight. No idea if he's done for the game or what.

Julian Edelman made the tackle on third down, and his pursuit is so impressive. He's really decisive, and he's got tremendous form, which makes no sense at all for a guy who hasn't played any defense since freshman year of high school.

Second quarter, 11:58, Bills 21-7: The Patriots are on the board after BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 10th rushing touchdown of the season. Stevan Ridley's 21-yard run got the Patriots close, but he couldn't finish the job on first-and-goal, prompting a heavier goal-line package with Marcus Cannon as an extra tackle, Lousaka Polite as a fullback and Green-Ellis as the more powerful ball carrier. Polite made a good block, too.

Apparently, Steve Johnson's T-shirt just said, "Happy New Year."

First quarter, 0:48, Bills 21-0: Who are these guys, the Ravens? Buffalo has blown the doors off New England's defense and mounted a three-touchdown lead, and the home crowd is booing yet again.

C.J. Spiller ran a crossing pattern, caught the pass and beat Dane Fletcher's flat angle for a 15-yard touchdown.

Credit the Bills for two nice catches and throws on that drive, first by Ruvell Martin and then Naaman Roosevelt, to get deep into New England territory. The Bills are making plays, and the Patriots simply aren't.

It looks like Steve Johnson was benched after the celebration. He was on the sideline throughout that series, and his helmet was nowhere to be found.

First quarter, 3:55, Bills 14-0: The Patriots got a first down due to a penalty, but they weren't able to move the chains with an actual offensive play. After a two-yard run from Stevan Ridley, an incompletion to Wes Welker and a sack, the Patriots punted again. This is Act 2 of the Patriots' holiday-week first-half swoon.

First quarter, 5:19, Bills 14-0: Yeah, about that fast start. The Bills easily — oh, so easily — marched down the field to score a touchdown on their second straight possession after Steve Johnson's terrific diving grab. Johnson has so much talent, but he annoys me to no end — probably because the talent should be the story with him, but it's not.

He also dropped a third-down pass and then celebrated by pulling up his jersey to show something written on his undershirt, which drew a 15-yard penalty. No idea what was written on the jersey, though. The nine thousand cameras in the building apparently couldn't catch it.

Johnson is a free agent after this season, and I'm curious to see what kind of money he commands. He's got a ton of talent, but he's not always in the game.

First quarter, 9:52, Bills 7-0: Well, the Patriots started conservative and only gained two yards in their opening series as a result. Stevan Ridley rushed on the first two plays, gaining two and zero yards, respectively, before Tom Brady's third-down attempt for Wes Welker hit the turf. I'm definitely surprised with the slow start, both in pace and execution.

First quarter, 11:18, Bills 7-0: Tashard Choice ran for a four-yard touchdown to cap the opening drive of the game just two plays after the Bills' biggest gain, which came in the form of a 47-yard pass interference penalty on Antwaun Molden, who collided with Derek Hagan at the 4-yard line. Ryan Fitzpatrick really underthrew the ball, and Molden played it poorly while it was in the air.

First quarter, 12:00, 0-0: The Bills just executed a fake punt for a six-yard gain on fourth-and-1 to keep the drive going near midfield. The Patriots might have seen that coming, but the execution was poor. It also negated the momentum generated by Patrick Chung's big hit on third down, which fired up the team and the crowd.

Devin McCourty started the game at cornerback before moving to safety next to Patrick Chung for two plays. Antwaun Molden and Nate Jones checked in at cornerback in the nickel.

First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: The Bills will start at their own 20 after the kickoff went for a touchback. Lousaka Polite was on kickoff coverage for the Patriots.

Patrick Chung will start at safety.

1:01 p.m.: The Bills called heads and lost the toss, and the Patriots elected to kick off to start the game.

12:33 p.m.: Based on pregame warmups, the starting offensive line from left to right will be Matt Light, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters and Nate Solder.

12:07 p.m.: One intriguing storyline to follow Sunday: Quarterback Matt Flynn is playing in place of Aaron Rodgers for the Packers, and Brian Hoyer probably won't replace Tom Brady unless the Patriots take a huge lead. Flynn and Hoyer should both be attractive targets during the offseason for teams that need a starter. And that market also increased when Matt Barkley decided to stay at USC.

Anyway, the thought through most of the season is Flynn was slightly more highly regarded than Hoyer, but Flynn could really cement himself with a solid game against the Lions.

11:32 a.m.: Safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes are returning to the field Sunday after missing seven games with injuries. The Patriots' seven inactives are Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Ron Brace, Tracy White, Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen and Ryan Malllett. More details to follow.

11:29 a.m.: Devin McCourty and Matt Slater are both working out with assistant strength coach Moses Cabrera. Both have shoulder injuries.

11:19 a.m.: Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien might be close to taking a new job. He has emerged as "a leading candidate" to take over as Penn State's head coach, according to ESPN.

And USA Today is reporting the contract is the only thing left to work out before O'Brien is hired. Obviously, the contract is a significant part there, but I'd imagine that at least means Penn State has identified O'Brien as the guy they want to hire.

11:09 a.m.: Wes Welker leads the NFL with 116 receptions and 1,518 receiving yards entering the final day of the season. He's got a 20-catch advantage over Roddy White, and he's got 81 yards on Calvin Johnson. Welker also needs eight receptions to set a new career high for a single season.

11:03 a.m.: The Patriots promoted defensive back Malcolm Williams (a true special teamer who is a ways away on defense, according to Bill Belichick) on Saturday. I think it's a good sign for Matt Light's health that they didn't promote tackle Matt Kopa. Light's ankle surprisingly acted up the morning of last week's game and left the Patriots with just two tackles. I don't think that's a risk they'd consciously take.

10:57 a.m.: The Patriots have already ruled out left guard Logan Mankins (knee) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot, back). Mankins will miss the first game of his career. Vollmer will miss his 10th game of the season and his fifth in a row.

The rest of the inactives will be announced at 11:30 a.m.

10:55 a.m.: The Patriots will have a moment of silence for Houston Antwine before the game.

10:37 a.m.: The specialists took the field a few minutes ago, and Stephen Gostkowski is wearing Zoltan Mesko's sweatpants with the No. 14 on the leg. I'm not exactly sure whose sweatpants Zoltan is wearing.

10:25 a.m.: Rookie running back Shane Vereen is also working out with the strength staff on the field. Vereen has had a hamstring injury for several weeks — it also severely restricted him during training camp — and is stretching it out now.

Vereen has been inactive eight times this season, including the last four games. He's also worked out on the field prior to a handful of games in which he's been inactive, so it's not necessarily a sign that he'll play Sunday.

10:21 a.m.: Interestingly, the Patriots' three specialists aren't the first ones on the field before this game. That honor goes to practice squad safety Ross Ventrone, who appears to be stretching out some type of leg injury. Just goes to show the players' rehab programs don't halt on game days.

10:18 a.m.: My main takeaway from this week had to do with the Patriots' attitude. They're definitely still ticked about losing in Week 3, and they feel like they've got some unfinished business with the Bills. It was a different type of personality in that locker room, and in my experience around this team, when they're angry, it usually doesn't bode well for the other team. I'd be surprised if the Patriots don't start hot Sunday.

10:10 a.m.: It's another beautiful day at Gillette Stadium, where it's the warmest day of the week, and there isn't a cloud in sight. Amazing weather considering how cold it was a few days ago.

8 a.m. ET: The Patriots will hope to fulfill a pair of New Year's resolutions Sunday against the Bills by winning the game to lock up the No. 1 seed and staying healthy to get themselves in line to make a playoff run.

New England will wrap up the AFC's top seed with a win or a tie, or with losses or ties from both the Steelers and Ravens. Obviously, it would be much easier for the Patriots to take care of business on their own.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m., but there will be plenty to monitor before the game, too, especially if Tom Brady makes an early (and unlikely) on-field appearance to test out his left shoulder. So stick with NESN.com's live blog throughout the day to keep the New Year's party going.

Yardbarker

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