Final, Patriots 34-20: The Patriots have clinched a first-round playoff bye.
It wasn’t easy for New England, as they kept letting Buffalo back into the game in the rain, but the regular season is over and New England gets a rest.
We’ll have more on the 34-20 win on NESN.com.
Fourth quarter, 2:31, Patriots 34-20: LeGarrette Blount is having an incredible game. He’s up to 24 carries for 189 yards with two touchdowns. He just scored on a 36-yard carry with a drive into the end zone.
He also has two kick returns for 145 yards.
Fourth quarter, 3:26, Patriots 27-20: The Bills are back to within one score. Buffalo was driving, then Aqib Talib made a big stop on second down, followed by a Rob Ninkovich sack.
The Bills settled for a field goal. Brandon Spikes walked gingerly off the field late in the drive.
Fourth quarter, 4:54, Patriots 27-17: The Bills might be back in this one. Shane Vereen dropped Tom Brady’s attempt and it bounced into Buffalo linebacker Manny Lawson’s waiting arms. Lawson’s interception put Buffalo in solid field position to score again.
Fourth quarter, 5:38, Patriots 27-17: The Bills couldn’t cut into the Patriots’ lead despite some big plays from Scott Chandler and C.J. Spiller.
On the final play, Thad Lewis’ pass clanged off T.J. Graham’s hands.
Fourth quarter, 7:57, Patriots 27-17: The Patriots are back up by two scores.
LeGarrette Blount ran the kickoff back 62 yards, immediately putting the Patriots in field goal range. Stephen Gostkowski knocked through a 35-yarder.
Fourth quarter, 10:20, Patriots 24-17: The Bills just won’t go away.
They worked down the field in four minutes and 36 seconds to get within one touchdown. The biggest play of the drive was a 37-yard pass to Fred Jackson. Rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan dropped into coverage. It wasn’t pretty. The drive ended with a Fred Jackson rushing touchdown.
Fourth quarter, 14:56, Patriots 24-10: Shane Vereen got the touchdown; Julian Edelman got the two-point conversion.
With that, the Patriots have a two-touchdown lead. The Patriots got most of the way on an 83-yard kick return from LeGarrette Blount. They were set to go for the field goal before Marcell Dareus got charged with encroachment, giving the Patriots a first down.
Brady dumped the ball off to Vereen for six.
Third quarter, 1:29, Patriots 16-10: The Patriots may want to increase their effort in the fourth quarter. The Bills are creeping up and if New England loses, they lose their all-important first-round playoff bye.
Thad Lewis connected on a deep pass to T.J. Graham midway through the drive. Lewis ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Graham.
Third quarter, 4:19, Patriots 16-3: I think the Patriots just want to get out of this one.
They ran three times with LeGarrette Blount, then ran the punt team on the field on fourth and 2. Kanorris Davis should have downed it inside the five, but the ball got away from him.
Third quarter, 6:28, Patriots 16-3: Well, the Bills couldn’t even get one big play on that drive. They went three and out and punted back to the Patriots. Chris Jones ended the drive with a sack, his sixth of the season.
Third quarter, 7:43, Patriots 16-3: There’s nothing like a third-and-32 pooch punt from Tom Brady.
The Patriots moved 30 yards downfield on consecutive personal foul penalties. Then they moved 20 yards back upfield on two holding penalties.
Facing third and 32, there wasn’t much the Patriots were going to gain from going for it, so they caught Buffalo by surprise with Brady’s second-career punt.
Third quarter, 12:51, Patriots 16-3: The Bills keep their streak alive of getting one big play and not much else. Thad Lewis completed a 27-yard pass to Scott Chandler. Then C.J. Spiller got a 4-yard carry, Thad Lewis ran out of bounds on a scramble and Fred Jackson dropped a pass.
The Patriots have the ball at their own 10-yard line after Julian Edelman muffed his fair catch.
End half, Patriots 16-3: The Patriots ended the first half with a nice four-minute, 45-second drive that culminated in another Gostkowski field goal.
LeGarrette Blount has been the star so far. He has 15 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown. Julian Edelman has seven catches for 50 yards on the half.
Second quarter, 4:50, Patriots 13-3: The injuries, like any Patriots game, are piling up. Kyle Arrington went down on that drive with what looked like a knee injury. He’s been battling groin and hamstring problems this season.
Justin Green came in for Arrington. He was targeted on Thad Lewis’ next pass and broke up the attempt intended for Robert Woods.
Logan Mankins is back on the field for the Patriots. The Bills had to punt.
Second quarter, 6:35, Patriots 13-3: Not much happening on that three-and-out drive for the Patriots. Ridley ran for no gain, Brady completed a 4-yard pass to Edelman and Brady muffed a snap. The Bills have the ball at their own 6-yard line.
Second quarter, 8:29, Patriots 13-3: The Bills are pulling out all the stops. They went for it on 4th and 1 with a Thad Lewis quarterback keeper. Rob Ninkovich stopped the quarterback and pulled him in to the backfield.
The Patriots have the ball on their own 45-yard line. Logan Mankins is questionable to return with an ankle injury.
Second quarter, 12:14, Patriots 13-3: LeGarrette Blount, ladies and gentlemen.
Blount has 11 carries for 101 yards after his 36-yard touchdown run. Blount had three runs on that drive.
Julian Edelman now has 100 catches for 1,019 yards on the season after another grab.
Logan Mankins was helped off the field after Blount’s big run. He went down the locker room limping.
End first quarter, Patriots 6-3: LeGarrette Blount finished the first quarter with a 9-yard run to get the Patriots out of their own end zone.
Kenbrell Thompkins is in the game with Dobson remaining in the locker room. Dobson is questionable to return with a foot injury.
First quarter, :03 Patriots 6-3: The Bills couldn’t get very far on their drive outside of a 27-yard completion from Thad Lewis to Robert Woods. Lewis’ last pass clanged off tight end Scott Chandler’s hands and into Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan’s. The rookie dropped the interception.
The Bills had to punt. The Patriots have the ball at their own 6-yard line.
First quarter, 2:41, Patriots 6-3: The Patriots took the lead, but they may have lost an important cog in their playoff run.
Aaron Dobson came up lame on a deep target from Tom Brady. Dobson has been dealing with a foot injury.
Julian Edelman has 99 catches and 1,007 yards on the season after the wide receiver pulled in two grabs on that drive.
Stevan Ridley had the biggest play of the drive, a 29-yard run.
First quarter, 6:14, 3-3: The Bills are lucky they came out of that drive with three points.
On third down, Thad Lewis fumbled the snap and lost 16 yards. Dan Carpenter was still able to hit a 51-yard field goal to tie the game.
C.J. Spiller had a big play off the left edge. New England was able to contain the running back on his next run to that direction.
Lewis hit a 22-yard completion to Marquise Goodwin. The Patriots have the ball at their own 24-yard line after the kickoff.
First quarter, 9:41, Patriots 3-0: The Patriots have taken the early lead.
LeGarrette Blount got seven carries on that drive for 33 yards. New England got fortunate when Shane Vereen fumbled the ball forward. Julian Edelman recovered it for a first down. After that play, Blount got a carry followed by a Danny Amendola drop and incompletion to Aaron Dobson.
Stephen Gostkowski hit the field goal to put New England ahead.
Marcell Dareus has been benched for the Bills for the first half for violating team rules.
First quarter, 15:00: The Bills won the toss and chose to defer. The Patriots will receive the kickoff.
4:15 p.m.: We’re getting ready for kickoff here. In pregame warmups, the starting cornerbacks were Aqib Talib and Logan Ryan. Steve Gregory and Duron Harmon were at safety.
4:12 p.m.: There are multiple reports out there that Josh McDaniels could be hired away by the Browns if Rob Chudzinski is fired.
This could be the Patriots’ offensive coordinator’s last regular season game in New England.
3:35 p.m.: The playoff picture is getting a little clearer. The Colts are on their way to trouncing the Jaguars and the Bengals have a 10-point lead over the Ravens.
The Steelers are on their way to a victory and the Dolphins are losing 14-7 to the Jets. The Chiefs look to be benching their starters, so it looks like the Chargers will likely win, propelling them into the playoffs.
New England isn’t getting any help, so they will have to win to keep the first-round bye.
3:12 p.m.: Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, left tackle Nate Solder and linebacker Dane Fletcher will return to the field on Sunday. All three players were missing from the action last week against the Ravens.
2:55 p.m.: The Patriots’ inactives are in. Safety Devin McCourty, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive end Jake Bequette, wide receiver Josh Boyce, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and guard Chris Barker are inactive for New England.
2:54 p.m.: We’re starting to see some Patriots players out on the field. Wide receiver Danny Amendola is doing a lap around the field in game pants. Linebacker Chris White is meeting with some of his former Bills teammates. Center Ryan Wendell, linebacker Dane Fletcher and cornerback Justin Green are also out on the field.
2:44 p.m.: The rain is coming down pretty hard here at Gillette. That could neutralize the Patriots’ advantage a little bit, just because anything can happen when the ball gets soggy.
Stevan Ridley could be having a slight heart attack right now. He’s done well at holding onto the ball recently, but his fumbles got him benched earlier in the season.
2:37 p.m.: We’re doing some scoreboard watching here at Gillette right now. The Ravens and Jaguars aren’t doing the Patriots any favors. The Bengals are beating Baltimore 17-6 and the Colts and beating Jacksonville 20-3.
1:00 p.m.: It’s cold and dreary in Foxboro today. The field is ready and some last-minute preparations are going on inside the stadium.
Some Bills players are doing laps on the stairs in the stadium. The games to watch this afternoon are Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars-Indianapolis Colts. If the Bengals and Colts lose, the Patriots are guaranteed a first-round playoff bye. If Cincinnati and Indianapolis win, New England will need to win to maintain their first-round playoff bye.
In the late games, if the Denver Broncos lose to the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win.
8 a.m. ET: The New England Patriots have said it all week: This is the most important game of the year.
Of course, Bill Belichick and the Patriots take that approach every week, but it may ring true this time. New England’s success in the playoffs will be dictated by a win or loss against the Buffalo Bills.
If the Patriots win, they get a first-round bye. If they lose, their seeding in the playoffs rests on the results of the Bengals’ and Colts’ games. If either team wins and New England loses, the Patriots will be playing in the first round.
It will help the Patriots that the Bills will be missing quarterback EJ Manuel (knee) and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (non-injury related). Thad Lewis and T.J. Graham will start in their place at quarterback and wide receiver, respectively.
It’s still unclear how many players New England will be missing this week. Wide receiver Josh Boyce is definitely out with an ankle injury and safety Devin McCourty will most likely be held out with a concussion. Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and linebacker Dane Fletcher may be the most “questionable” of the Patriots listed with that tag.
Thompkins has missed three straight weeks with a hip injury and Dennard was limited to just a few plays last week with shoulder and knee ailments. Fletcher was a surprise inactive against the Ravens in Week 16 with a groin injury.
Cornerback Justin Green and safety Kanorris Davis took wide receiver Austin Collie and cornerback Marquice Cole’s spots on the roster. The fact that New England was confident enough to release Collie could bode well for Thompkins’ status, but it’s sometimes impossible to read the tea leaves with Belichick.
The game kicks off at 4:25, but I’ll be reporting live from Gillette Stadium far earlier than that. So stay here for all the updates leading up to the game.