AFC East: 2013 Week 17 BUF at NE Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts from the New England Patriots' 34-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: The Patriots earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round playoff bye. For a banged-up team that had more key players leave the game, it’s a much-needed break.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left guard Logan Mankins left for the locker room in the second quarter with an ankle injury but ultimately played through it. He clearly looked hobbled at times. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson left the game in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been slowed by a knee injury, left the game in the fourth quarter.

Stock watch: LeGarrette Blount, UP. When the 250-pound Blount gets going, it brings back memories of the Patriots’ final Super Bowl championship season with Corey Dillon at running back. It’s rare to see such a big back run with such elusiveness and power. Blount totaled 189 yards rushing and also had two long kickoff returns that came as the Bills were threatening to get back into the game. This was a career day for Blount, who is rounding into form at the time many often say the running game takes on added importance. As the Patriots kneeled on the ball, coach Bill Belichick took Blount off the field so he could hear the rousing cheer from the home crowd.

Elements play a big part: The game was played in heavy rain throughout, which made ballhandling a struggle. The Patriots caught some breaks, fumbling four times and recovering all of them. So there was some good fortune for New England on this day. The defense, which was shaky at times, rose up in the critical moments.

What’s next: The Patriots will be off until the divisional round of the playoffs.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 34-20 loss to the New England Patriots:

What it means: It's over. The Bills close out their season with a soggy loss, extending their losing streak in New England to 13 games. Buffalo finishes with a 6-10 record and in last place in the AFC East. That's the same result as last season.

Dareus benched, again: Former third overall pick Marcell Dareus has performed well this season, setting a career high with 7.5 sacks. But one week after being benched for the first quarter due to a violation of team rules, Dareus got benched again for another undisclosed violation, this time for the first half. To make matters worse, Dareus jumped offside on a Patriots field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter, giving New England a first down that it turned into eight points after a touchdown and two-point conversion. That was a key swing in what became a close game late.

Stock watch: Falling: Run defense. Like the weather, it was an ugly afternoon for this unit. The Patriots ran for 267 yards, outmuscling the Bills in a rain-drenched finale. LeGarrette Blount proved tough to haul down; he finished with 7.9 yards per carry and two touchdowns. In the second half, Blount returned back-to-back kickoffs for 83 yards and 62 yards, which should make for a long plane ride home for Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman.

Byrd injured: Safety Jairus Byrd, who was selected Friday to the Pro Bowl, left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. He did not return. That might have been the final appearance for Byrd with the Bills, as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Byrd has been selected to three Pro Bowls in his five seasons in Buffalo.

What's next: Bills players will clean out their lockers Monday morning, and then that's it. They enter the offseason with a roster that could stay mostly intact. Their quarterback position, though, remains a major question mark.