Rapid reaction: Pats 34, Bills 3

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ convincing 34-3 win over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium:

What it means. The Patriots win the AFC East and earn the No. 1 seed, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. After downgrading six players on Saturday night, and having the flu hit during the week, the team was short-handed entering this game and needed contributions from many. They got them – in a big way. This gives Bill Belichick a chance to manage his banged-up roster to position the team to be at its healthiest in the playoffs.

Running game powers the way. The Patriots pride themselves on being a game-plan offense, adjusting their attack to exploit the weaknesses of a defense. With the Bills entering the game ranked 32nd in the NFL against the run, the Patriots pounded them on the ground with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. The Patriots, with credit to the offensive line and tight ends in the run-blocking game, had 220 rushing yards before the game-ending kneel-downs.

Brady in the record books. Quarterback Tom Brady put his name into the NFL record books with 11:38 remaining in the third quarter when he fired an incomplete pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The pass was the 309th straight from Brady without throwing an interception, breaking Bernie Kosar’s record. Brady had some good fortune during the streak – both the Packers and Bears couldn’t corral tipped balls or errant throws – but there was nothing like that in this game.

Defense produces six turnovers. Just like last year’s game in Buffalo, the Patriots’ defense had a tough opening drive, with the Bills jamming the ball down their throats. After holding them to a field goal – like last year – the defense settled down and produced a season-high six turnovers (special teams added a seventh). The Patriots are now 12-0 on the season with a positive turnover differential.

Gronkowski’s big homecoming. Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, a native of Amherst, N.Y., had two touchdown receptions in a big-time effort. The Patriots kept Gronkowski on the field for almost every snap, in part because they were without rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip).

What’s next. The Patriots host the Dolphins in the season finale next Sunday. The team can not improve its position. One story line that figures to be followed is how Bill Belichick approaches things, and if Wes Welker’s knee injury in the season-finale last year, affects how how manages the roster in that game.