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Brady tosses four first-half TDs

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots secured the top
seed in the AFC playoffs -- and avenged an embarrassing loss to the
Buffalo Bills.

In a game of strange coincidences, the Patriots won 31-0
Saturday behind Tom Brady's four scoring passes in the first half
and the defense's third shutout in four home games.

That was the score of Buffalo's win over New England in the
season opener. In both games, the winner stopped the opponent's
final play from the 1-yard line to preserve the shutout. And Brady
rebounded from his four-interception disaster in the opener.

"We proved we were a different team than that first day," he
said.

The Patriots (14-2) assured themselves of home-field advantage
throughout the AFC playoffs. Their best regular season ever gives
them a shot at their second Super Bowl championship in three years
and made them the second team since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to
win their last 12 regular-season games. Miami did it in 1972.

Their first playoff game, on the field where they went 8-0 this
season, will be Jan. 10 or 11 against the lowest remaining seeded
team after next weekend's wild-card games.

"As exciting as it is, you've got to stay calm," linebacker
Tedy Bruschi said. "The same things that win in the playoffs won
in the regular season."

For the third straight year there will be no playoff berth for
Buffalo (6-10). Coach Gregg Williams, at the end of his three-year
contract might not return.

"That's not my decision," he said after the Bills' seventh
loss in nine games. "We've all got to get better."

General manager Tom Donahoe said there was no timetable for
making that decision.

Williams' future seemed safe when the Bills started at 2-0,
especially with their impressive win over the Patriots.

"After the way the season started, I couldn't imagine being in
this situation," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said.

But that start motivated the Patriots on Saturday.

"If you're a fighter, you're going to come back," New England
safety Rodney Harrison said. "Regardless of if you come out and
say it, you want revenge."

The Patriots' offense, facing the NFL's second-ranked defense,
finally had a big game as Brady threw touchdown passes on three of
their first four possessions in a span of less than 16 minutes.

They covered 1 yard to Daniel Graham, 9 yards to Bethel Johnson
and 15 yards to Troy Brown. The fourth touchdown pass, a 10-yarder
to David Givens, made it 28-0 with 3:55 left in the half.

"That's what you're playing for every week, try to get on the
board as fast as you can to keep the pressure on the defense,"
Johnson said.

And to keep the opponent off the board late. Larry Izzo
preserved the 31-0 win by intercepting Travis Brown's pass in the
end zone with 13 seconds left with the ball at the 1.

"This team wanted to keep that zero on the board," Izzo said.
"It was just a hard-sell play action and I was able not to bite up
on it."

There was one scary moment in the second quarter when Brady
hobbled off the field after being hit in the left knee by former
Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy. Brady said afterward he was fine.

"It was a blitz and I got upended," said Milloy, one of
Brady's close friends. "I wasn't trying to hurt him."

But he stayed in the game until 7:03 remained when he ran off
the field with his index finger raised as Damon Huard replaced him.

Brady went 21-for-32 for 204 yards with no interceptions.
Bledsoe completed just 12 of 29 passes for 83 yards and one
interception and was sacked three times. He averaged 179 yards
passing in his 16 games after setting 10 franchise records last
season.

The only points the Patriots needed came on the game's opening
drive during which they ran the first eight plays without a running
back. Brady went six for seven for 35 yards on quick throws and had
two 11-yard runs for first downs.

The Bills' played without three starting offensive linemen.

Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown missed the game for personal reasons
and Donahoe said he hadn't been suspended. They also played without
right tackle Mike Williams, who had a strained knee, and left
tackle Jonas Jennings, who is on injured reserve with a toe injury.

Still, the Patriots dominated just as they had been dominated in
the opener by the same score.

"It's amazing," New England tackled Matt Light said. "It's
poetic justice."

Game notes
Eric Moulds had seven catches, making him the second Bills
player to pass 500. He has 506. Andre Reed has 941. ... Buffalo's
243 points are their second fewest in a 16-game season. ... The
Patriots outscored opponents 108-22 in their last six home games.
... New England has won the last 22 games in which it led at
halftime.

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