FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots dashed and splashed their way to a first-round AFC bye.
The powerful back rushed for a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns and had two long kickoff returns as New England beat the Buffalo Bills 34-20 on a rainy Sunday.
Tom Brady was content to hand the ball off during a steady downpour against a team leading the NFL in sacks and second in interceptions. And Blount responded, leading the charge into the playoffs.
Stephen Gostkowski helped make sure the Patriots (12-4) wouldn’t have a game next weekend with four field goals.
While the Patriots earned their eighth bye in Bill Belichick’s 14 seasons as coach, the Bills (6-10) missed the playoffs for the 14th straight year, the league’s longest current streak.
New England won its 13th straight home game against Buffalo, including 12-0 since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
The Patriots finished with the second seed in the AFC behind Denver, which beat Oakland 34-14, after beginning their game with a chance to finish in any of the AFC’s top four playoff spots.
One week after routing the Baltimore Ravens 41-7, the Patriots’ defense held off a late Bills comeback.
The Bills played without quarterback EJ Manuel, who has a small tear in his left knee ligament, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, excused for the second straight game after his mother’s death.
But backup Thad Lewis led the Bills back with a 12-yard scoring pass to T.J. Graham late in the third quarter and an 80-yard drive capped by Fred Jackson’s 5-yard run with 10:20 remaining in the game.
After each of those touchdowns, though, Blount powered and sped his way through the Bills with kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards.
The first set up Brady’s 5-yard scoring pass to Shane Vereen, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Julian Edelman that made it 24-10. The second led to Gostkowski’s fourth field goal, a 35-yarder that put the Patriots ahead 27-17.
The Bills turned the ball over on downs on their next possession. Before the Patriots ran the next play, “Singing’ in the Rain” blared over the public address system, and drenched fans smiled and sang along.
Then Manny Lawson intercepted Brady’s pass and the Bills capitalized with Dan Carpenter’s 37-yard field goal that made it 27-20 with 3:25 to go.
Buffalo tried an onside kick, but Nate Ebner recovered for New England. Blount then ran 10 yards before splashing down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown that ended with him diving into the soggy end zone.
His 36-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter had given the Patriots a 13-3 lead.
The game even featured a punt by Brady on third-and-32 from his 46-yard line midway through the third quarter with the score 16-3. It traveled 32 yards, where Jim Leonhard made a fair catch.
Brady finished 14 of 24 for 122 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Lewis went 16 for 29 for 247 yards and a touchdown. C.J. Spiller led the Bills with 105 yards rushing.