Bills end season with 34-20 loss to Patriots

Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play. An

offside that helped turn a field goal attempt into a touchdown. A

kickoff unit that allowed returns of 62 and 83 yards.

The Buffalo Bills had thought they were close to finally beating

the Patriots in New England.

They left Foxborough again for another offseason of thinking

about how far they have to go.

”To say that you’re close or anything like that,” coach Doug

Marrone said, ”until you win, we don’t have a leg to stand

on.”

LeGarrette Blount slogged through heavy rain for a career-high

189 yards rushing and two touchdowns, adding another 145 on two

kickoff returns Sunday to lead New England to a 34-20 victory and

help the Patriots (12-4) clinch a first-round bye in the AFC

playoffs.

The Bills, who had won two in a row, lost for the 13th straight

time in Foxborough and extended their playoff drought to 14 seasons

– the longest in the NFL.

”It would be much different if we were ending on a three-game

winning streak,” Marrone said. ”We had the opportunity to do some

things. There was a lot on the line, and we left it out

there.”

Twice in the second half, the Bills (6-10) scored touchdowns to

make it a one-possession game.

Each time, Blount brought the ensuing kickoff back into Buffalo

territory.

After T.J. Graham’s 12-yard reception from backup quarterback

Thad Lewis made it 16-10, Blount took the kick 3 yards deep in the

end zone and brought it all the way to the Bills 20, faking out the

kicker before he was brought down from behind by Marcus Easley.

Buffalo forced a fourth-and-1, but when New England lined up for a

field goal from the 11, Marcell Dareus jumped offside; one play

later, Tom Brady hit Shane Vereen for a 5-yard touchdown pass that,

with a 2-point conversion, made it 24-10.

The Bills marched 80 yards to cut the deficit to seven points on

Fred Jackson’s 4-yard run. But again on the kickoff Blount brushed

off tacklers before Chris Hogan brought him down at the Buffalo 40.

The Patriots settled for a field goal – Stephen Gostkowski’s fourth

of the game.

”Things like that just show how close you are,” Lewis said,

”but you’re not there yet.”

The Bills played without quarterback EJ Manuel, who has a small

tear in a left knee ligament, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson,

excused for the second straight game after his mother’s death. They

also played the first half without Dareus, who was benched for the

second straight game for an unspecified violation of team

rules.

Lewis completed 16 of 29 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown.

C.J. Spiller ran 19 times for 105 yards, giving him 10 career

100-yard games to tie Cookie Gilchrist for seventh-most in

franchise history. Jackson’s 28th career touchdown put him in fifth

place on Buffalo’s career list.

”Missed tackles. That’s what it came down to,” said linebacker

Jerry Hughes, who claimed he didn’t know what he said to draw a

15-yard penalty while referee Ed Hochuli was already announcing

another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. ”We knew (Blount) was a

big fella. We just have to do a better job tackling.”

Brady completed 14 of 24 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and

one interception, content for most of the rain-soaked game to hand

it off to Blount against a team leading the NFL in sacks and ranked

second in interceptions. The Patriots’ running back scored from 36

and 35 yards out – the second with a belly-flop onto the wet turf

as he reached for the end zone – and his 334 all-purpose yards were

a franchise record.

”He carried the team on his back most of the day,” Patriots

coach Bill Belichick said. The rain ”got worse as the game went

along. It was definitely a running game.”

As the public address system serenaded fans with ”Have You Ever

Seen the Rain” and ”Singin’ in the Rain,” the Patriots earned

their eighth bye in Belichick’s 14 seasons as coach, finishing with

the second seed and a home game in the divisional round of the

playoffs. Denver, which beat Oakland 34-14, has the top seed in the

AFC.

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.

NOTES: The previous Patriots record for most all-purpose yards

was 273 by Larry Garron in 1962 at Buffalo. … Dan Carpenter’s

51-yard field goal that tied the game at 3 made him the first

player in Bills history with four field goals of 50 yards or more

in a season. … Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd left with an ankle

injury and did not return.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org