Blount, and a Bye: Pats Win Finale
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks along the sideline of a rain-drenched field in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 34-20, and will have a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) scores a touchdown past Buffalo Bills safety Jim Leonhard (35) in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Foxborough, Mass. — LeGarrette Blount made one last big splash into a soggy end zone.
The powerful back finished his 35-yard touchdown run up the left sideline by flopping with outstretched arms and capping the New England Patriots 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills in a steady downpour Sunday.
The victory gave the Patriots a first-round bye and the Gillette Stadium field an extra week to dry out.
“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.”
Blount rushed for a career-high 189 yards, returned two kickoffs for 145 and set a club record with 334 all-purpose yards.
The Patriots (12-4) obtained Blount in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay and he shared playing time with other backs since then. On Sunday, the 250-pounder led the charge.
He also scored on a 36-yard run and set up a touchdown and field goal with kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards.
The extra point after his 35-yarder put the Patriots ahead 34-20 with 2:31 left.
“Every time I play I try my best to come out with the mindset to make a contribution to any part of the game, whether it’s kick returns or running the ball or catching it,” Blount said.
After his second touchdown, he hugged Belichick, who had a towel draped over his shoulders.
Tom Brady was content to hand the ball off rather than throw through rain drops against a team leading the NFL in sacks and second in interceptions.
“The water on the field at the end, it was just puddles,” he said.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked four field goals as the Patriots earned their eighth bye in Belichick’s 14 seasons. The Bills (6-10) missed the playoffs for the 14th straight year, the league’s longest current streak. They won their previous two games.
“It would be much different if we were ending on a three-game winning streak,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “To say that you’re close or anything like that, until you win we don’t have a leg to stand on.”
New England won its 13th straight home game against Buffalo, including 12-0 since Gillette opened in 2002.
The Patriots have the second seed and play in two weeks at home, where they’re 8-0. Denver, which beat Oakland, has the top seed. New England began its game with a chance to finish in any of the AFC’s top four playoff spots.
“We put together a great season, but it doesn’t matter much now,” Brady said.
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.
Backup Thad Lewis threw a 12-yard scoring pass to T.J. Graham late in the third quarter and led an 80-yard drive capped by Fred Jackson’s 5-yard run with 10:20 remaining.
After each of those touchdowns Blount had his long kickoff returns.
His 83-yarder set up Brady’s 5-yard scoring pass to Shane Vereen, followed by a 2-point conversion pass that made it 24-10. The 62-yarder led to Gostkowski’s fourth field goal, a 35-yarder that put the Patriots ahead 27-17.
The Bills turned over the ball on downs on their next possession.
“Of course the ball is wet,” Buffalo wide receiver Robert Woods said, “but we still have to make plays and catch the ball.”
Before the Patriots ran the next play, Singin’ in the Rain blared over the public address system, and drenched fans sang along.
Then Manny Lawson intercepted Brady’s pass and the Bills capitalized with Dan Carpenter’s 37-yard field goal.
Buffalo tried an onside kick, but Nate Ebner recovered for New England. Blount then ran 10 yards before scoring his second touchdown on the next play.
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.
“It could have been a lot better,” Brady said.
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.
Notes: Bills tackle Marcell Dareus was benched for the first half for violating a team rule. In Buffalo’s previous game he was benched for the first quarter, also for violating a team rule. ... The previous Patriots record for all-purpose yards was 273 by Larry Garron in 1962 at Buffalo. ... 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 at least 50 yards or more in a season.