It wasn't easy and the conditions were far from ideal at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but the Patriots gutted out a 34-20 win over the Bills, finished second in the conference, and earned a first-round playoff bye after going 12-4 in a regular season that was anything but.
New England entered 2013 without its five leading pass catchers from a season ago and then proceeded to lose key players as fall gave way to winter. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Rob Gronkowski are all superstars and all are on injured reserve. But as we've said repeatedly, as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are around, the Pats have a very good chance of winning.
Against Buffalo, Brady was just 14-of-24 for 122 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. But backup running back LeGarrette Blount more than made up for the lack of a passing game in rainy and cold conditions. He finished the afternoon with 189 rushing yards on 24 carries (7.9 YPC) and two touchdowns.
The score was 16-10, Patriots, heading into the final quarter when New England went on an 18-10 run to close it out.
"They know that if we win, we're into the second round of the playoffs," Belichick said afterward, according to MassLive.com's Nick Underhill. "If we don't win, we're most likely playing in the first round of the playoffs, and that's really all there is to know. Who, what, when – none of that, who knows? You have to be a mathematician and have great, great vision to figure that out."
Instead, the Pats finished second in the AFC, just ahead of the Bengals who will have to play the Chargers next week. Depending on how wild-card weekend plays out, New England will face either Cincinnati, Indianapolis or Kansas City in two weeks.
And while the break will allow the Pats to get relatively healthy, it will also be a chance for Belichick to tighten up his defense, which has struggled against the run. For the Bills, C.J. Spiller rushed for 105 yards and Fred Jackson went for 60.
For now, though, New England is back in familiar territory. For the 11th time in Brady's career, the Patriots are headed to the postseason. And while they've been to five Super Bowls in that time, they haven't won a championship since the 2005 season after twice coming up short against the Giants in 2008 and 2012.