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Monday, December 27, 2010

Patriots clinch AFC East title & home field throughout the 2011 playoffs

The New England Patriots just made things much easier for themselves moving forward by absolutely humiliating the hapless Buffalo Bills in front of their sad-sack fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium yesterday in Buffalo.

The 34-3 beating thrown by the Pats (13-2) to the Bills (4-11), their seventh straight victory, clinched another AFC East title for them. More importantly, it ensured they would have home field throughout the AFC playoffs and the No. 1 seed.

So all the Patriots have to do is win two home playoff games and then they'll be in the Super Bowl, February 6 in Dallas. Let's not get too ahead of ourselves though, they've still got plenty of work to do before we're talking Duck Boats and rolling rallies. However, they've done everything they possibly could do in the regular season.

Buffalo had actually come into yesterday winners of four out of their last six but as usual for the last couple years, they gave the Patriots one tough game (38-30 on Sept. 26) at Gillette then laid down at home late in the season.

Tom Brady (15 of 27, 143 yards, 3 touchdowns) set the NFL record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Bernie Kosar had the old mark (308) but Brady is already well ahead of it (319). He hasn't thrown an interception since his two vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17) which is insane.

Equally impossible to wrap your mind around is the fact that it's been nine games since New England has had a turnover. They only have nine total this season; the NFL record for fewest in a season is 13.

The Bills lost yesterday because they had seven turnovers (4 fumbles, 3 interceptions). Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (18 of 37, 251 yards, 3 interceptions) has had a nice season but you wouldn't know it from yesterday's debacle. He looked like he was back at Harvard if the Ivy Leaguers had traveled to face an SEC school, just completely overmatched.

Buffalo received the opening kickoff and marched down the field, mostly behind Fred Jackson (13 carries, 81 yards), but they had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Rian Lindell. Ironically, that would turn out to be the only points for the Bills.

Danny Woodhead (93 yards rushing, 32 yards receiving) answered with a 29-yard rushing touchdown later in the first quarter.

New England sewed up the game and the AFC East with 17 straight points in the second quarter. Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski hauled in his first of two touchdown catches (8 yards), Shayne Graham kicked a 34-yard field goal and veteran Alge Crumpler added a 4-yard touchdown catch (his first of the season). It was nice to see the former All-Pro, who is primarily a blocking machine for the Patriots, get rewarded with a goal-line look.

Gronkowski's second 8-yard touchdown grab, in the third quarter, tied him with Ben Coates for the Patriots' rookie tight end touchdown record (9). With Aaron Hernandez sitting out yesterday with a hip injury, Gronk took advantage and helped boost his candidacy for NFL offensive rookie of the year.

Graham's 26-yard kick in the fourth quarter was the game's final points.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 104 yards rushing on 19 carries. Patrick Chung, Dane Fletcher and Jarrad Page registered interceptions while Jerod Mayo, Sergio Brown, Eric Moore and Fletcher recovered fumbles.

The Pats host the Dolphins on Sunday in the regular season finale. The game means nothing at all to either team so it'll be interesting to see how much New England's stars (Brady, Branch, Welker, Wilfork, McCourty, Mayo, etc.) play. As you'll remember, Bill Belichick hates to sit anybody that is healthy and with a bye week in the playoffs, expect everyone to play a decent amount.

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