Don’t worry. The New England Patriots should be just fine for the playoffs.
That’s the message Tom Brady delivered after his offense’s second straight poor performance.
And this time they had an excuse: Brady played just the first half and six other key starters didn’t play at all because the Patriots already had clinched the top seed and a first-round bye in the AFC.
“We have a lot of confidence as an offense,” Brady said after the 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. “We’ve been able to score points against a lot of good teams, a lot of good defenses.”
A week ago they edged the lowly New York Jets 17-16.
On Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals, but the Patriots failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the fifth game last season, although top receivers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and starting offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer were inactive.
“It’s a big difference” without Gronkowski, New England wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. “The middle of the field is not that much open.”
The Patriots (12-4) must wait until next weekend’s wild-card games to learn their opponent in the divisional round. Meanwhile, coach Bill Belichick gave them Monday off.
Belichick might need some time to regain his strength after he was checked by trainers and a doctor after the game.
“I had to spend a few minutes in the training room after the game, nothing serious,” he said in a conference call after skipping his usual postgame news conference. “It was no big deal. I don’t want to get into it.”
The Bills (9-7) finished with their first winning record since going 9-7 in 2004. They were eliminated from playoff contention for the 15th straight season with a loss to the Oakland Raiders in their previous game.
Sunday’s win was “bittersweet,” Bills center Eric Wood said, “because you always think what could have been.”
A winning record is “important to some people,” Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said. “There were a lot of lessons that we’ll reflect on. … If we don’t understand that after this season, then all will be lost.”
Some takeaways from Buffalo’s first win ever at Gillette Stadium after losing 12 games:
RUSHING REVIVAL: The Bills ran for 104 yards after gaining just 13 on the ground, the fourth fewest in team history, the previous Sunday. One of their touchdowns came on a 1-yard run by Anthony Dixon that gave them a 14-3 lead about five minutes into the second quarter.
The win “is something we can build on,” said Fred Jackson, who led the Bills with 58 yards rushing. “We were able to come in here today and play well enough to get a victory.”
BRADY’S DAY: Brady played all five offensive series for the Patriots in the first half and completed 8 of 16 passes for 80 yards with one sack. He also ran twice for nine yards and, most importantly, avoided injury.
“We always hate losing,” he said. “We didn’t make enough plays to win, but, hopefully, we make them in a couple of weeks.”
ORTON IN CHARGE: Bills quarterback Kyle Orton completed 16 of 23 passes for 176 yards and a 6-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods in his 12th straight start after taking over for EJ Manuel.
“I really didn’t go into (the season) with a ton of personal goals,” Orton said after finishing the season with 3,018 yards passing, his third season with more than 3,000. “The later in your career you get, most of your goals are just team goals and fighting for that chance to get in the playoffs.”
DOMINATION DECLINES: The Patriots superiority in head-to-head meetings took a hit. They’re now 21-2 in the past 23, Brady is 23-3 against the Bills and Belichick is 26-4 against them since become coach in 2000. Several Patriots streaks also were broken: 16 straight home victories in the regular season, 17 at home against AFC East opponents and 35 home wins against AFC teams.
ROOKIE REPLACEMENT: Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo completed 10 of 17 passes for 90 yards with three sacks while running four times for 16 yards. In the rookie’s previous five appearances in mop-up duty, he completed 9 of 10 passes.
“That’s my job as a backup to be ready to go whenever and the (game) speed is what it is,” he said. “You’ve just got to play with it.”