Brady Leads Pats to Top Seed, Beats Bills 49-21

Down by three touchdowns? Simply score the next 49 points and beat the Buffalo Bills 49-21. Trailing 17-0 a week earlier? Stay calm and come back for a 27-24 win over the Miami Dolphins.

“You never want to get down 21-0,” Brady said after the Patriots did just that on Sunday. “But, if we do, we do and we have to find a way to battle back.”

That’s what they did after the Bills scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.

“There’s no panic,” Brady said. “I just feel like it’s really a matter of execution and we started executing better.”

With the win, the Patriots (13-3) earned the AFC’s top seed for the second straight season and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. They have a bye next weekend, giving them plenty of time to figure out how to avoid a rough start against a much tougher team than Buffalo and Miami, who both finished at 6-10.

“We don’t want to be doing that,” Rob Gronkowski said. “It’s the playoffs now. We’ve got the best teams coming in the house.”

Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes and set the NFL single-season record for tight ends with 1,327 yards receiving after gaining 108 on eight catches. That broke the mark of 1,310 set earlier Sunday by Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. The previous record of 1,290 was set in 1980 by Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers.

The record came on a 22-yard completion from backup Brian Hoyer with 1:30 left, a play that coach Bill Belichick called.

“I thought he deserved another chance to go up and try to make another play,” Belichick said. “He’s had a great year and he’s worked hard. I thought he deserved that.”

Brady also reached a milestone, finishing the regular season with the second most yards passing in NFL history, 5,235, after throwing for 338. Drew Brees, who last week broke Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 with the Miami Dolphins in 1984, added 389 Sunday for the Saints and ended with 5,486.

“I play this game for one reason and that’s to win,” Brady said after the Patriots’ eighth straight victory. “It’s not something I ever (think), ‘Man, I love throwing touchdowns,’ or ‘I love throwing for yards.’ I love winning and that helps me sleep at night.”

The Bills, their early season promise drowned by a horrible second half, could have plenty of restless nights. They lost eight of their last nine games after starting at 5-2.

“It was a big learning experience and next year it can’t be a learning experience for us,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “It’s got to be a year we come out and play well all year. We’re going to have another offseason in the same system.”

The Bills led a 21-0 on a 4-yard run by Tashard Choice and Fitzpatrick’s scoring passes of 18 yards to Stevie Johnson and 15 yards to C.J. Spiller. The Patriots made it 21-14 at halftime on a 1-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a 39-yard pass play from Brady to Aaron Hernandez, who ran with the ball most of the way.

New England cut that to 21-20 on field goals of 47 and 20 yards by Stephen Gostkowski, then went ahead to stay on Brady’s 17-yard pass to Gronkowski. The Patriots kept going with a 3-yard touchdown run by Green-Ellis, a 7-yard scoring pass to Gronkowski with 3:07 left and a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown by Sterling Moore just 7 seconds later.

“When you get them in a big hole like that, you’ve just got to put your foot on the neck,” Bills cornerback Drayton Florence said, “and we weren’t able to do that.”

Buffalo’s offense struggled after losing wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who was benched, and tight end Scott Chandler, who hurt his knee, in the first half.

“It slowed us down,” Fitzpatrick said.

Coach Chan Gailey didn’t use Johnson after he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he scored and raised his jersey to reveal an undershirt with the message “Happy New Year!” on it.

“I can’t complain about it or whine and pout. He made his decision and I am going with it,” Johnson said. “What I did hurt my teammates.”

The Patriots defense also stepped up with four interceptions, all in the second half. Fitzpatrick completed 29 of 46 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. Brady was 23 for 35 for 338 with three touchdown passes and one interception.

New England set the NFL record for most yards passing allowed, 4,727. The previous mark of 4,541 was set by the Atlanta Falcons in 1995.

The competition should be tougher in their next game, so that defense will have to be stingier. Especially early in the game.

“Every team in the playoffs is good,” Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “To be honest, it would be tough to come back against them if we’re behind 21-0.”

Notes: Belichick became the only coach in NFL history with at least 13 regular-season wins in five different seasons. … The Patriots outgained the Bills 296 yards to 107 in the second half. … Rookie Stevan Ridley led the Patriots with a career-high 81 yards rushing. … Wes Welker had six catches for 51 yards and led the NFL with 122 receptions and 1,569 yards receiving.

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Bills Lose WR Parrish, LB Davis to Injuries

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Not only have the been losing games, they just lost two significant players to injuries.

Starting receiver Roscoe Parrish won’t play again this season after sustaining a right wrist injury in Buffalo’s 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Toronto on Sunday, and starting inside linebacker Andra Davis is done for the year because of a nagging shoulder injury that he originally sustained in the season-opening loss to Miami.

Parrish, who finished with 33 catches and a career-high 400 receiving yards, will need surgery to repair the damage.

“You don’t just replace guys that have been that productive,” coach Chan Gailey said Monday. “It’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up.”

Parrish was hurt on Buffalo’s next to last drive. On third-and-10 from the Chicago 44 with 2:31 left in regulation, he dove along the right sidelines to try and haul in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass, and wound up falling awkwardly on the wrist.

It’s the same wrist that forced Parrish to miss the first six games of his rookie season in 2005 when he broke it during training camp.

Parrish’s injury is a blow to an offense that has been improving. The diminutive receiver had emerged as a solid option for Fitzpatrick after a forgettable 2009 in which he had only three receptions. Parrish was also Buffalo’s best punt returner, averaging just under 11 yards on 12 returns this year. He came into the season with the fourth-highest punt return average (12.2 yards) in NFL history.

Gailey said the team will consider all of its options before either promoting Naaman Roosevelt, a Buffalo native, or Paul Hubbard from the practice squad, or simply signing a free agent to replace Parrish.

“We’ll see what the best fit might be for us at this point,” Gailey said.

Davis missed two games because of his shoulder injury, including Sunday’s loss to Chicago. The nine-year NFL veteran signed with the Bills this offseason to serve as the defensive play-caller as the team made the switch to a 3-4 defense.

The damaging news comes a day after Buffalo dropped to 0-8, the worst start since losing 11 straight to open the 1984 campaign. Fitzpatrick, though, has been part of a second-half turnaround, and thinks history can repeat itself.

In 2008, he played on a team that lost its first eight games, but the Bengals were able to salvage some respectability by going 4-3-1 over their final eight. That recovery helped set the tone for a 2009 campaign in which they won the AFC North at 10-6.

“This team, at least from an offensive standpoint, is probably more talented,” Fitzpatrick said when asked of the similarities between the two winless clubs. “That’s something that I look as a positive. We haven’t given up on the season.”

To the Bills credit, they haven’t rolled over in their last three gut-wrenching losses that included two straight overtime defeats. But one can’t take away the “bumbling” description when talking about the Bills quite yet, as big turnovers at inopportune times have kept victory No. 1 from their grasp.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been through something like this in my career,” receiver Lee Evans said. “It’s trying on you mentally and physically.”

Notes: The Bills also signed RB Quinton Ganther and released RB Andre Anderson and practice squad RB Rodney Ferguson Monday. Ganther has 262 yards rushing on 71 carries in 28 career NFL games. He was released by Seattle last Tuesday. … Sunday’s game against the will be the first played in Buffalo since the Bills lost 36-26 to the on Oct. 10. … Newly acquired LB Shawne Merriman said on Monday that he expects to practice Wednesday. The team didn’t practice on Monday. … Receiver Steve Johnson had his franchise-tying five-game touchdown reception streak snapped. … Fitzpatrick has thrown a touchdown strike in nine straight games dating back to last season, the longest franchise TD stretch since threw at least one pass for a score in 10 consecutive games in 2002.

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