FOXBOROUGH - Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Revenge. Offensive and defensive domination. An 8-0 record at Gillette Stadium. A 14-2 regular-season record.
And, oh yeah, a bye week to rest up some sore body parts.
The closest thing to a perfect season, and the Patriots’ best regular season ever, concluded at Gillette Stadium yesterday with a poetic 31-0 splattering of the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo appeared to pack it in even before the opening whistle and never challenged the Patriots, who won their 12th straight game.
The score was sweet revenge, matching the Week 1 thrashing of the Patriots by the Bills.
The Patriots’ third shutout of the season was preserved by a Larry Izzo interception of Bills backup quarterback Travis Brown in the end zone with 13 seconds remaining.
“All 53 guys wanted to keep that zero on the scoreboard,” said Izzo. “You have to give credit to everyone in this locker room. It wasn’t just one play. It was 60 minutes of football.”
Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said, “I wanted it to end 31-0, if not more. It was huge that Izzo came up with the interception. We needed that.”
There was no Gatorade splash of coach Bill Belichick late in the game. There was no large celebration in the locker room. This is a team that knows that if it doesn’t win the Super Bowl, the regular season doesn’t mean much.
The Patriots, who have allowed 22 points in their last six home games, fed off the emotion of the embarrassing first-week loss all season. Some players were upset with what they perceived to be cocky comments by the Bills after that win, and they were waiting to gain revenge.
The game showed the opposite paths former teammates Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe are on. Bledsoe was 12 for 29 for 83 yards with one interception. Brady was 21 for 32 for 204 yards and threw four touchdowns in the first half. It was a rather sad performance by Bledsoe (34.7 rating in the game), one of the troika of personalities who saved Patriots football in the early ‘90s along with owner Robert Kraft and former Patriots coach Bill Parcells.
Bledsoe, who had no time to throw, was booed coming onto the field in the first quarter, and he did nothing to quiet the catcalls from a fan base that is mostly pleased that Brady is the QB.
Neither Brady nor Bledsoe finished the game. Brady is going to get some rest, while Bledsoe is off to his ranch in Montana. The Patriots will work Tuesday and Wednesday and then be off through next Sunday.
A hush came over the stadium when Brady had his left knee slammed into on a Lawyer Milloy blitz in the second quarter, which caused the QB to hold on to his the knee for a spell. He came off the field under his own power, but returned for the next series.
The Patriots had an empty backfield at the time, which they did for many of their plays in the first half, leaving Brady exposed. The offensive line did a good job picking up Buffalo’s blitzes, mainly keeping Brady from harm. But after the Malloy blitz, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis switched to a two-back set and then rode Antowain Smith for the majority of the second half. Smith gained 74 yards on 15 carries and the Patriots gained 131 yards on 34 carries.
The Patriots lost guard Damien Woody to a left foot injury in the second quarter, when teammate Matt Light stepped on him, and he did not return. But Woody didn’t think the injury would affect his status for the playoffs. The Patriots also suffered injuries to Mike Vrabel (arm), Chris Akins (unknown), and Troy Brown (wind knocked out of him), but it looks like the bye week will take care of those ailments.
With Bills owner Ralph Wilson and general manager Tom Donahoe on hand watching their lifeless team perform, it appeared that coach Gregg Williams is in trouble. There’s already speculation recently fired Jim Fassel could be the new head man.
Two of the Bills’ best offensive linemen - Mike Williams and All-Pro guard Ruben Brown (personal reasons) - didn’t even play.
“Some people might look at the scoreboard and say Buffalo laid down. They fought hard and we whupped them,” said Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham.
If that was the case on the field, it didn’t look that way from afar. It looked like Bledsoe was on an island, and the New England defense was in a feeding frenzy. It held the Bills to 256 yards and the time of possession was almost seven minutes in New England’s favor.
Already trailing, 7-0, Bledsoe was hit as he threw his first pass of the game when Tedy Bruschi roared in on a blitz. Bledsoe’s dying quail was picked off by Vrabel and returned 14 yards to the Bills 34.
From there, the Patriots scored their second touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Brady to Bethel Johnson. The rookie receiver sidestepped veteran corner Nate Clements’s soft attempt at a tackle with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter.
“It all happened pretty fast,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what coverage they were in, but they were pretty much leaving me out there by myself the whole time. Tom just recognized it and threw it on in.”
For the third straight game, the Patriots marched right down the field on their first series, going 62 yards with great precision. If the Bills were the second-ranked defense in the NFL, the Patriots made them look like the Marlborough Shamrocks (no knock on the Shamrocks, who would have at least put up a fight).
There were no big plays, just a deadly short passing game from a spread formation. They made five first downs on the drive, got a defensive holding call on London Fletcher and a pass interference call from Milloy, and on first and goal from the 1, Brady went play-action and threw to Daniel Graham for the score.
After Johnson’s score, the offense again shined, executing a 68-yard drive in 11 plays. There was some Smith, there were some nice catches by Deion Branch and David Givens, and the capper came when Troy Brown was left alone in the left corner and collected a lob from Brady from 19 yards out.
Free safety Coy Wire should have had an interception in the end zone the play before Brown’s TD when Brady threw as he was hit by Jeff Posey. But Wire dropped it. Later, Wire should have had another pick in the end zone, but he didn’t turn around in time.
That was the way things went for the hapless Bills.
Givens hauled in a 10-yard pass from Brady with 3:55 remaining in the second quarter to cap another long drive (70 yards, nine plays), after Bills kicker Rian Lindell missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.
Adam Vinatieri, who hit the left upright from 24 yards with 9:21 left in the third quarter, made it from the same distance with 12:50 remaining in the fourth.
Thirty-one to nothing. It was poetry to the Patriots.