FOXBOROUGH — Before he bolted from the podium barely five minutes into his weekly interview session with the media (last-minute shopping run?), Tom Brady said the effort put together by the Patriots in Sunday’s 41-7 win at Baltimore will be required again when the Bills visit Gillette Stadium for the regular-season finale.
“I think we’ve been pretty competitive all season, and even our losses have been competitive right up to the end,” Brady said following Tuesday’s walk-through workout in the field house. “We feel like if we go in there and play the way we’re capable of, then we’ve got a chance to win. We haven’t really done that for 60 minutes in all three phases.
“You can’t expect to play 20 minutes of football and win games — not at important times of the year and not against the best teams, the best defenses. [Buffalo] is a team that really challenges us in a lot of ways, and it’s going to have to be the same type of effort. It can’t be anything less than that.”
Like coach Bill Belichick before him on Tuesday, Brady pointed out the Bills’ strengths on defense: They have 22 interceptions (second-most in the NFL) and 56 sacks (most). Their record might only be 6-9, but the Bills can definitely cause some disruption with their defense. They held Miami scoreless Sunday in a 19-0 win, their second straight victory.
“They give us a lot of coverage looks, a lot of front looks, a lot of blitzes, so they put pressure on a lot of areas,” Brady said. “We’ve got to study what they do, kind of like we do every week.
“It’s the holiday season, but at the same time it’s the most important game of the year, so I think when we’re here, we’ve really got to focus on what we need to do to play our best game and be on top of things right from the kickoff.”
Brady might be talking up the Bills, but he’s had his way with Buffalo over the years. In the 23 games he has started against the Bills, the Patriots are 21-2. They’ve won four straight in the series, and had a six-game streak of scoring at least 30 points snapped in the Sept. 8 season opener. The Patriots still won, 23-21.
Another victory over the Bills would guarantee the Patriots a first-round bye and no worse than the No. 2 AFC playoff seed. Depending on what Denver does against Oakland, it could also mean the top seed, which would bring home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Injury report (sort of)
Safety Devin McCourty, who left Sunday’s win with a head injury, missed Tuesday’s practice. So did receiver Josh Boyce, who missed the Ravens game because of an ankle injury. Both players were spotted in the locker room following the workout, however.
McCourty said, “I’m all right,” when asked how he’s feeling, but declined an interview request.
Also in the locker room were defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and linebacker Jerod Mayo, two of the nine players on season-ending injured reserve. Kelly was forced out with an Achilles’ tendon injury, while Mayo tore a pectoral muscle.
Running back Shane Vereen, forced out of Sunday’s game with a groin injury, was on the practice field (and producing some impressively high leg-kicks during stretching exercises). Left tackle Nate Solder was also out there; he missed Sunday’s game after suffering concussions in back-to-back games.
The team was not required to submit a practice participation report. Even though the players are being given Christmas Day off, a practice report is expected to be issued Wednesday.
Despite Buffalo’s 6-9 record, the Bills are a dangerous team that has played exceptionally well in all five of its division games this year, Belichick said Tuesday.
Buffalo is 3-2 against AFC East opponents. The Bills swept the Dolphins, split with the Jets, and lost their first game to the Patriots. But they could easily be 5-0.
“Lost to us on the last play, lost to the Jets on the last possession, and won three games in the division,” Belichick said. “I’m really impressed with the way they’ve been playing, obviously the way they played last week against Miami.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone declined to reflect much on his first season. He did say, though, that playing well in the division is at the top of the team’s priority list.
“It’s one of the things that we focused on,” said Marrone. “We haven’t been to the playoffs in a long period of time, and obviously the fastest way to get in the playoffs is to have the ability to win the division.
“I think that we talk about things within the division quite a bit and we have a good division. New England has been elite in this division for a long period of time.”
Backing it up
The Patriots’ starting defense in the Week 1 win at Buffalo included three players who won’t be playing Sunday: defensive linemen Kelly and Vince Wilfork, and linebacker Mayo. Bills running back C.J. Spiller (17 carries, 41 yards in Week 1) marvels at the Patriots’ ability to win when faced with so many injury obstacles. “Coach Belichick and Tom Brady find a way to get wins,” said Spiller. “Can’t put too much thought in it. And that’s what it’s all about; it’s all about that day. Can’t expect nothing else but getting ready to play. Those guys in backup roles, they’re doing a great job and doing what their coaches ask them to do.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.