Six of the Patriots’ 11 wins this season have been of the nail-bite variety, with a 1-point win over Cleveland, comeback victories against Denver and New Orleans, and a 6-1 record in games decided by 3 points or fewer.
It all started, though, with a Week 1 win at Buffalo, the Patriots needing a Stephen Gostkowski field goal in the final seconds to win, 23-21. Without that victory over the Bills — who help the Patriots close the regular season with a 4:25 p.m. game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday — who knows what kind of year the Patriots might have had?
Aside from close losses at Carolina and Miami, overcoming late deficits has become the norm for these Patriots, a trend that started in the opener.
“It was [a] forerunner for many other games that were similar to that. I think it gave our team a lot of confidence,” coach Bill Belichick said. “When you look back at the end of the season and you see a game like that, you see how much that game means in the big picture. When you’re only playing 16 games, each one of those has an impact. They’re a good football team. They were then, and they are now.”
Buffalo is 3-3 in games decided by 3 points or fewer. They haven’t needed any late drama in their last two games against AFC East opponents, beating the Jets and Dolphins by a combined score of 56-14.
Bye on their minds
A win will secure a first-round bye for the Patriots, who can also get a pass into the division round if the Bengals and Colts lose. Those teams play at 1 p.m. — the Bengals host Baltimore, the Colts host Jacksonville — which means the Patriots should know where things stand before kickoff. There’s also the chance for the Patriots to grab the No. 1 AFC seed from Denver, which also plays at 4:25. A Patriots win combined with a Broncos loss would give New England home-field advantage in the AFC.
No matter what happens, the Patriots have motivation to beat the Bills. A win means a bye. This time of year, for multiple reasons, that can be key.
“That’s definitely huge for getting guys back as far as health,” said Rob Ninkovich, who is questionable Sunday because of an ankle injury. “I think we’re just really focused on Buffalo and what we need to do to win that game.”
With so many games having playoff implications, worrying about what you can control seems to be the approach.
“They know that if we win, we’re into the second round of the playoffs,’’ Belichick said. “If we don’t win, we’re most likely playing in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s really all there is to know.’’
With safety Devin McCourty doubtful, the Patriots signed safety Kanorris Davis and defensive back Justin Green from the practice squad and added them to the 53-man roster . . . This marks the fourth straight year the Patriots have closed the regular season at home, and they’ve all been division games. The Patriots beat Miami in 2010 (38-7) and 2012 (28-0), and beat the Bills in 2011 (49-21) . . . Bills coach Doug Marrone was asked what his team will need to do to beat the Patriots. “Not to take anything away from how they’re coached or their players, but if you turn the ball over against them you’ve pretty much diminished, if not took out, any possible opportunity of winning a game,” Marrone said, a nod to the Patriots’ plus-10 turnover margin.