FOXBOROUGH – As rain continued to fall steadily at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was focused on the technical aspects of his job. Setting two franchise records? Those weren’t on his mind at all.
Gostkowski didn’t even know he moved past Patriots legend Gino Cappelletti for points scored in a season in the 34-20 bye-clinching win over Buffalo. By making all four of his field goal attempts and adding two extra points, Gostkowski finished the season with 158 points. Cappelletti’s mark of 155 had stood since 1964.
“I didn’t know that happened. That’s cool, I guess, but I’m happy we got the first-round bye,” Gostkowski said. “What a fun team win, to go out there in the crazy rain.”
Gostkowski also broke his own record for field goals made in a season. He had 36 in 2008, when he was 36 for 40. This season, after going 4 for 4 against the Bills, he’s 38 for 41.
Kicking in Sunday’s conditions made for a tough task, but Gostkowski was flawless, connecting from 43, 29, and 35 yards twice.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than that as far as rain goes. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something that sloppy,” Gostkowski said. “When it’s like that, you’ve just got to increase your focus, you’ve got to slow things down a little bit and make sure everything goes smoothly.”
Gostkowski – who also had six touchbacks on seven kickoffs — singled out four factors that go into solid field goal execution, especially on a wet field.
“You have to be 100 percent good on every facet: The snap, the hold, the plant, the kick,” Gostkowski said. “[Long snapper] Danny [Aiken] and [holder] Ryan [Allen] did a great job. We practice outside every day no matter what it is, and you complain and gripe when it’s raining or snowing or really windy, but it pays off. The coaches know what they’re doing when they put us out there for games like this.”
Brady punts one
For just the third time in his Patriots career, Tom Brady punted in a game. He and the offense tried to catch the Bills off guard, with the quarterback setting up in the shotgun formation on a third-and-32 play from the New England 46. Brady took the snap and quick-kicked it, but Bills safety Jim Leonhard was playing deep and called for a fair catch.
It went as a 32-yard punt for Brady, who also threw for 122 yards, his second-lowest total of the season.
“It could have been a lot better. [Jim] Leonhard is a punt returner, so he fair-caught it and he made a smart play, but it wasn’t a very good punt,” said Brady, who tied John Elway for third in career regular-season wins at 148.
As expected, safety Devin McCourty was one of the Patriots’ seven inactives, after missing practice all week because of a concussion suffered in the win at Baltimore. McCourty had started the first 15 games, and was listed as doubtful to go against the Bills. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, limited by knee and shoulder injuries, also sat.
The other five inactives weren’t surprising. Receiver Josh Boyce was ruled out on Friday, and he was joined by linebacker Steve Beauharnais, offensive lineman Chris Barker, and defensive linemen Isaac Sopoaga and Jake Bequette.
Those decisions meant that the Patriots would be getting two players back on offense who had missed games recently. Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) played for the first time in four weeks, and Nate Solder got the start at left tackle, one week after a pair of concussions forced him out against the Ravens.
Receiver Aaron Dobson, who returned last week after missing three games with a foot injury, appeared to aggravate it when he came up limping on a long pass attempt in the first quarter. Dobson did not return to the game, and caught one pass for 6 yards.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been bothered by a knee injury that will require surgery after the season, left the game late in the fourth quarter, also limping. He, too, did not return, but the Patriots were in control.
Three other players who left with injuries returned to the game. Cornerback Kyle Arrington appeared to hurt his left leg while making a tackle on C.J. Spiller in the second quarter, then returned. Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga also left briefly, sat out a few plays, then was back in and had a sack that was nullified by a Patriots penalty.
Left guard Logan Mankins left in the second quarter with what the team announced was an ankle injury, but he also was back on the field a few series later. Josh Kline, who started at left guard last week when Solder was out and Mankins moved to tackle, came on briefly until Mankins returned.
“Logan’s a tough guy,” Solder said. “He’s amazing, him and all my teammates are extremely tough, and it’s a great group of guys to be with.”
The Bills entered the game with the same number of penalties called on them as on their opponents (104), but gave the Patriots five first downs Sunday as a result of a penalty.
None was bigger than the 5-yard encroachment penalty called on Marcell Dareus as the Patriots were lining up for a 29-yard field goal try on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Bills had just scored a touchdown to make it a one-possession game at 16-10, but Dareus’s penalty gave the Patriots a first down at the Bills 5-yard line. Brady hit Shane Vereen on a touchdown pass on the next play, and after a successful 2-point conversion (Brady to Julian Edelman), the lead was 24-10.
Buffalo also was whistled for a pair of 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play, turning a 3-yard run by Stevan Ridley into a 33-yard gain. The infractions didn’t hurt the Bills, though, with the drive ending on Brady’s quick kick.
Next game Jan. 11
The Patriots, as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, will host a Divisional Round playoff game Saturday, Jan. 11 at 8:15 p.m. on CBS . . . With four more sacks, the Patriots increased their season total to 49, which is the highest number since the team recorded 51 in 1985. Chris Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Steve Gregory, and Siliga were credited with sacks against Buffalo’s Thad Lewis . . . The slick conditions didn’t produce as many fumbles as the Nov. 24 Patriots-Broncos game (there were 11 in that one), but all five fumbles Sunday were recovered by the fumbling team. The Patriots were fortunate; they fumbled four times, yet didn’t lose any . . . Promoted from the practice squad the day before and appearing in just his second game of the season, cornerback Justin Green forced a third-down incompletion by knocking away a pass intended for Robert Woods. Green, an undrafted rookie from Illinois, played eight defensive snaps against the Broncos . . . The other player promoted by the Patriots from the practice squad on Saturday, safety Kanorris Davis, saw action on special teams, and nearly downed an Allen punt at the Bills’ 1 late in the third quarter. But the ball squirted past Davis, going into the end zone for a touchback. Allen punted twice for a 52.5-yard average. More importantly, neither of his kicks were returned . . . Claire Bourgault, a registered nurse from Mapleville, R.I., was honored as the Bank of America Patriots Fan of the Year.
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.