FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots finish the season on a strong note, downing the Buffalo Bills, 34-20, while securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Now, the Patriots can rest up and get healthy for their next opponent, either the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs.
Here are our five takeaways from the game:
1. Bullish on Blount — It’s not too often that one player can affect a game so dramatically in at least two phases, offense and special teams. LeGarrette Blount, with his punishing running style and ability to gain yardage after contact, was able to do just that. He ran for a career-high 189 yards on 24 carries and added 145 return yards for a team record 334 all-purpose.
“I’m feeling good,” said Blount, with a crowd of reporters leaning on his every word. “I mean, especially after getting the win and performing like that. I’m feeling amazing. I don’t have words to explain it.”
The Patriots ran a season-high 43 times with Blount and Stevan Ridley (17 carries, 64 yards) getting the bulk of the load. The team finished with 267 yards, a season high. But it was Blount whose mix of speed and power that stole the show, breaking away for touchdowns of 36 and 35 yards.
While for the span of the season observers of the Patriots have considered Stevan Ridley as the most talented running back on the team’s roster, Blount’s increased role as the starter has given those same observers cause to re-think that assertion. Because of injuries and Ridley’s benching, Blount was at one point the de facto lead running back. But now, after such a vivid performance, he can truly be considered the featured back.
2. Whatever is needed, any given game — The Patriots have an ever-changing offense, geared weekly for each opponent. That ability to game plan, using a motley crew of receivers and running backs, has allowed the Patriots to flip from being a running-dominated team, like Sunday against the Bills, to a pass-happy team whenever necessary.
There were doubts at different points this season whether the Patriots could stick with the running game, but with the rain on Sunday, they had to force themselves to feed Blount and Ridley. The results just happened to be fantastic.
“It was tough to throw the ball, tough to catch it,” Belichick said. “We saw a bunch of balls on the ground, more so than usual. That was definitely a factor. It got worse as the game went along. Yeah, it was definitely a running game.”
That kind of flexibility, to rely on different aspects of the offense and players each and every week, makes the Patriots a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.
See all of my takeaways in the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.