FOXBORO -- They took the field knowing -- thanks to 1 p.m. victories by Cincinnati and Indianapolis -- that they had to win to hold onto their first-round bye. And once the Broncos got rolling in Oakland, it was obvious they weren't going to be able to move up to the top overall seed, since that required a Denver loss.
So all the Patriots could do on a cold, wet, miserable Sunday at Gillette Stadium was maintain the status quo.
And they did . . . in record-setting fashion.
Paced by 334 total yards from LeGarrette Blount -- 189 rushing (the fifth-best single-game running game in Patriots history) and 145 in returns -- the Patriots defeated the Bills, 34-20, to clinch the second overall seed, and a first-round bye, in the AFC playoffs. The Pats will host a semifinal-round game on either Jan. 11 or 12 at Gillette Stadium against either the Bengals, Colts or Chiefs, depending on what happens during Wild Card Weekend next week.
"I'm happy for them," said coach Bill Belichick. "They definitely earned it . . . Nobody gave them anything . . . [We won] 12 games and a lot of them were very tough and competitive and came down to the wire. This team earned it. I'm happy for them."
In addition to the victory, they also earned plenty of milestones. The Patriots, who finished the season at 12-4 . . .
-- Earned their eighth first-round bye since 2001, double the number earned by any other NFL team over that span. They have nine first-round byes since this playoff format was instituted in 1990, more than any other team. The Steelers and 49ers each have eight.
-- Finished undefeated at home for the sixth time in team history. They'd previously done it in 2003, '04, '07, '09 and '10.
-- Went into double digits in wins for the 11th straight season. And -- even though they didn't need one Sunday -- they did it with no fewer than five fourth-quarter comeback wins: Against Buffalo on Sept. 8, New Orleans on Oct. 13, Denver on Nov. 24, Houston on Dec. 1 and Cleveland on Dec. 8.
"I almost think it's a good thing that we're a young ream because sometimes these guys don't know any better," said special-teams captain Matthew Slater. "[They] just keep on playing and keep fighting. Who knows, maybe if we were an older team, it would be like, 'Oh, man, I've been in this situation before and it hasn't gone well.' With these young guys, they just keep their nose down, they keep grinding, they bring a lot of energy, they're dedicated to what they've been asked to do around here.
"So far, I'd say it's worked out okay for us."
And as for those players . . .
-- Stephen Gostkowski kicked four field goals and had an extra point for 13 points, which enabled him to a) break his own franchise record for most field goals in a season (he finished with 38) and b) break the franchise record for most points in a season (155, breaking Gino Cappelletti's 50-year record).
-- Tom Brady broke a tie with Dan Marino and moved into sole possession of third place for most wins in NFL history by a starting quarterback (148). He trails Brett Favre (196) and Peyton Manning (167).
-- Julian Edelman caught 9 passes for a season total of 105, making him the third receiver in Patriots history to record 100 or more receptions in a single season. The others are Wes Welker (2007, '08, '09, '11 and '12) and Troy Brown (2001).
"It just goes to show that hard work pays off," said tight end Matthew Mulligan.
The Bills played without quarterback EJ Manuel, who has a small tear in his left knee ligament, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, excused for the second straight game after his mother's death. But backup Thad Lewis led the Bills back from a 16-3 second-half deficit with a 12-yard scoring pass to T.J. Graham late in the third quarter, cutting New England's lead to 16-10. and an 80-yard drive capped by Fred Jackson's five-yard run with 10:20 remaining in the game that made it 24-17.
After each of those touchdowns, though, Blount powered and sped his way through the Bills with kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards. The first set up Brady's five-yard scoring pass to Shane Vereen, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Edelman that made it 24-10. The second led to Gostkowski's fourth field goal, a 35-yarder that put the Patriots ahead 27-17.
An interception by Buffalo's Manny Lawson led to a 37-yard Dan Carpenter field goal that made it 27-20 with 3:25 to go. The Bills tried an onside kick, but Nate Ebner recovered for New England. Blount then ran 10 yards before splashing down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown that ended with him diving into the soggy end zone, his second TD of the game. His 36-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter had given the Patriots a 13-3 lead.
The payoff for it all was a week off to prepare for what they hope will be a long playoff run.
"[You] play hard to put yourself in a position and we're here now in this position," said Brady. "It’s a good spot to be in, but we’ve got to go out there and take advantage of it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.