BEST EARLY BAILOUTS (PATRIOTS)
New England's first drive should have died two different times. The first? A third-down incomplete between Tom Brady and Julian Edelman that was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty. The second time was when running back Shane Vereen, possibly because of the rain, fumbled uncharacteristically on a third-down carry. The Patriots managed to recover the ball and weasel their way into field goal range. Stephen Gostkowski nailed the 43-yarder to put three points on the board. The fact they got anything out of the ugly drive was surprising.
BEST EARLY BAILOUT (BILLS)
Buffalo had its own struggles on offense. The team's first drive moved over the 50 but was running on fumes at New England's 42 yard line. But somehow, Thad Lewis came up with a beautiful 22-yard pass to Marquise Goodwin. Momentum carried the Bills to the 20-yard line… then stalled. Lewis took the snap on third-and-10 and fumbled it. He chased the ball down, dribbling it here and there, but never grabbing hold. He, and Buffalo's possession, went out of bounds for a loss of 13 yards. Luckily for the Bills, Dan Carpenter hit the 51-yard field goal to tie things up.
QUICKEST RACK-UP OF STATS
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount went over 100 yards with more than 12 minutes left to play in the second quarter. His rushing total got a big boost when a hole opened after he took a second-and-5 handoff. Blount shot through the gap and took off, galloping 36 yards for New England's first touchdown of the game. Yet another strong effort for the big back; it was his third scoring run in two weeks.
BIGGEST SCARE FOR THE O-LINE
Seeing Logan Mankins get helped off the field. The starting left guard came up lame after Blount ran in the touchdown early in the second quarter, and had to be braced by New England's doc and a trainer when hobbling to the sideline. The injury was to an ankle. Considering Mankins played the entire 2011 season on a torn ACL, his removal to the locker room made the situation appear especially grave. He was announced with an ankle injury but returned shortly thereafter. You could practically hear the sigh released collectively from inside the stadium.
NUMBER MOST LIKELY TO GO UNNOTICED
Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 29-yard field goal to put New England up 16-3 just before halftime. It was Gostkowski's 37th of the season, which marked a new franchise record. No big deal, right? Just Gostkowski continuing to be a boss. He broke Adam Vinatieri's mark of consecutive games tallying at least one point (101) in early December. He topped another Vinatieri record -- eight made field goals of 50 or more yards -- back in October. The man deserves some credit.
BEST LATER BAILOUT (PATRIOTS)
Ho' boy, did Julian Edelman get lucky. The receiver was back -- way back at New England's 8-yard line -- to field a punt in the third quarter and muffed it. Oh sure, it could have been the rain. Doubt anyone on the Patriots sideline cared, though. The only thing that mattered was Edelman managing to dive on the ball for the recovery. The fumble was his sixth of the season but none have been lost. Makes it easier for people to focus on the fact he's gone over 100 catches and 1,000 yards this season.
LEAST EXPECTED APPLAUSE
Brady got a standing ovation in the third quarter… for kicking the ball away. Faced with a third-and-32 situation on their own 46-yard line, the Patriots went for the pooch punt. It was the third time in his 14-year career Brady's booted the ball, and he got 32 yards on it. Buffalo didn't exactly get pinned deep on the play; the Bills started their ensuing drive on the 22. At least it was entertaining. The cheers Brady got from Patriots fans for that punt were the loudest of the night.
BEST LATER BAILOUT (BILLS)
Buffalo was working on another drive to nowhere in the third quarter when they got a little help from the officials. Sealver Siliga got a third-down sack of Lewis on New England's 21-yard line, but a flag was thrown: An incredibly weak illegal use of hands penalty was assessed to Chandler Jones. The Bills got six yards and a first down. They scored a touchdown two plays later.
WORST WAY TO CELEBRATE YOUR FIRST TOUCHDOWN
Allow your opponent an 83-yard kick return on the other side of it. Though Carpenter's kickoff went deep in New England's end zone, Blount wanted it. The 250-pound running back came barreling out into open space where he had room to run. And he did. The field position allowed Brady to complete a touchdown "drive" in just four plays. Big oops for Buffalo's special teams.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
You knew in the first quarter Blount was going to have a monster game and he didn't disappoint. The veteran finished with 334 all-purpose yards, including 189 rushing (a personal best) on 24 carries and 145 on two kick returns. He also had two touchdowns. When Blount came off the field he trotted directly over to Bill Belichick and enveloped the coach in a bear hug. It's a great time for Blount to be exploding; this postseason will be the first ever.