By Tom E. Curran
BUFFALO - Buffalo Bills, the Beasts of the AFC East outside of Foxboro? Oh, yeah. I was buying that line of shizzle. Well, the Bills tossed up a field goal a little less than five minutes into the game and then didn't score again over the next 55 minutes as the Patriots poleaxed them for their 13th win of the year. Here's 5 reasons why.
1. HE CAME, HE SAW, HE GRONKEREDBack in his native Western New York, Rob Gronkowski played a featured role. Seven passes were thrown his way. He caught four. Two went for touchdowns. Another was a 23-yard gain off a one-handed stab. Happy? "Yeah, mad excited. Being home, kind of like a homecoming in front of the family, its just great going home and scoring twice in front of them. Its a dream come true. I wouldve never thought this was going to happen, when I was back in high school and college, this is amazing." With Aaron Hernandez unable to go (hip), Gronkowski andveteran Alge Crumpler took all the reps. AndCrumpler - mainly a blocker this season - got himself a touchdown too. That's 16 scores for the tight ends this year. "Alge's been a great leader. I love a man who leads by example with everything, its great having him on the team. Were just out there working hard, whatever role us tight ends get, were going to go out there and do our role and do our own job. Hopefully its always a significant role." It's been a major role this year." 2. MANKINS A DIFFERENCESince Logan Mankins' return, the Patriots have run the ball with authority not seen, really, since Corey Dillon was lining up in their backfield. Certainly, a lot has to do with the backs and the rest of the line but Mankins' impact week in and week out has been tremendous. Sunday was Mankins' eighth game back with the team. They're 7-1 since his return. The only loss came in his first game back (Cleveland). I asked him if he would have come back early as he did if the team had been struggling. "I'd have done it the same way," he answered. "I woulda come back at the same time. I'm a football player. I knewI was coming back then. That was the dateI had in mind the whole time." 3. IN THE BLACK BY PLENTYThe Patriots are now plus-27 in turnover differential. They haven't committed a turnover in an NFL record seven games. Buffalo turned it over seven times on Sunday. The Patriots have taken it away 36 times (24 picks). They've given it up nine (5 picks). They had a six-turnover edge on the teams tied for second in plus-minus (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia). Next week against Miami, the Patriots will likely set the record for fewest turnovers in a season (the standard was set in 1982 when the Chiefs had 12 in a strike year). "We talked about that on the sideline today, saying Those guys dont fumble; those guys dont give up the ball. Thats a great credit to our offense. Staying on the field and not turning the ball over and giving us chances on defense to go out and turn the ball over and give it back to them, so its a hand-in-hand thing," said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Tom Brady's amazing string of 311 passes without a pick (and counting), meanwhile, continues. Told that Brady set the record against the Bills, breaking Bernie Kosar's record of 309, Bill Belichick said, "I didnt realize. That's great. Tom does a good job . Today they didn't get their hands on too many balls like (the Packers) did last week. He does a great job of placing it. Unfortunately, itlooked like we dropped a few. Tom does a great job of managing the game and taking care of the ball, he deserves that (record)."4. BLUES TRAVELERSThe Patriots were forced to spend Sunday night in Rochester, New York as the blizzard prevented them from getting back to New England. The World Juniors hockey championships being held in Buffalo this week made it impossible for the team to find enough rooms in Buffalo. "Pretty excited about staying here," Belichick said sarcatically. Dan Koppen said this was the one week he didn't bring an extra change of clothes. Belichick, meanwhile, said the team would "rest" Sunday night. Monday is usually a day for treatment and film review. Given the fact the team isn't playing for anything other than to keep sharp next week against the Dolphins, it's not a great blow football-wise. It is tough, however, after having to pull up stakes on Christmas Day to get out of town. 5. SOLDIERING THROUGHBelichick opened his comments by mentioning how difficult a week it was health-wise for the team. "It was a tough week," he said. "I really have a lot of respect for our players. We had abunch of guys with the flu, the injuries, bumps and bruises coming off the Green Bay game. They did a nice job fighting through it." Said Brady: "I thinkevery team has those weeks where some guys are in and some guys are out. There are injuries and this week, quite a few guys got sick. I think the guys fought through it and showed some mental toughness. That's been a big word for us this year."The inevitable question now becomes whether the Patriots rest players against Miami in the finale.Brady said, "I want to play. Whatever (Belichick) asks us to do, we're going to do. Miami is a good team. We struggled with them last time offensively so hopefully we'll go out andplay better."Tom E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran