Patriots rout Bills, 34-3, clinch top seed in playoffs

191543.jpg

Patriots rout Bills, 34-3, clinch top seed in playoffs

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Cancel those January travel plans. The road to the Super Bowl, at least on the AFC side, is going through Foxboro.

The Patriots clinched the AFC East title, and top overall seed in the AFC playoffs, with a 34-3 dismantling of the Bills Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. It lifted their record to 13-2 overall and, by virtue of the top seed, guarantees them home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

For the record, it's the eighth division championship for the Patriots in the last 10 years (and the 13th overall in the franchise's 51-year history), and the third time they've earned top seed. The others: 2003 (they won one of their three Super Bowls that year) and 2007 (and that year, of course, they didn't).

"It never gets old, I'll tell you that," said Tom Brady. "We never gettired of winning."

Buffalo had won four of its six previous games -- and should have won five of six, considering Steve Johnson's unforced drop of a game-winning catch in the end zone in the Bills' overtime loss to Pittsburgh -- but on Sunday the Pats made them look worthy of their 4-11 record. New England forced seven turnovers, and scored touchdowns after the first three; held the Bills when it counted most (Buffalo was only 4-of-13 on combined third- and fourth-down attempts), and ran off 34 consecutive points after Buffalo kicked a field goal on the game's opening possession.

"Turnovers were really the story for us offensively," said Brady. "We were fortunate to get quite a few short fields today, and we took advantage of them when we did. "

The Bills did look good enough after taking the opening kickoff, gaining 64 yards on 7 rushes before stalling in the red zone and settling for a 26-yard Ryan Lindell field goal. They even held that 3-0 lead for a bit, forcing the Pats to punt the first time they had the ball.

But it was all downhill -- or uphill, if you're of a Patriots persuasion -- from there:

NEW ENGLAND'S SECOND POSSESSION: 29-yard touchdown run by Danny Woodhead, capping a short, 48-yard drive. Woodhead was sprung by an efficient block from tight end Rob Gronkowski.

NEW ENGLAND'S THIRD POSSESSION: 8-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Gronkowski, who put the Pats in position with an athletic back-shoulder catch on a 23-yard play that put the ball at the 11. The drive was set up by a Jerod Mayo recovery of a fumble that was forced by Gary Guyton.

NEW ENGLAND'S FOURTH POSSESSION: A 34-yard Shayne Graham field goal after consecutive drops of catchable Brady passes by Wes Welker in the red zone shortcircuited the drive.

NEW ENGLAND'S FIFTH POSSESSION: A 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Alge Crumpler after an interception by Patrick Chung gave the Pats the ball on the Buffalo 27.

That sent the Pats into the half with a 24-3 lead, and the rest was all academic. New England added a third-quarter touchdown on a second Brady-to-Gronkowski TD pass, this one of eight yards, and a fourth-quarter field goal by Graham of 26 yards.

When it was over, the Pats were once again handed the hats and T-shirts representing a division championship.

"This is a tough division. It's a good division," said Brady."And to come out victorious, obviously everyone's very proud of it."

Also academic -- now -- is next Sunday's regular-season finale against Miami, which no doubt will spark a week's worth of questions as to how the Patriots will play it. It's all that's left to talk about, considering that everything worth earning has been earned.

Including the entire month of January in Foxboro.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Beyond the numbers: Kings offense will test Celtics defense

Beyond the numbers: Kings offense will test Celtics defense

BOSTON – When it comes to defense, the Celtics are quick to claim that it is indeed the foundation for which their team is built upon. 
 
Still, far too often this season, we have seen cracks in their usually Teflon-tough defense, the kind that ultimately means the difference between winning and losing.
 
The Celtics’ defense will once again need to step up and play well tonight against a Sacramento squad that has shown it can fill it up offensively of late. 
 
Sacramento (7-11) has scored 100 or more points in eight of their past 10 games. In that span, their 107.2 points per game ranks ninth in the league. 
 
In that same span, the Celtics have allowed opponents to score 100.3 points per game, which ranks 10th in the NBA in fewest points allowed.
 
And when it comes to winning, limiting teams to less than 100 points has been huge in Boston’s win total. 
 
The Celtics have held eight opponents to 100 points or less this season. 
 
Their record in those games? 8-0.
 
Within that limited scoring, Boston must also make sure teams don’t get into a nice groove shooting the ball. 
 
Boston is 0-5 this season when an opponent shoots 48 percent or better from the field. 
 
While there are several things Boston must do to be successful, having the right kind of defensive disposition ranks at or near the top of that list in their efforts to play with the kind of defensive success that gave so many hope that this would the year Boston would hold court among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

“We have to get a little more nastier on the defensive end and not let a team come in and get comfortable,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder.
 

Brady, Bennett, Edelman questionable for Sunday vs. Rams

patriots_martellus_bennett_112716.jpg

Brady, Bennett, Edelman questionable for Sunday vs. Rams

FOXBORO -- The Patriots injury report for Sunday's game with the Rams is out. While they'll be without one big name, but their others are still very much in play. 

Rob Gronkowski, who was scheduled to undergo back surgery on Friday, has been ruled out. Jordan Richards, who is dealing with a knee issue and has not practiced this week, will also be held out of action on Sunday. 

Tom Brady (knee), Julian Edelman (foot), Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder) and Chris Hogan (back) -- all of whom practiced on Friday -- have been listed as questionable for the Rams game at Gillette Stadium. Special teamer Nate Ebner (concussion) returned to practice on Friday and is also questionable, as is Trey Flowers (shin) and Elandon Roberts, who popped up on the injury report with a jaw issue Friday. 

Special teams captain Matthew Slater missed Friday's session after participating on both Wednesday and Thursday. He's been ruled as questionable. Defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton is also questionable after missing his second straight day of practice with an illness.

If Slater and Ebner are at all limited this weekend, coupled with the loss of Richards, the Patriots kicking game would be significantly impacted. Hogan took reps as the team's personal protector on the punt team earlier this week and may fill that role should Ebner miss time.