The Associated Press
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. —
Falling behind means nothing to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. And because no deficit seems too big for them, the Patriots own home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Brady led the Patriots back from three touchdowns as they scored 49 straight points for a 49-21 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Brady finished the regular season with the second most yards passing in NFL history, 5,235, after throwing for 338. Drew Brees, who last week broke Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 with the Miami Dolphins in 1984, added 389 Sunday for the Saints and ended with 5,486.
The Patriots (13-3) finished the season with eight straight wins. But for the second game in a row, they fell behind early. They beat the Miami Dolphins 27-24 after trailing 17-0 at halftime then rallied after the Bills (6-10) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, drawing boos from the home fans.
That changed to a steady stream of cheers as the Patriots dominated the next three quarters.
But it didn’t look good for the team that earned the top seed in the conference with a defense that set the NFL record for most yards passing allowed, 4,727. The previous mark of 4,541 was set by the Atlanta Falcons in 1995.
The Bills took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter on a 4-yard run by Tashard Choice and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s scoring passes of 18 yards to Stevie Johnson and 15 yards to C.J. Spiller.
Johnson was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Happy New Year.” After that, he was benched by coach Chan Gailey.
The pass to Spiller gave Fitzpatrick 13 completions in 16 attempts for 156 yards and two touchdowns. At that point, Brady had thrown twice, both incompletions.
He finished with 23 completions in 35 attempts for three touchdowns — two to Rob Gronkowski — and one interception. Fitzpatrick ended at 29 for 46 for 307 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Sunday’s deficit was the Patriots biggest of the season, but they had Brady to lead them back.
A 1-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a 39-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez, which put Brady over the 5,000-yard mark, cut the lead to 21-14.
Field goals of 41 and 20 yards by Stephen Gostkowski made it 21-20 and the Patriots went ahead to stay 28-21 on Brady’s 17-yard scoring pass to Gronkowski with 1:32 left in the third quarter and a 2-point conversion run by Danny Woodhead.
They kept rolling with a 3-yard touchdown run by Green-Ellis, a 7-yard scoring pass to Gronkowski with 3:07 left in the game and a 21-yard interception return for another touchdown by Sterling Moore just 12 seconds later.
In the teams’ first meeting in Week 3, the Bills overcame a 21-0 deficit for a 34-31 victory in which Brady threw four interceptions. But on Sunday, the Patriots avoided being swept by an AFC East opponent for the first time since 2000 and by the Bills since 1999.
Buffalo had snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 40-21 win over the Denver Broncos in its previous game but heads into the offseason with the memory of a 5-2 start that it couldn’t sustain.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, became the only coach in NFL history with at least 13 regular-season wins in five different seasons.