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5 takeaways from the Patriots' second game against the Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  December 30, 2013 12:29 AM

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FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots finish the season on a strong note, downing the Buffalo Bills, 34-20, while securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now, the Patriots can rest up and get healthy for their next opponent, either the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are our five takeaways from the game:

1. Bullish on Blount -- It's not too often that one player can affect a game so dramatically in at least two phases, offense and special teams. LeGarrette Blount, with his punishing running style and ability to gain yardage after contact, was able to do just that. He ran for a career-high 189 yards on 24 carries and added 145 return yards for a team record 334 all-purpose.

"I'm feeling good," said Blount, with a crowd of reporters leaning on his every word. "I mean, especially after getting the win and performing like that. I'm feeling amazing. I don't have words to explain it."

The Patriots ran a season-high 43 times with Blount and Stevan Ridley (17 carries, 64 yards) getting the bulk of the load. The team finished with 267 yards, a season high. But it was Blount whose mix of speed and power that stole the show, breaking away for touchdowns of 36 and 35 yards.

While for the span of the season observers of the Patriots have considered Stevan Ridley as the most talented running back on the team's roster, Blount's increased role as the starter has given those same observers cause to re-think that assertion. Because of injuries and Ridley's benching, Blount was at one point the de facto lead running back. But now, after such a vivid performance, he can truly be considered the featured back.

2. Whatever is needed, any given game -- The Patriots have an ever-changing offense, geared weekly for each opponent. That ability to game plan, using a motley crew of receivers and running backs, has allowed the Patriots to flip from being a running-dominated team, like Sunday against the Bills, to a pass-happy team whenever necessary.

There were doubts at different points this season whether the Patriots could stick with the running game, but with the rain on Sunday, they had to force themselves to feed Blount and Ridley. The results just happened to be fantastic.

"It was tough to throw the ball, tough to catch it," Belichick said. "We saw a bunch of balls on the ground, more so than usual. That was definitely a factor. It got worse as the game went along. Yeah, it was definitely a running game."

That kind of flexibility, to rely on different aspects of the offense and players each and every week, makes the Patriots a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.

3. Health always a worry, but toughness ever present -- Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) had to leave Sunday's game against the Bills with injuries. Many players are playing hurting. Logan Mankins, who suffered what was announced as an ankle injury during the second quarter, left the game only to return the next series. Kyle Arrington left the game at one point and returned. As did defensive tackle Sealver Siligia. Those Patriots showed particular toughness against the Bills.

"Yeah, there are a lot of tough guys and that's what it's all about," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "There's nobody tougher than Logan Mankins, so you know when he's getting helped up, you know he's not feeling good. But he fought through it. There's nobody that I've ever played with that is as tough as him. He's right up there -- Matt light was so tough, [Joe] Andruzzi, but Logan is second to none."

Mankins exemplifies what this team is made of. Playing without starters Devin McCourty (concussion), Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder), and with others on injured reserve, there continues to be a sense of confidence in this roster from top to bottom. That's tough to concoct and beneficial as the playoffs get underway.

4. Julian Edelman's rise -- The Patriots fifth-year wide receiver, a converted quarterback, was once again the Patriots' top receiver and Brady's No. 1 target, catching nine passes for 65 yards. He's long since relinquished Danny Amendola of his role as the Patriots' top receiving threat. Now that he has finished the season healthy, and with 105 receptions for 1,056 yards, his rise is complete.

He won't ever overtly acknowledge his accomplishments, preferring instead to speak of the team's achievements at every opportunity. But Sunday must've been gratifying for him, given his inability to stay healthy in the past. He's only the third receiver in Patriots history to record more than 100 receptions, joining Wes Welker and Troy Brown, and the 10th Patriot to record 1,000 or more yards receiving. He has worked hard to get to this point.

"I don't want to take anything away from this win tonight, but guys that played here in the past like [Wes Welker], Randy [Moss], and then Tom Brady. I mean, he's helped me a lot. You know, being a professional and going out there learning how to deal with the offseason, learning that there is no offseason. It's about getting better and coming into camp in shape and coming into camp ready and all that stuff. So, it was a crazy year because I didn't get to have that this year with the broken foot. A lot of things haven't gone my way in the past, you know playing behind someone that's doing really well or whether it's injuries or not executing certain situations. But, it was kind of cool to get that today and more importantly it was great to go out there and win in those conditions against a team that has a solid defense and is almost built for those conditions with the way they play offense and the way they run and situationally play on third [down] and in the red area. So, it was definitely cool to do that."

There was so much consternation in New England when Edelman started over Wes Welker last season and again when the team was unable to re-sign Welker this offseason. With Edelman, the team was always confident in his abilities. Now that he was shown he can remain healthy, fans should give him more credit for what he's been able to accomplish.

5. Finishing numbers -- The Patriots finished the season 12-4, going 8-0 at home and 4-4 on the road, leading us to believe that their AFC divisional playoff game Saturday Jan. 11 at Gillette Stadium will also go in their favor. … Stephen Gostkowski finished the season with 158 points, a new franchise record, which led the NFL this season. That topped Gino Cappelletti's 155 points in 1964, which included seven touchdowns. Gostkowski's 38 field goals this year was also a career high. … Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan finished the season with five interceptions, tying the AFC lead with two others. He almost had his sixth interception of the season against the Bills Sunday. … Blount finished with 772 yards rushing this season, just one yard shy of Ridley's 773. Both backs finished with seven touchdowns each. … The Patriots had 49 sacks this season, the most the team has recorded since 1985. Chandler Jones led the way with 11.5.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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