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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - Before trading for LeGarrette Blount, Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke with one of his talent evaluators.
Cornerback Aqib Talib.
The players were teammates with Tampa Bay the past three years, so Belichick wanted some inside information on the powerful 250-pound back who set a franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards on this soggy Sunday in a 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills that gave New England a first-round playoff bye.
"I think definitely an assist on this one has to go to our assistant pro personnel director, Talib," Belichick joked. "Everything he said about him was absolutely right."
Blount rushed for a career-high 189 yards and scored on runs of 36 and 35 yards, his second straight game with two. He also set up a touchdown and a field goal with kickoff returns of 82 and 63 yards.
So what was Talib's message to Belichick?
"I just told him he was a great teammate, a great locker room player and you're going to see a lot of explosive plays from him," Talib said. "Hey, I can't do nothing but smile. That's my dog."
On a rainy day made for a runner like Blount, the Patriots (12-4) earned the AFC's second seed. They'll host Cincinnati, Indianapolis or Kansas City in a night game Jan. 11.
Blount finished his 35-yard run for the game's final touchdown by belly flopping into the end zone. Then he hugged Belichick, who had a white towel around his shoulders.
"It was just the excitement of us winning this game and getting that first-round bye," Blount said. "I feel like we had to man up and play tough football with the conditions."
While the Patriots got their eighth bye in Belichick's 14 seasons as coach, the Bills (6-10) have gone 14 years without a playoff game, the longest current streak in the NFL. They also missed a chance to end the season with three straight wins.
"It would be much different if we were ending on a three-game winning streak," coach Doug Marrone said. "To say that you're close or anything like that, until you win we don't have a leg to stand on."
Five things to know from the Patriots' fifth win in six games:
RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING: The game began in a drizzle and ended in a steady rain. Through it all, the Patriots relied on the run and Blount kept his footing. New England rushed for a season-high 267 yards. Tom Brady was content to hand the ball off and throw just 24 times. He had 14 completions for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"To score 34 points in a downpour is pretty good football," Brady said. "The water on the field at the end, it was just puddles."
Buffalo's C.J. Spiller also handled the wet conditions well with 105 yards rushing, his 10th career 100-yard game to tie Cookie Gilchrist for seventh-most in franchise history.
HOT AT HOME: The Patriots went 8-0 at home for the third time in five seasons and will play their next playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Since it opened in 2002, their home record of 91-18, including playoffs, is the best in the NFL. They are 31-5 in that span against AFC East opponents.
INJURIES PILE UP: The Bills played without quarterback EJ Manuel, who missed his second straight game with a small tear in a left knee ligament. In his place, Thad Lewis completed 16 of 29 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. Buffalo lost Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd to an ankle injury in the second quarter. The Bills also played the first half without defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, benched for violating a team rule. Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson didn't return after hurting his foot in the second quarter.
SO CLOSE: Marrone said he thought he had a winning game plan and, without all their mistakes, the Bills had an opportunity to end a 12-game losing streak in Foxborough. But two long kickoff returns, back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and another flag that helped turn a field goal attempt into a touchdown were enough to spoil the Bills' chance to enter the offseason on a roll.
"You just remember in the back of your mind, you were close but you didn't get over the hump," Lewis said. "It's something to use for motivation."
STILL KICKING: New England's Stephen Gostkowski led the NFL in scoring for the second consecutive season and third in the last six, finishing with 158 points. He made all four of his field goal attempts Sunday, tying his career high. His 38 field goals broke his team record of 36 set in 2008.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org
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