By Hector Longo
---- — BIG SHOWS
1. LeGarrette Blount — Sets a team mark for all-purpose yards with 334 on the game. A beast in the running game, pounding Buffalo for 189 yards in 24 carries, and for an encore hits the jets for a pair of huge kick returns (83 and 62).
2. Julian Edelman — Team MVP. Played in his 16th straight game. Caught nine balls for 65 yards. Once all the real Pro-Bowlers start bowing out of the game, he deserves a call.
3. Logan Mankins — The guy played a season on a torn ACL. To see him hobble off the field like he did might have been as tough a moment as we saw this year, yes, even compared to the Gronk’s injury. Of course, he’s made of iron and was back on the field minutes later. To quote Ivan Drago, “He is like a piece of iron.” If John Hannah’s the best guard ever to play on this team, Mankins is clearly the toughest player to ever don the uniform.
1. Danny Amendola — Are you kidding me, son? You’re playing for the No. 2 seed, and you, the $5 million a year receiver, comes up with one catch for nine yards. Why did you even show up? This team goes nowhere without Amendola in the postseason. Hey, Welker Lite, it’s time to earn your dough.
2. Dont’a Hightower — The big fella returns. You’re telling me that the Bills lead backs ran the football 33 times and the starting inside linebacker made two, count ’em two, solo tackles. Of course, his running mate did him one better as Brandon Spikes finished with no solo tackles and a single assist. Spikes gets the bump for playing hurt.
3. Kyle Arrington — It’s amazing with the dozens of personnel changes made in the secondary over the season, every opponent consistently finds No. 25 and lights him up. Even Thad Lewis torched him.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (A) ... It’s been a long grind. They held together through a series of both serious and nagging injuries. They come off an emotional win at Baltimore and they take care of business here against an aggressive Bills’ front. The backs averaged 6.9 yards a carry. There were big cutback holes all day. Physical, nasty, resilient and durable. It might be the best line in the game heading to the playoffs.
Running Backs (A+) ... You have to go back to 2004 with Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk for a better all-around performance as a unit.
Tight Ends (C+) ... Nothing but crickets and some solid blocking from these guys.
Wide Receivers (C-) ... I know they beat the Bills yesterday in the rain. But can you win a playoff game in today’s NFL when your wideouts catch 11 balls on 17 targets for 80 yards? I say no.
Quarterback (C-) ... The one pick wasn’t his fault. Otherwise, it was as miserable a day as Brady is going to have, hitting 14 of 24 for 122 yards.
Line (B) ... Buffalo backs ran 33 times for 165 yards, so it’s tough to heap praise on this front. But anything Belichick gets from the immortal Sealver Siliga has to be considered gravy, and the kid had a team-best five solo tackles with a sack. Chandler Jones continues to bring it from the edge, as does Rob Ninkovich, who had a sack and two tackles for loss.
Linebackers (Inc) ... I believe the Pats’ linebackers got caught in the puddles out there on the turf. Jamie Collins highlights the group, but he was stung on a couple coverages for big gainers.
Secondary (D+) ... I hate to be redundant, but may I quote myself when I say, “Buffalo rolled up 393 yards of offense (257 in the second half) with Thad Lewis at the QB position and Stevie Johnson in a rain slicker.”
WHY BELICHICK IS BETTER
Mea culpa time here from this corner. I mocked the Pats for having to do it. I mocked Bill Belichick for actually suggesting it. And I mocked rock-footed LeGarrette Blount for even attempting to run back kicks in the NFL.
Finally, I won one, right?
Wrong. Wrong again. Blount, who obviously adapted to the sloppy track better than the 91 other players out there in this December monsoon, keeps the surging Bills at bay with second-half returns of 83 and 62 yards — each setting up Pats’ TDs.
How did Belichick know? They didn’t let Blount return in Tampa Bay.
Heck, Chip Kelly didn’t even let him attempt it at Oregon in a real game. “Once in the spring, I think,” recalled Blount.
Yet Belichick knows in August. And it wins this team a football game four months later.
I tip my cap ... again.
SORTING OUT THE AFC PICTURE
So, the one team New England won’t see, unless it’s in the title game, is San Diego, the sixth seed, which survived somehow in overtime yesterday in what amounted to the Kansas City Chiefs JV team.
The Chargers got what they needed early — losses by Miami and Baltimore — to open the door for either them or Pittsburgh.
This week’s slate will have the Broncos and Pats, seeds 1 and 2 respectively, on winter break, while No. 3 Cincinnati hosts No. 6 San Diego and No. 4 Indianapolis hosts No. 5 KC.
New England will host the best remaining seed on the divisional weekend, Jan. 11 and 12, while Denver hosts the lesser of the two winners.
Does track record mean anything? The playoff records of the six remaining QBs (by seed): 1. Peyton Manning 9-11; 2. Tom Brady 17-7, 3. Andy Dalton 0-2; 4. Andrew Luck 0-1; 5. Alex Smith 1-1; 6. Philip Rivers 3-4.
Or in other words, Brady 17-7; other guys, 13-19!
NOTES IN THE FINALE
With his nine-catches for 65 yards, Julian Edelman topped the 100-catch mark (joining Wes Welker and Troy Brown as the lone Pats) and 1,000-yard receiving mark.
Asked if he thought he might get a call about the Pro Bowl this past week, Edelman chose the classy route.
“All the guys that made it definitely deserved to make it,” he said. “Those were some pretty good players to make it in that group.”
Edelman on surviving the season: “Playing in all 16 games is definitely a great, great accomplishment for me.”
Imagine being Doug Marrone, a rookie coach, yesterday and having to explain the 6-10 season, plus things like:
— Benching defensive lineman Marcell Dareus because he was late again;
— Dareus jumping offside on a field goal try to give the Pats a first down and ultimately a TD;
— Back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties on one play that gave the Pats 30 free yards;
—And kick coverage teams that allow the Pats returns of 62 and 83 yards.