FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play. An offside that helped turn a field goal attempt into a touchdown. A kickoff unit that allowed returns of 62 and 83 yards.
The Buffalo Bills had thought they were close to finally beating the Patriots in New England.
They left Foxborough again for another offseason of thinking about how far they have to go.
"To say that you're close or anything like that," coach Doug Marrone said, "until you win, we don't have a leg to stand on."
LeGarrette Blount slogged through heavy rain for a career-high 189 yards rushing and two touchdowns, adding another 145 on two kickoff returns Sunday to lead New England to a 34-20 victory and help the Patriots (12-4) clinch a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
The Bills, who had won two in a row, lost for the 13th straight time in Foxborough and extended their playoff drought to 14 seasons — the longest in the NFL.
"It would be much different if we were ending on a three-game winning streak," Marrone said. "We had the opportunity to do some things. There was a lot on the line, and we left it out there."
Twice in the second half, the Bills (6-10) scored touchdowns to make it a one-possession game.
Each time, Blount brought the ensuing kickoff back into Buffalo territory.
After T.J. Graham's 12-yard reception from backup quarterback Thad Lewis made it 16-10, Blount took the kick 3 yards deep in the end zone and brought it all the way to the Bills 20, faking out the kicker before he was brought down from behind by Marcus Easley. Buffalo forced a fourth-and-1, but when New England lined up for a field goal from the 11, Marcell Dareus jumped offside; one play later, Tom Brady hit Shane Vereen for a 5-yard touchdown pass that, with a 2-point conversion, made it 24-10.
The Bills marched 80 yards to cut the deficit to seven points on Fred Jackson's 4-yard run. But again on the kickoff Blount brushed off tacklers before Chris Hogan brought him down at the Buffalo 40. The Patriots settled for a field goal — Stephen Gostkowski's fourth of the game.
"Things like that just show how close you are," Lewis said, "but you're not there yet."
The Bills played without quarterback EJ Manuel, who has a small tear in a left knee ligament, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, excused for the second straight game after his mother's death. They also played the first half without Dareus, who was benched for the second straight game for an unspecified violation of team rules.