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Patriots beat bumbling Bills, wrap up AFC’s top seed
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. | The New England Patriots have been nearly unbeatable since Tom Brady stopped throwing interceptions more than two months ago.
Now they'll probably be even tougher to stop when the playoffs begin after securing the AFC's top seed — and home-field advantage through the first three rounds — with a 34-3 win Sunday over a familiar pushover, the Buffalo Bills.
Brady threw three touchdown passes, including two to tight end Rob Gronkowski, and extended his streak of attempts without an interception to 319. That topped the NFL mark of 308 set by Bernie Kosar with Cleveland in the 1990-91 seasons.
"I guess I'm glad I'm not throwing interceptions," Brady said, shrugging off the record.
He was more pleased with helping the Patriots (13-2) finish first in the AFC for the third time since 2003, and clinch their eighth division title in 10 years.
"It never gets old," Brady said. "We never get tired of winning."
Brady finished 15 of 27 for 140 yards, and had his eighth straight game with two or more scores. Alge Crumpler had a 4-yard touchdown catch, Danny Woodhead scored on a 29-yard run and Shayne Graham kicked two field goals.
The Patriots round out their season by hosting the Miami Dolphins next weekend and are marching to the playoffs riding a seven-game win streak — their longest since going 16-0 in 2007. Brady's leading an offense that has scored 31 or more points in seven straight games. He has also thrown only four interceptions, and none in his past 10 games, since throwing two in a 23-20 win over Baltimore on Oct. 17.
The Bills (4-11) have had a hard enough time beating their division rival to begin with, having now lost 15 in a row and 20 of their past 21 against New England. And they made it even more difficult on themselves by committing seven turnovers.
"I killed the team today," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who lost two fumbles and threw three interceptions. "You can't do that on any day when you play a team that is that good and that efficient on offense."
Turns out the only thing that could slow the Patriots was Mother Nature. Bad weather in the northeast prevented the team from traveling home. The Patriots were instead forced to bus an hour east to spend the night in Rochester, as most hotels in the Buffalo-area are booked due to the city hosting the World Junior Hockey Championships.
That's fine with Patriots players, even though they had already missed Christmas with their families after traveling to Buffalo on Saturday.
"We got a 'W,' and that's our biggest present, being able to come into the locker room and being able to see that hat and T-shirt," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "That's something to be proud of."
Just as significant for Wilfork was how the Patriots' young defense is beginning to jell.
"I know a lot of people counted us out. But all year, we knew what we had in this locker room," he said. "This football team is getting better. We're not where we want to be by any means, but we're definitely moving forward."
The game Sunday was over before halftime when the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points after the Bills opened with Rian Lindell's 26-yard field goal.
They went ahead for good on Woodhead's touchdown, which came after linebacker Gary Guyton forced Fitzpatrick to fumble on Buffalo's third possession. And the Bills' string of turnovers didn't end until the last time the Bills touched the ball — and then gave it away with 1:51 left, when C.J. Spiller muffed a punt.
In between, the Bills had their final 11 drives end with four fumbles, three interceptions, two failed fourth-down attempts, a punt and halftime.
"We played bad," Bills coach Chan Gailey said after watching his team inexplicably unravel in its home finale, and after winning four of its past six. "Turnovers, penalties, not stopping the run, every bit of it. Everybody on the whole team, all of us take the blame for that."
Brady broke Kosar's record with his 17th attempt early in the third quarter, when Gronkowski dropped a pass over the middle at the goal line. The two hooked up on the next play for an 8-yard touchdown.
Brady has thrown for a touchdown in all 15 games this season, keeping alive his opportunity to become only the seventh NFL player to have thrown a TD pass in all 16 games.
Bill Belichick is so accustomed to Brady's efficiency that he didn't even know what his quarterback had accomplished.
"I didn't realize he broke that. That's great," Belichick said. "Tom does a great job of managing the game and taking care of the ball. I think he deserves that."
Notes: The Patriots have gone seven straight without a turnover and have only turned the ball over nine times this season. The NFL record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season is 13, set in 2008 by both Miami and the New York Giants. ... Fitzpatrick went 18 of 37 for 251 yards to become the first Bills player to hit 3,000 yards passing since J.P. Losman did it in 2006. Fitzpatrick had his TD streak end at 15 games, three short of the franchise record set by Jim Kelly. ... Bills WR David Nelson hurt his ribs in the first half, and has been ruled out for Buffalo's finale at the Jets next weekend.
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