Patriots blow past Bills, but don't make playoffs

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The wind was gusting so hard at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday that when it was blowing at Junior Seau's back, the veteran New England Patriots linebacker felt 20-something again.

"I felt like (Gary) Guyton and (Jerod) Mayo: I picked up more speed than I could handle," Seau said, referring to his two younger teammates. "I felt young, it was really fun."

Four downs

» The Patriots have won 16 of their last 17 vs. the Bills, including the last 11 consecutive games.

» The Patriots recorded their first shutout since defeating the Packers 35-0 on Nov. 19, 2006.

» The Bills are the fourth team since 1960 to finish with a losing record following a 4-0 start.

» Bills RB Fred Jackson rushed for a career-high 136 yards for his second career 100-yard game.

Here's what would have been even better for the 39-year-old Seau: another shot at the playoffs.

The Patriots did their part, avoiding elimination with a 13-0 win over the Buffalo Bills in closing their regular season schedule. Then came the waiting.

To clinch a sixth consecutive playoff berth, the defending AFC champs needed either Miami to lose or tie against the New York Jets or Baltimore to lose or tie against Jacksonville.

Neither team coopeated as the Ravens handled the visiting Jaguars, 27-7, and the Dolphins secured their first division title since 2000 with a 24-17 win over the Jets at Giants Stadium.

Instead, closing a season in which they lost Tom Brady to injury with four straight wins will have to be accomplishment enough.

"It's a disappointment," said Patriots running back Sammy Morris after learning that the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs. "Toward the end of the season, we did our part. I wish we could have won some [more] games earlier in the year, but it is what it is. Guys fought hard all year. We had tons of injuries and we were pretty much able to overcome those, but, again, it's not quite enough."

The Bills will settle for another long offseason after their third consecutive 7-9 finish and wonder how things could've been different had they built off a 5-1 start. Coach Dick Jauron's status is also uncertain, with his future to be decided during end-of-season meetings with team owner Ralph Wilson.

"It's been a trying season," receiver Lee Evans said. "We weren't used to winning at the beginning of the season, so you can learn as much as you can from that. Learning how to win is key."

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The Patriots need no such lessons.

In defeating Buffalo for an 11th straight time, New England showed no signs of wilting when confronted by 55 mph winds that had the power to rip strips off nearby rooftops and tilt goal posts.

LaMont Jordan scored on a 2-yard run while Stephen Gostkowski hit two of three field-goal attempts. Matt Cassel's performance didn't go unnoticed in showing how capable he's been filling in since Brady went down in Week 1.

In going 6-of-8 for 78 yards, Cassel's 12-yard completion into the wind to Wes Welker on fourth down set up Jordan's score. He also hit Welker for a 14-yard pass on third down in helping set up Gostkowski's 23-yard field goal that put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.

The conditions were so bad that the goal posts had to be centered three times before game time, and again in the second quarter before Gostkowski missed a 26-yard attempt. Another stoppage came in the third quarter, when referee Gene Steratore had his hat blown off and was forced to chase it 20 yards downfield in front of a cheering crowd.

Bills kicker Rian Lindell had the wind at his back, but missed a 47-yard attempt, which started left and then hooked right.

The Patriots won with a rushing attack that produced 168 yards and ate up 32 minutes of the clock. Under coach Bill Belichick, they also proved to be the superior team in handling the conditions.

Belichick took advantage by taking the wind after winning the coin toss. He extended that advantage by calling several timeouts while New England had the wind at its back. And he even surprised the Bills by calling a quick kick in the fourth quarter, which Cassel hit for 57 yards and pinned Buffalo at its 2.

The Bills had no response, and seemed incapable of handling any adversity.

Their biggest miscue came in the final minute of the second quarter with Buffalo threatening to score. With no timeouts, 22 seconds left and facing third-and-5 from the Patriots 12, the Bills ran Fred Jackson up the middle for a 3-yard gain. Though it was initially unclear whether he got the first down as officials were late in spotting the ball, the Bills immediately sent out their field goal unit.

Buffalo, however, couldn't get a play off amid the confusion and didn't get any help from Bills tight end Derek Schouman and center Duke Preston. They were involved in shoving matches with Patriots players at the 5, making it impossible for the team to line up before time ran out.

Steratore said umpire Jeff Rice did, in fact, spot the ball with 9 seconds left, and added that Bills players were not restricted from returning to the line of scrimmage.

"I'm really proud of our team today," Belichick said. "Going 11-5, winning the last four, coming here today, I thought we played well as a football team."

Notes: The Patriots became the first 11-5 team to miss the playoffs since Denver fell short in 1985. ... With one catch for 13 yards, Patriots WR Randy Moss upped his career total to 13,201 yards, moving to ninth in the NFL, 3 yards ahead of former Buffalo star Andre Reed. ... Jackson set career highs with 27 carries for 136 yards, playing in place of injured starter Marshawn Lynch (shoulder).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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