1. Aaron Hernandez — He probably belongs at the Pro Bowl, too. Caught 7 balls for game-high 138 to make it 79 for 910 on the season.
2. Rob Gronkowski — Had the best season ever for a tight end in NFL history. Deserves votes for NFL MVP. Had team-best 8 catches for 108 yards.
3. Wes Welker — Toughness personified. His ribs were rattled more than once, and he keeps coming back. Caught 6 for 51.
4. Mark Anderson — Three solos, two for loss including his 10th sack of the year. Super end to a strong year.
1. Antwan Molden — Stepped in for Devin McCourty at corner and covered nobody. If Ryan Fitzpatrick was on his game, and Stevie Johnson chose a different under shirt, Molden might have spontaneously combusted out there.
2. Kyle Arrington — He's covering nobody on the other side. Tried to muscle receivers off line. Wound up chasing them all day.
3. Devin McCourty — Not a safety either, folks. He's a corner with low esteem right now. Somebody has to pick this kid's emotions up.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (C+) ... You would like to think this group got better after an absolutely miserable opening quarter. Tom Brady got hammered early, and there was nothing early on the ground. Life got better for the offense, but I wonder how much of that had to do with the Bills absolutely quitting en masse in revolt after Stevie Johnson got benched.
Wide Receivers (C-) ... Wes Welker gets an A, once again. Deion Branch played sparingly. And Julian Edelman, Tiquan Underwood and Chad Ochocinco all went softly into that good night, that is without a single catch.
Tight Ends (A+) ... Combined for 15 grabs, 246 yards and three TDs. Simplified the game for a beaten-up Brady and willed this team back from down 21.
Running Backs (B) ... Stevan Ridley ran hard with 81 yards on 15 carries. Still, most of that came against a defense that had moved on to 2012 thanks to their coach. You have to like the kid. Not sure about BJG-E and what he might have to offer come playoff time, although his 53-yard screen catch was very pretty.
Quarterback (A) ... Gritty, gutty, a warrior. He's sore. He's beaten up. But he continues to compete and thrive. Sacked four times. Got hit at least 5 or 6 others. Rebounds from a rugged start to roll up 338 passing yards and three TDs.
NOTE: Two defensive grades are listed, one for the defense's effort against the Buffalo varsity and the other against the Bills' JVs.
Line (F/B) ... Deplorable opening quarter. No penetration on the run or pass, and a mediocre looking C.J. Spiller had daylight. They finally stiffened but even knowing that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be throwing on every down, they got little pressure.
Linebackers (F/C) ... Atrocious opening quarter. I still like Dane Fletcher flying around, and Brandon Spikes is an improvement against the run. Still, no plays were made here until the Bills had rolled over and played dead.
Secondary (F/B) ... They got all the late picks but, honestly, when Stevie Johnson was in the game, it was like the Pats only had nine players on the field. The adjustment with Devin McCourty to safety weakened both the safety and corner spots, which Antwan Molden stepped into. Big credit for holding off on the post-play celebration by this group. Still, they can't stop real NFL receivers.
(B) ... Stephen Gostkowski's kicks pinned Buffalo at or inside the 20. He made all his kicks. But there was little or nothing from the New England return game.
(A) ... Chan Gailey's staff got decaptitated in the second quarter, laying their own necks on the base so the guillotine could commence chopping. Great adjustments by the Pats, whose personnel continues to get thinner and thinner.
WHY BELICHICK'S BETTER: THE GHOST OF DICK JAURON
Tom Brady has given you a freebie, an ill-advised laser that Wes Welker bobbles into the arms of Nick Barnett.
The Bills, up 21-14, take over at their own 48 with two timeouts and 51 seconds to work with.
Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambles for five solid yards and instead of calling for a timeout, the Bills take their time and allow 20 more seconds off the clock.
Fitzpatrick completes two more passes and time runs out as on third down Brandon Coutu yanks a 45-yard field goal try.
Congrats to Chan Gailey (career win percentage .413) for making Buffalo fans long for the days of Dick Jauron.
You signed the kicker this week. Don't you think it might have been nice to make his first field goal try just a little easier?
Instead, Gailey carried his two timeouts with him to the locker room, perhaps hoping the NFL might change the rules at the break and allow you to carry them over.
Another loser. Is, was and always will be.
Stevie Johnson scores on an 18-yard TD pass with 5:19 left in the first quarter to make it 14-0 Buffalo, then shows off his T-shirt to the Pats' fans to draw a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration.
Chan Gailey, who has put up with a clothesline full of laundry issues this year with Johnson, then picked this afternoon — the last game of the year — to draw the line. He benched Johnson (4 catches, 40 yards in two drives) for the day.
Buffalo's offense averaged 8.3 yards per play with no turnovers with Johnson in the game and 5.0 per play, committing four turnovers, with him being taught a life lesson courtesy of Gailey.
Superb timing, Chan. Don't take care of this stuff in August. Do it in January.
Now, Gailey's move clearly angered the Bills. Listen to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"When Steve got taken out and Scott (Chandler) went down, it changed things. It slowed us down," said Fitzpatrick. "I know he got benched. I saw the flag. But I don't know what he really did. Who knows. Maybe this is the last game we play together, but maybe it's not. Things started well, and unfortunately he got taken out."
And even Gailey wasn't 100 percent behind his move. He mumbled something about Johnson doing the same thing last year and not getting a penalty. But now it's a penalty.
So he had to bench him.
GOOD FOR GRONK
Normally, when a superstar goes on the field late in a game that has been long-since decided, just to get a record, I would be all over him. Today, we give Rob Gronkowski a pass — literally — for going out there and catching a 22-yarder in the final minutes to set an NFL record for season receiving yards by a TE.
Why? Because the big Pro Bowl tight end really stepped up in his Christmas raffle to benefit the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club. When all the tickets were totaled, Gronk raised over $55,000 for the children of Lawrence and the club. That's a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Oh, and for the record, Gronk finished with 1,327 yards receiving, just better than the Saints' Jimmy Graham (1,310). Both snapped Kellen Winslow's mark of 1,290 set in 1980.
GOOD GUY, NOT GOODBYE
Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien took time out of his busy schedule to hook up a buddy, Andover police officer Mike Lane, his son Mikey, and some friends Mike, Alex, Jeffrey and Dom LaRosa in the postgame.
O'Brien kept it quick in the locker room as the media circled.
"We have to make a left, guys," he said in a quick exit toward the coach's office.
O'Brien has been the subject of hot rumors that he indeed will be the next head football coach at Penn State.
Most folks in the Pats' locker room seem to think that those rumors have been quite exaggerated.
Still, with the numbers his group has put up, you have to figure O'Brien is going to be a prominent figure in plenty of coaching jobs as they open up in the offseason.
THREE ON TWO
In a nutshell, Tom Brady and the Pats offense broke this game into a 3 on 2.
The Pats lined up two guys - Welker and Gronkowski, Welker and Hernandez or Hernandez and Gronkowski - on one side of the offense. Buffalo then committed three defensive backs to the targets.
Once they moved off the line Tom Brady simply picked the one in single coverage and as Hernandez said, "Let his playmakers make plays."
The trio finished with 21 catches for 297 yards and three TDs.