FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills reached their first winning record in 10 seasons. So what if the New England Patriots kept key players out of the game with the AFC’s top seed already secured?
Kyle Orton threw for one touchdown, Anthony Dixon ran for another and the Bills beat the going-through-the motions Patriots 17-9 on Sunday.
With home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs clinched, the Patriots used quarterback Tom Brady for only the first half and held out tight end Rob Gronkowski and five other starters.
The victory snapped several streaks: Buffalo’s 0-12 record at Gillette Stadium, and New England’s 35 home wins against AFC teams and 16 at home against any opponent.
It was a price the Patriots (12-4) were willing to pay to protect starters, although left tackle Nate Solder didn’t return after hurting his knee late in the first half.
The Bills (9-7) were eliminated a week earlier from the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season, the longest current drought. But after winning just 28 games the past five seasons, they matched their record in 2004.
With leading receiver Julian Edelman and starting linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer also inactive, New England failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the fifth game last season, a 13-6 loss at Cincinnati. Stephen Gostkowski kicked field goals of 24, 44 and 35 yards.
The sellout crowd lacked its usual energy, but cheered when backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took off on several runs.
Brady played all five offensive series in the first half and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. He completed 8 of 16 passes for 80 yards and was sacked once.
On his next-to-last possession, he was tackled by Stefan Charles for a 7-yard loss. On his final series, he kept the ball for a 2-yard keeper for a first down, then ran for 7 yards before sliding to avoid being hit on the final play.
Orton completed 16 of 23 passes for 176 yards and went over the 3,000 mark in yards passing for the third time in his career.
On the game’s first series, he quickly led the Bills on an 80-yard march capped by his 6-yard scoring pass to Robert Woods. He also completed passes of 18 yards to Lee Smith and 43 to Sammy Watkins on the drive.
The teams then exchanged punts before Gostkowski kicked his 24-yarder.
Orton led another 80-yard drive, lasting 7:24, to a 1-yard touchdown run by Dixon for a 14-3 lead.
Gostkowski kicked his 44-yarder after a fumble recovery by Jamie Collins before Dan Carpenter gave the Bills a 17-6 halftime lead on a 48-yard field goal.
Gostkowski added a 35-yarder late in the third quarter.
The Bills rushed for 104 yards one week after picking up just 13, fourth fewest in team history, in a 26-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders.