Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts on the New England Patriots' 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The Patriots finish the season 12-4. They were locked into the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs regardless, so this game sort of had the feel of a preseason game from the get-go. The Patriots were very straight forward from an X's and O's standpoint, but at the same time, they didn't execute simple fundamentals well on offense (e.g., too many dropped passes). If the idea was to generate momentum heading into the playoffs, this game didn't get it done.

Detailing Patriots' personnel approach: There were a few layers to the way Bill Belichick used personnel to do "what's best for the team." First, tight end Rob Gronkowski was a healthy scratch, which highlights his value to the team because Belichick didn't want to take any chances of injury with him. Second, injured players who needed more time to recover were held out. Several of those players, such as linebacker Dont'a Hightower, probably would have played if this was a playoffs-type situation. Third, a top level of players, such as quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Devin McCourty, had their afternoons cut short at halftime.

Game ball: Rob Gronkowski. The tight end didn't play in the game on Sunday, the Patriots struggled on offense, and it's no coincidence because Gronkowski, from this viewpoint, has been the team's MVP this year. The simple fact that Belichick sat a fully healthy Gronkowski speaks volumes. The complexion of the offense changes dramatically without him, and they want to ensure they have Gronkowski for the playoffs.

LaFell among those to cash in: Several players had incentives in their contracts that would pay them additional money based on their performance in the game. One example came from receiver Brandon LaFell, whose 27-yard reception in the first quarter earned him an extra $100,000 for hitting 900 receiving yards this season. LaFell had already earned $200,000 for 800 receiving yards.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left tackle Nate Solder limped off at halftime with a knee injury and didn't play again. LaFell limped off after being tackled after a reception early in the fourth quarter and was seen jogging on the sideline before returning for the final drive. Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga was slow to get up late in the game, walking off under his own power although not playing again.

Stat of note: The Patriots had won 35 consecutive regular-season games at home against AFC opponents prior to this contest. That was the longest streak in NFL history since the NFL merger (1970).

What's next: The Patriots will host a divisional-round playoff game on either Saturday, Jan. 10, or Sunday, Jan. 11. That date should be finalized within the next 24 hours.