Bills WR benched for 'Happy New Year' T-shirt
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson isn't the first person to get a little carried away ringing in the new year.
He just picked the wrong place for his celebration.
Bills coach Chan Gailey benched Johnson for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Sunday when he celebrated a touchdown catch by lifting his jersey to reveal an undershirt that said, "Happy New Year!" The Bills added another TD before New England scored the next 49 points to win 49-21.
"The coach told me I was out of the game. I have to respect his decision," said Johnson, who had four catches for 40 yards to become the first Bills receiver with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. "I can't complain about it or whine or pout. He made his decision and I am going with it. ... I have to take that, and I will."
Undershirt decoration has become something of a hobby for Johnson, who wore one against Cincinnati last season that said, "Why So Serious?" The NFL fined him $5,000, but he was not penalized; that's why Johnson said he thought he could get away with it this time.
"I didn't know it was going to draw a penalty," he told reporters.
Johnson was also fined $10,000 for pretending to shoot off a rifle against the Patriots last year, mocking the costumed Minutemen who celebrate a New England score. And he drew an excessive celebration penalty against the Jets this season when he pretended to shoot himself in the legs -- mimicking New York receiver Plaxico Burress -- then imitated an airplane crashing into the turf.
After that one, Gailey warned the team that anyone who drew a demonstration penalty would be benched.
"If I say that, I'm going to do it," Gailey said. "So he was out."
Gailey said he didn't know why Johnson was penalized this time and not against the Bengals last year.
But it didn't matter, because he had been clear with his warning.
"I got tired of it the first time it happened," Gailey said. "But you hope people learn from situations. There isn't anybody who hasn't made mistakes, but you've got to learn from your mistakes. And everybody falls in that category -- me too.
"He is not a bad guy; he's not. He's a good guy, but he uses some bad judgment at times and if you do that enough and it hurts the team, you've got to do something."
The histrionics add to an already uncertain future for the Bills (6-10) and their No. 1 receiver, who can became a free agent now that their season is over. Johnson said he would prefer to re-sign with Buffalo, but negotiations over a new deal broke down in November when he rejected the team's latest offer.
"I come here to work just like everybody else in this locker room," he said. "I know the guys around here put in a lot of work to come out here and go up by 21 points on the New England Patriots. ... To end the season like this, it hurts, and it was something today that I feel I made a mistake for my teammates."
Without Johnson or tight end Scott Chandler, who left in the first half with a knee injury, the Bills blew a 21-0 lead and lost for the eighth in their final nine games. And the Patriots, who were booed off the field after one quarter, coasted into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Tom Brady finished the regular season with the second most yards passing in NFL history, 5,235, after throwing for 338. Drew Brees, who last week broke Dan Marino's record of 5,084 with the Miami Dolphins in 1984, added 389 Sunday for the Saints and ended with 5,486.
The Patriots (13-3) finished the season with eight straight wins. But the playoffs will be a challenge for a defense that gave up the most yards passing in NFL history: 4,727. The previous mark of 4,541 was set by the Atlanta Falcons in 1995.
After Tashard Choice gave Buffalo a 7-0 lead with a 4-yard touchdown run, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Johnson for an 18-yard score and then connected with C.J. Spiller for a 15-yard TD. At that point, Fitzpatrick was 13 for 16 for 156 yards and two touchdowns and Brady was 0 for 2.
But Brady finished with 23 completions in 35 attempts for three touchdowns -- two to Rob Gronkowski -- and one interception. Fitzpatrick completed 29 of 46 for 307 yards in all, with two TDs and four interceptions.
Gronkowski set the single-season record for tight ends with 1,327 yards receiving after gaining 108 on eight catches. That broke the mark of 1,310 set earlier Sunday by Jimmy Graham of the Saints. The previous mark of 1,290 was set in 1980 by Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers.
A 1-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a 39-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez, which put Brady over the 5,000-yard mark, cut the lead to 21-14. Stephen Gostkowski had a pair of field goals to bring the Patriots within one point, and they went ahead to stay on a 17-yard pass to Gronkowski with 1:32 left in the third quarter; Danny Woodhead ran it in for the 2-point conversion.
Green-Ellis scored another touchdown and Gronkowski added another TD catch before Sterling Moore picked Fitzpatrick off and ran it 21 yards to make it 49-21 just seven seconds later.
Notes: Tight end Chandler didn't play after the second quarter. ... Rookie Stevan Ridley led the Patriots with a career-high 81 yards rushing. ... Welker had six catches for 51 yards and led the NFL with 122 receptions and 1,569 yards receiving.