Defenseless Patriots hang on for 37-31 win against Bills

Defenseless Patriots hang on for 37-31 win against Bills
November 11, 2012, 9:17 pm
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FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick stated it as simply as it can be stated.

"I'll take any win," the Patriots coach said. "Take any win."

And that's about all the Patriots can really say about Sunday's 37-31 victory over the Bills: It was a win.

Because make no mistake. This was Webster's definition of winning ugly.

The defense surrendered nearly 500 yards to an offense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in most categories. It gave up points on five of seven possessions during one stretch, and only kept the Bills off the scoreboard on the sixth because Fred Jackson fumbled on the Patriots' 1-yard line. The offense, for as prolific as it was in scoring 37 points, couldn't punch it in from the Buffalo 2 in the final 2 12 minutes and had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, which nearly set the stage for a game-winning Bills drive in the final two minutes.

But Ryan Fitzpatrick (27-of-40, 337 yards, 2 touchdowns), after driving his team from its own 20 to the Patriots 15, threw a game-ending interception to Devin McCourty in the end zone with 23 seconds left . .  the last in a series of Buffalo miscues that, ultimately, cost the Bills the game.

It was a series of miscues that saved the Patriots from themselves.

"We had penalties, dropped balls, offsides, missed tackles," said Belichick. "You know, missed tackles and dropped balls, I mean, that's pretty fundamental. We just didn't do a good job in a number of areas. I don't think it was any one thing, but . . .

"We made some plays, we did some things well, but there were other things that were just not as sharp as what they need to be or what they should be. We definitely got to do a better job on those."

"It was far from perfect."

Luckily for New England, the Bills -- for as well as they played in keeping it close -- were even farther from perfection. In addition to a ridiculous number of penalties (14, for 148 yards), they committed three fatal turnovers:

New England led 3-0 in the first quarter when Wilfork sacked Fitzpatrick and forced a fumble that was recovered by Jermaine Cunningham on the Buffalo 13-yard line. Three plays later, Stevan Ridley ran it in from a yard out to put the Patriots in front, 10-0.

In the fourth quarter, with the Pats clinging to a 34-24 lead, Jackson broke off a 12-yard run that got him to the New England 1. McCourty, however, knocked the ball loose as Jackson was falling to the ground and Kyle Arrington recovered. The Pats would go three-and-out and Buffalo would score on its next possession, but the fumble took about three minutes off the clock . . . minutes that would prove crucial when the Bills were driving for the game-winning TD with time winding down.

And finally, Fitzpatrick fired the ball right to McCourty in the final 30 seconds.

"There's nothing bigger than turnovers," said McCourty. "I think throughout any level of football . . . a lot of times if you just win that turnover ratio, you end up winning the game."

It was about the only statistical edge the Patriots had Sunday. They were outgained, 481 yards to 347; had only 27 first downs to the Bills' 35; had fewer rushing (162-117) and passing (319-230) yards than Buffalo, and controlled the ball for nearly eight fewer minutes. In addition, the Bills' offense ran off an incredible 25 plays of 10 or more yards against the hapless Patriots defense.

"They gave us a handful," said Vince Wilfork.

But the Pats, who got a pair of touchdowns from Danny Woodhead and single scores from Stevan Ridley and Rob Gronkowski, along with a pair of Gostkowski field goals, never trailed -- they held leads of 3-0, 10-0, 10-3, 17-3, 17-10, 24-10, 24-17, 31-17, 31-24, 34-24 and 34-31 before getting the final field goal -- and, in the end, many of them took a bottom-line satisfaction in the afternoon . . . especially since it raised their record to 6-3 and increased their lead over second-place Miami to two games in the AFC East.

"The most important thing is to walk away with a 'W'," said Wilfork. "That is the biggest goal . . . "

"It's always a joy to get a victory in the NFL," said Gronkowski.

Considering how it happened, though, Tom Brady (23-of-38, 237 yards, 2 TDs), took solace in something else.
 
"It's frustrating when we don't play as well as we're capable of," said Brady. "But that's part of the game, and part of the mental toughness of the game is to put those things behind you and to keep playing hard.

"And we did that. And that's why we won."