Defenseless Patriots hang on for 37-31 win against Bills


Defenseless Patriots hang on for 37-31 win against Bills

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."

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.

Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers


Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers

A quick look at the information you need to know about today's Patriots-Steelers game:

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 5-1, Steelers 4- 2

GAME TIME: 4:25 p.m. EST


TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson


NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Larry Kahn, Mark Carrier and Troy West

LOCAL RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak


LAST MEETING: Patriots 28, Steelers 21 on Sept. 10, 2015 at Gillette Stadium

* * * *
-- The Patriots are 8-11 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in their history, but are 4-2 at Heinz Field. Included in those four Heinz Field victories are two in AFC Championship Games (in the 2001 and 2004 seasons).

-- Tom Brady is 8-2 against the Steelers in his career.

-- The last time Brady played the Steelers, in 2015, he set a Patriots franchise record with 19 consecutive pass completions.

-- The Patriots are 108-70 (.607) in road games since 1994, the best record in the NFL over that span. The Steelers (97- 82, .542) are second.

-- The Patriots have yet to throw an interception in 2016, setting a team record for consecutive games without an interception at the start of a season (6). The NFL record for consecutive games at the start of a season without a pick is 9, set by the 1960 Browns. The Patriots' franchise record for overall consecutive games with no interceptions is 8, set in 2010.

* * * *
-- Rob Gronkowski has 67 overall touchdowns and needs one to tie Stanley Morgan (68) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 66 receiving touchdowns and needs one to tie Morgan (67) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 22 100-yard receiving games, including two in 2016, and is tied with Jackie Smith for the third-most among all NFL tight ends. The only TEs who have more are Kellen Winslow (24) and Tony Gonzalez (31).