Defenseless Patriots hang on for 37-31 win against Bills

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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."

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

BOSTON -- While it’s debatable whether the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are rivals, there’s no question there has been a heightened level of animosity towards one another when they play.

When these two met on Jan. 11, the Celtics came away with a 117-108 win.

But the game itself featured plenty of back-and-forth trash talk, finger-pointing, cries of dirty play and NBA fines.

IN FACT . . . Washington plans to bury Boston

“It’ll be a physical game,” said Jae Crowder who was hit with a five-figure fine for his role in a post-game incident involving Washington’s John Wall. “We have to answer the bell; we’ll be ready.”

Crowder knows he and his teammates must balance being the more physical team, with not losing their cool because if tonight’s game is anything like previous ones, there will be trash talk … lots of trash talk.

“They talk a little bit more than other teams,” said Crowder who added that was a factor in the incident him and Wall which cost them $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

Crowder said a flagrant-foul committed by Washington’s Bradley Beal against Marcus Smart was what really cranked the level of animosity that was already at a high level.

But Beal probably hasn’t fully put behind him an incident last season in which Smart broke his nose and put him in the league’s concussion protocol program on a Smart drive to the basket.

As far as the hard foul that Beal delivered to him earlier this month, Smart said, “you take exception to every hard foul.”

Smart added, “It’s the game of basketball. You play with your emotions and intensity and everything like that. It comes with the game.”

While Crowder understands the Celtics have to play a physical brand of basketball, he’s not looking to do anything that might result in him having to cut another $25,000 check which was the amount of his fine from the Jan. 11 game against the Wizards.

“I’m looking at it as another game we have to win,” Crowder said. “I’m not looking at it as a rivalry or anything like that. I’m not coming in talking; they might.”

For the Wizards, winners in four of their five games since losing to Boston, a major key to their success lies in the play of their backcourt.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the latest high-scoring backcourt tandem that the Celtics have to be worried about.

And making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics will have to try and make due without Avery Bradley who is still dealing with a right Achilles injury.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the 6-foot-2 Bradley was not going to be with the team in Washington and would most likely be out all this week.

That means Boston will lean heavily on Smart to not only help the offense run relatively smooth, but also provide some much-needed defense to help limit Wall and Beal who collectively rank among the higher-scoring starting backcourts in the NBA.

“We have to slow them down; by any means we have to slow them down,” Thomas said. “We know they go as far as those two take them. It’s going to be a tough game. They have a lot of momentum at home. It’ll be a tough game for us. But we’re ready for the opportunity.”

Wall and Beal are just the latest in a string of high-scoring backcourts that the Celtics have had to contend with recently.

In Saturday’s 127-123 overtime home loss to Portland, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to score 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting from the field.

“This stretch of backcourts is exceptionally difficult,” Stevens said. “They (Wall and Beal) both should be and certainly are in the discussion for the all-star team. It’s a real difficult challenge. Our guys are going to have to be really good on both ends of the floor.”

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.