Patriots rally for 23-21 victory over Bills


Patriots rally for 23-21 victory over Bills

They don't have Wes Welker. They don't have Rob Gronkowski or, for that matter, Aaron Hernandez. Their rookie receivers looked lost at times, their tight ends were all but useless (at least as far as receiving is concerned), and their lead back couldn't hold onto the ball.

But the New England Patriots still have Tom Brady. On Sunday, that was enough to beat the Buffalo Bills.

Brady engineered their 36th game-winning fourth-quarter comeback of his career, driving the Patriots 49 yards in 12 plays to set up a 35-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with five seconds to play that lifted them to a skin-of-their-teeth 23-21 victory, their 10th consecutive Opening Day win.

It salvaged an afternoon in which the Pats committed two turnovers that led directly to 14 Buffalo points, committed another that cost them seven points of their own, and found them trailing 21-17 with nearly 11 minutes left.

"I didn't have a lot of doubt [that the Pats could pull it out]," said Brady. "I felt like that's what we were capable of doing."

"Tom, as always, competed as he always does and made some great throws at critical times," said coach Bill Belichick.

At the beginning, it didn't seem like the the Pats would need a fourth-quarter comeback on this day.

A C.J. Spiller fumble -- forced by Kyle Arrington and recovered by Tommy Kelly -- gave the Patriots the ball on the Buffalo 16, and Brady rifled a nine-yard scoring pass to Julian Edelman 47 seconds later for a 7-0 lead. Then, after a 16-yard punt return by Edelman set up New England at the 50, Gostkowski finished off a nine-play drive with a 48-yard field goal that made it 10-0.

That was how the first quarter ended, and the Pats continued their domination in the next quarter as they drove to the Buffalo 24. But that's when Stevan Ridley committed the second -- and last -- of his fumbles for the day (the Pats had recovered the first), stumbling to the ground untouched and dropping the ball. Da'Norris Searcy picked it up and raced 74 yards for a touchdown. It cut the Patriots' lead to 10-7 and earned Ridley a seat on the bench for the rest of the day.

New England recovered nicely; Arrington forced another fumble -- Rob Ninkovich recovered this one -- and the Pats got the ball on the Buffalo 32. It took four plays for them to capitalize, as Brady hooked up again with Edelman for an eight-yard TD that made it 17-7. And they seemed poised to add to the lead when the defense forced a three-and-out, allowing Brady and company to take over on their own 25 with 1:14 left in the half.

But Justin Rogers stole the ball from rookie tight end Zack Sudfeld on the New England 31 on a second-and-four pass, and returned it to the 18. On the next play, E.J. Manuel hit Robert Woods in the end zone . . . and a game the Pats could have led by as many as 24 points was suddenly 17-14 at halftime.

"We let them back in the game with some turnovers," said Belichick. "We got to take care of the ball better, that's all there is to it."

And -- astoundingly -- it got worse.

First, the Bills went 80 yards in 11 plays after the second-half kickoff, with an 18-yard, Manuel-to-Steve Johnson pass putting Buffalo ahead 21-17.

Then, the Pats drove from their 20 to the Buffalo 1, where they faced a fourth down. Belichick went for the touchdown instead of the field goal, but Brady fumbled the snap and the Bills recovered . . . the third lost turnover of the day, costing them seven more points.

And then, when they got deep into Buffalo territory on their NEXT possession, both Edelman and Kenbrell Thompson led catchable passes go through their hands in the end zone. They eventually got to the 5, but that's where the drive stalled and they were forced to settle for a 33-yard Gostkowski field goal that cut Buffalo's lead to 21-20 with 10:52 left.

The Pats' defense then stepped up, holding the Bills to only one first down on their next two possessions and keeping the score at 21-20.

It was enough, however, to get them in field-goal range. That's all Brady needed.

He simplified things on the last drive -- which started at the New England 34 with 4:31 left -- by turning exclusively to the three players on the field he trusted: Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen. He completed a six-yard pass to Amendola on a third-and-three for a first down; found Amendola again on the Buffalo 29 with a 10-yard pass on a third-and-eight, and then -- for only the second time in the drive -- called a running play that caught the Bills defense flat-footed. Vereen burst off left tackle, got to the outside and stayed in bounds as the raced 15 yards to the Bills 14 with 56 seconds to go, putting them well within Gostkowski's range.

"That was a huge run [Vereen] had at the end," said Belichick, "[to] get us down in field-goal range, keep the ball in bounds and force them to use another time out. It was a good play and it was a smart play."

Brady called two more runs to run down the clock and position the ball for Gostkowski, and the veteran kicker drilled it through the middle for the victory.

"We got a long way to go," said Brady. "We got a long of work ahead of us . . . But it's good to start with a win."

Rob Gronkowski appears to thoroughly enjoy himself at Daytona 500

Rob Gronkowski appears to thoroughly enjoy himself at Daytona 500

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski attended the Dayton 500 in true Gronkowski form.

He appeared to be there promoting Monster Energy drink, and was therefore hanging with the Monster Girls, who were also promoting the drink. Gronkowski's herniated disc injury, which required surgery in December 2016, does not seem to be slowing him down as he gets warmed up for the Summer of Gronk.

During the race coverage on FOX Sports, Gronk delivered a speed limit joke, which is sure to make the 13-year-old in you chuckle. (You can watch it here.)


Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

I think it’s time. Time to let the Deflategate wound scab over. Time to exit the active, raging, teeth-gnashing, petition-signing, lawsuit-filing portion of the program and let the hate follow its natural course into a slow-boil loathing.

If you are of Irish descent, you know how it works. Clear a big-ass space on the grudge shelf. Put Roger Goodell, Jeff Pash, Mike Kensil, Troy Vincent, Ryan Grigson, Jim Irsay, every shiv-wielding owner, all the cluck-clucking media and the legion of retired players and exiled GMs from Marshall Faulk to Joey Porter through Marty Hurney and into Bill Polian up there. Turn off light. Leave room.

When you need to piss yourself off -- in traffic, mowing the lawn, waiting for your coffee -- fetch ‘em down, blow the dust off and when you’re in a sufficiently foul mood, return grudge to shelf.

You rode the roller coaster. You’ve been there, done that and have all the T-shirts.

I came to this conclusion a few days ago, when ESPN’s Cari Champion interviewed Rob Gronkowski and asked about Goodell visiting Gillette. It was like playing “Get the Stick!” with a big goofy Lab. Champion threw the leading question, Gronk fetched -- tail-wagging --  and returned with a slobbery response that was completely implausible but still designed to dominate a four-hour news cycle.

"The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what,” said Gronkowski. “They have [Tom Brady’s] back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Gronk’s just doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. And Champion is, too. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Watch these mooks up in New England get all pissed off: “Hey, hey, Chowderhead . . . Roger Goodell . . . . ”

“F*** that guy, he better never show his face in Foxboro! But I want him to come to Foxboro so I can boo the ever-living s*** out of him and maybe barricade Route 1 like Gronk said we would!”

See? Works every time.

The irony is that the person mainly responsible for turning up the burner on this is Robert Kraft.

In May 2015, Kraft said at the owners meetings in San Francisco, “I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months. I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.

“Now, I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision, but I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL, and I hope you all can respect that.”

Well, that blew up like an ACME bomb. And -- from that moment on -- Kraft has tried to recoup the fanbase that believed he sold them out by issuing a succession of calls-to-arms that the region has dutifully responded to.

The most recent was throwing down the gauntlet to Goodell by expressly inviting him to the 2017 season opener.  I mean, it would have been a conversation point anyway, but now it’s metastasized into something that will be discussed throughout the offseason, ratcheting up in early September and hitting a crescendo on opening night.

There is appeal to seeing Goodell squirm while knowing the Maras, Rooneys and Irsays will be sipping highballs and lamenting the caddish treatment of Poor Roger. But I still like the football better.

Conversation about the historic import of SB51, the legacy of Brady and Belichick, prospects for the league in 2017? I’ll take those rather than an ESPN “personality” who spent a weekend in Newburyport at a friend’s wedding telling everyone what the mindset of the New England sports fan is.  

But that’s not what we’re going to get. There will instead be ever-escalating predictions of the terrors Goodell will be subjected to fueled by interviews with tatted-up kids from the mean streets of Marshfield who wanted “Hoodie” fired when he let Revis sign with the Jets.

Unless . . . unless the region en masse decides to let its loathing mature. Mature to the point that when the carrot gets dangled in its collective face it doesn’t leap at it with teeth bared but instead says, “No thanks. Already full.”

Yeah. I don’t think it’s gonna happen either.