Patriots pull away from Bills, 38-30

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Patriots pull away from Bills, 38-30

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Better game managment? Check.

Rejuvenated running attack? Check.

A tightening of the defense? Well . . . let's just say it wasn't as bad as the 30 points allowed would indicate.

Scoring and statistics Play by play

Many of the problems that so worried Patriot Nation in last week's loss to the Jets were rectified -- for the most part -- in Sunday's 38-30 victory over the Bills at Gillette Stadium. The score was close most of the way, and so were the statistics, but the Patriots have reason to be encouraged with their second victory in three games this season.

The previously non-existent running attack exploded for 200 yards, a milestone the Pats didn't reach once in 2009.

"It was lot better than the two yards a carry that we had last week," said coach Bill Belichick.

Because of that, Tom Brady could abandon his gunslinger mentality and revert back to the sort of conservative, clock-killing game management that served the team so well during its championship run.

Even the defense has reason to be proud. Seven of Buffalo's points came on a 95-yard kick return by C.J. Spiller, and 10 others were the direct result of short fields that the Pats' offense handed the Bills. It wasn't perfect -- the Pats allowed Buffalo a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive after building a 38-23 lead -- but key interceptions by Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather choked off Bills' threats.

"The second half, really playing four quarters after making your halftime adjustments, it's really just will and determination," said Randy Moss. "In the past we've stubbed our toe, but today was just good from all angles. Hopefully we can build on that."

And the stuff they've always done well? They retained some of that, too. A Patriots game wouldn't be a Patriots game without a Brady-to-Moss bomb, and Sunday's was a 35-yard hookup for a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, giving the Pats a 24-16 lead.

Spiller made it 24-23 on the ensuing kickoff, but the defense got its first big stop two series later. It halted a Buffalo drove at the Pats' 33 and Ryan Lindell missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt that would have given the Bills the lead.

"Typical Buffalo; it's always tough against those guys," said Belichick.

The Pats took over and then ate up 7 minutes and 21 seconds with a 13-play, 59-yard drive that included nine run attempts. The TD, ironically, was a pass -- five yards from Brady to Rob Gronkowski -- but BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 carries, 98 yards) was the workhorse, carrying four times for 20 yards during march.

Green-Ellis was even more dominant in the next drive, with six carries for 19 yards, including a seven-yard TD run that made it 38-23 and sealed the deal.

The Bills got one touchdown back, but Meriweather clinched it with his interception and the Pats' second victory was in the bag.

The Patriots managed to overcome a spate of first-half mistakes to squeak out a 17-16 halftime lead.

Leading 7-3, the Pats twice gave the Bills a short field, resulting in 10 consecutive Buffalo points. The first occured on a first-down holding penalty that pinned them deep in their own territory; a subsequent 33-yard punt by Zoltan Mesko gave the Bills the ball on the Pats' 40. Buffalo moved it from there to the 21, where Lindell kicked a 39-yard field goal that made the score 7-6.

On the Pats' next possession, another first-down penalty -- this one for offensive pass interference -- pushed them back to their 15. An end-around run by Brandon Tate on third-and-15 got them close to a first down, but Tate fumbled and the Bills recovered on the New England 37.

A 19-yard run by Marshawn Lynch gave Buffalo a first-and-goal at the 4, and Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Spiller with a five-yard touchdown pass that put the Bulls on top, 13-7.

The Patriots answered immediately, going 76 yards in six plays. A 21-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski gave the Pats the ball at the Buffalo 43, and Green-Ellis then ran 20 yards to 23. Two plays later, Danny Woodhead broke loose for a 22-yard touchdown run, giving New England a 14-13 lead.

"That's great for a guy who's been here for about 10 minutes," joked Brady about Woodhead, a Week 2 pickup who gained 42 yards on 3 carries.

The Bills put together an efficient end-of-the-half drive, moving from their 28 to the New England 17. But a review of a quarterback keeper by Fitzpatrick cost them the half-yard they needed for a first down, and they settled for a 34-yard Lindell field goal with 24 seconds to go.

Then it was the Pats' turn to put together the kind of end-of-half drive that rekindled memories of the glory years. Starting at their 33, Brady found Tate down the left sidelines for 29 yards to the Buffalo 38. They called time. On the next play, he hooked up with Aaron Hernandez for 13 more yards to the 25. Another time out. And as time expired, Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 43-yard field goal for a 17-16 lead.

"It's great to see when we don't make our own mistakes that we can get the ball in the end zone," said Brady.

And now, with this win under their belt, the Pats take aim at their next challenge: A Monday night game at Miami.

"This is going to be a big week for us," said Brady. "We've got to win a meaningful game on the road."

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Patriots hatch latest backup plan at QB

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Patriots hatch latest backup plan at QB

Tom Brady needs a Hail Mary at this point to get himself on the field for the first four games of 2016. The Patriots are more aware of that than anyone, so Friday night they grabbed a little security, using a third-round pick on North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

The 6-4, 235-pound Brissett was a two-year starter for the Wolfpack and had 23 touchdowns and five picks in his senior season. He’s lauded for his leadership, has outstanding physical skills and is a tireless worker.

All that said, he’s not going to beat out Jimmy Garoppolo. Brissett isn’t in Foxboro to be the long-term No. 2 in 2016. But if he shows a high level of competency between now and the end of August, the Patriots will likely go into the four-game Brady-less stretch with Garoppolo as the temp starter and Brissett as the temp backup.

When Brady returns, everybody moves back down the ladder again.

But a look at the contracts of Garoppolo and Brady shows that, after 2016, Garoppolo may become expendable. Brady is signed through 2019 and isn’t going anywhere. Garoppolo is up after 2017 and will be a free agent. If Garoppolo plays well enough to impress the rest of the league in his four-game audition, the Patriots could look to deal him prior to the 2017 season.

The return on the former second-rounder isn’t relevant right now. What is relevant is that the Patriots are going to have to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in 2016: Brady, Garoppolo and Brissett. For a team that’s always churning the end of its roster to get the best players ready for every week’s matchup, the team will have one less roster spot to deal with than it’s had in past seasons.

The only way around carrying Brissett all year on the 53 would be to release him, hope he passes unclaimed through waivers and then sign him to the practice squad. It’s likely someone would claim him. So the Patriots will be working with three quarterbacks on their 53 for 2016. Forecasting, it’s not likely they’d do that two years in a row.

The addition of Brissett is a signal that the team isn’t preparing for life after Brady, but life after Jimmy G.