Late interception saves Patriots

Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Bill Belichick knows his team's win over Buffalo Sunday was anything but a work of art.
That's OK, said the New England coach.
"I'll take any win," Belichick said after the Patriots held on for a 37-31 victory and a sweep of the two-game season series with the Bills. "... It was far from perfect."
And it was almost a loss. Devin McCourty's room service interception in the end zone with 23 seconds left killed a Buffalo drive that brought the ball all the way to the New England 15-yard line.
The Patriots allowed 481 yards of offense and 35 first downs while seeing their own NFL-record streak of 350-yard games come to an end at 27 (they had 347). They dropped balls, missed tackles, took a bunch of penalties late and almost suffered what would have been a fourth loss, all by three points or less.
Bills quarterback Rya Fitzpatrick threw the ball right to McCourty, who said, "That was one of those right place, right time moments. The ball was thrown right to me."
Said Fitzpatrick: "That's something that ultimately falls on me, just in terms of getting things communicated, being on the same page and all that. It was unfortunate the game ended on that."
It allowed New England to survive, and the Patriots can now at least think about experiencing, as Yogi Berra might say, deja vu all over again. They went 8-0 in the second half of each of the last two seasons, and Sunday marked the opening of the 2012 second half.
The Pats have won three straight and are 6-3, while Buffalo fell to 3-6 with its third straight loss.
"In the end I think the (two) turnovers (the other a Fred Jackson fumble at the New England 1) helped us, but they've got an explosive group of skill players and they got more of them involved," Belichick said.
The first time the teams met, the Patriots scored 45 points in the second half and won 52-28. Sunday, they had 24 in the first half and never trailed. But it was close.
"I'm glad we came away with the win," said Tom Brady, who threw two touchdown passes, one to running back Danny Woodhead, who also had a score on the ground. "We fought hard today. We certainly had more opportunities out there to score more points but we didn't and the defense made a couple of great plays there at the end."
Brady was 23-for-38 for 237 yards, while Stevan Ridley ran for 98 yards and a touchdown in the win. Fitzpatrick, the Harvard product, was 27-for-40 for 337 yards, the one pick and two touchdowns.
Jackson ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns but was guilty of a fourth-quarter fumble at the New England 1. He was called down by contact on the field, but the play was reversed on review. He then fumbled again with his team marching entering the final minute, but Buffalo recovered at the Patriots' 37 with 59 seconds left.
The Bills moved to the 15 and, after one incompletion in the end zone, Fitzpatrick was picked off for his second turnover of the day (the first was a fumble that led to New England's first touchdown).
"This is definitely tough to take," said wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who had six catches for 86 yards. "We work hard and it's the same old stuff each week, but we came back in this game. We had a chance to win it and we fell short again.
"We can't do anything about it but put it behind us and look forward to the Miami Dolphins Thursday night (in Buffalo)."
The Bills were flagged for 148 yards of penalties, but one call, a 37-yard pass interference call in the end zone, was horrible and led to a New England touchdown.
NOTES: A second-quarter completion gave Fitzpatrick 10,000 yards passing as a Bill, making him the fifth Buffalo quarterback to reach that mark. ... Buffalo-area native Rob Gronkowski has at least one TD catch in all six career games against the Bills. ... The Patriots improved to 10-3 after byes under Belichick. ... Wes Welker dropped a touchdown pass on New England's first drive, but also caught a pass on the march, giving him 103 straight games with at least one catch. He dropped another pass in the fourth quarter, but had six catches. ... The Patriots honored former running back Kevin Faulk at halftime. ... Running back Brandon Bolden, who wouldn't have played anyway because of injury, served the first game of his four-game league suspension for a drug violation. Newly acquired Patriot Aqib Talib served the final game of HIS four-game incurred while he was with Tampa Bay. ... A giant American flag covered the field for the National Anthem, commemorating Veterans Day and the Patriots unveiled a black seat, which will forever be empty, to honor the 91,803 POW/MIAs since World War I. The backs of the end zones had the Words, "Salute To Service." ... The Patriots host Indianapolis Sunday.

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