ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – "We won, didn't we?" Laurence Maroneyrhetorically asked reporters in the visitors locker room of Ralph Wilson Stadium. "That's all that matters."
And that's the thing about winning ugly: it counts the same in the standings.
By their own admission, the Patriots didn't play their best game Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park.
They surrendered large chunks of yardage on the ground, mostly to Bills running back Fred Jackson, who also hurt New England on kickoff returns. They managed a measly three points in the second half. And they nearly allowed Buffalo the chance to tie the game at the end.
But they didn't, thanks to an offside penalty on the Bills' onside kick that Buffalo recovered. And when the Patriots needed six yards on third down with about two minutes to go, QB Tom Bradyconnected with WR Wes Welkerfor eight. That allowed New England to kneel on the ball and run out the clock. In so doing, the Patriots earned their first road win of the season.
And not a moment too soon. On a day when their other AFC East opponents both lost, the Patriots put themselves in much better position to capture the division title, and thus at least one home playoff game.
"It wasn't all good, certainly," Brady told reporters, "but it was good enough."
Offensively, New England's running game was effective all afternoon. Maroney put forth another solid effort, gaining 81 yards (a 3.5 average) on 23 tough, but smart carries. He made some good reads on cut-back runs and initiated contact with defenders in an effort to gain extra yards. The offensive line opened up sizeable holes for Maroney, and for yet another week, allowed no sacks of Brady.
"I think the [offensive] line blocked tremendously, the tight ends blocked, Sammy [Morris] came in and did his thing. Overall, the running game had a productive day," Maroney noted.
On the other side of the ball, New England's defense applied consistent pressure on Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, sacking him and backup Trent Edwardsa combined total of six times. Part of their success in that area came from a wrinkle that New England hasn't employed in a while – using no linemen with their hands on the ground at the line of scrimmage to confuse the Buffalo offense.
"Call it organized chaos," LB Adalius Thomasjoked. "Seemed like it worked today."
"I thought we had good pressure on the quarterback, for the most part," said head coach Bill Belichickin his post-game remarks to the media.
The secondary also picked off a Fitzpatrick pass when the Bills were driving for a possible go-ahead score at the end of the first half.
Yet, despite those positive developments, the Bills still had a chance to force the game into overtime. After scoring to make it a seven-point game with about three minutes to go, the Bills lined up for what looked like a deep kickoff. The Patriots seemed to expect that, too, but Buffalo instead kicked onside and actually recovered the football after it bounced off special teams captain Sam Aiken. But Bills LB Aaron Maybinwas clearly offside on the play and the Patriots wound up with the ball back.
"I did see a flag," said Belichick when asked about the play. "We certainly had a good chance to recover the ball. We just gotta come up with that at the end. We've gotta make those plays."
"I think we did a good job of playing 60 minutes," said Maroney.
"There are a lot of things we can do better, learn from the mistakes we made, and not costing us the game … that's very important," Thomas pointed out.
"We got the job done. That's the most important thing."