FOXBOROUGH – Face it, Tom Bradywasn't himself all night. Well, most of the night, anyway.
Even he admitted it in his post-game press conference.
"We were just off in the first half," said the Patriots quarterback. "We had fourth downs we missed, we had third downs we missed, two chances in the red area, the interception. Those things really get you behind the eight ball. But we recovered with just a couple of second left. Sometimes it goes like that."
To be precise, for Brady, this is the 29th time he's led his team on a fourth-quarter comeback.
When Bills running back Fred Jacksontook a screen pass into the end zone late in the fourth quarter, putting Buffalo up by 11, things didn't look good for New England.
Unless you were on the Patriots sideline. No one there seemed to question how events would unfold.
"Not for me. Not at all," Brady insisted. "I just felt, we had three timeouts with 5:32 left. I was thinking, 'If we can get down the field before that two-minute warning, it's going to put a lot of pressure on them.'"
Sentiments echoed by others on offense, like center Dan Koppen.
"We came in with whatever it was, five minutes left, and got that ball back, and we said, 'We're going to score before the two-minute warning and get the ball back and take it down again.' And we were able to do it. We made enough plays."
The first came from all-but-forgotten tight end Benjamin Watson, who just two weeks ago seemed on the bubble just to make the roster. Yet there he was Monday night, Brady's primary receiver in crunch time.
With the ball on the Bills' 18-yard line with 2:10 remaining, Watson ran a post pattern down the middle of the field. Brady found him wide open in the end zone. But a failed two-point conversion attempt kept the Buffalo lead at five. Another TD was needed.
On the ensuing kickoff, Buffalo trotted out their hands team, anticipating an on-side or squib kick from the Pats. Instead, kicker Stephen Gostkowskidrilled one into the Bills end zone. Buffalo's Leodis McKelvindecided to take it out. Bad decision. He was drilled by Brandon Meriweather, who jarred the ball a bit, followed by Pierre Woods, whose extra effort knocked the ball from McKelvin's grasp. A pileup formed, but Gostkowski, at the back of it, wound up with the football.
"Stephen Gostkowski … what more can you say about that guy, man?" Woods mused later. "He came down there, he was all bent up, like a pretzel, had the ball, wouldn't let the guy from Buffalo get it. I tried to pull that [Bills] guy off of him. It was chaos, man."
Not for the Patriots offense, it wasn't. They had the ball 31 yards away from the Bills end zone.
"When he comes in that huddle," wide receiver Randy Mosstold reporters, "everybody is looking up to him and want him to lead us down the field. And when you have a guy like that leading you down the field, I mean, you can't do nothing but try to run through a brick wall for him."
That brick wall's name was Keith Ellison. And Watson was prepared.
With less than a minute left and the ball in nearly the same spot as it was on the previous touchdown, Brady called the same play. Watson ran his post pattern again, but Ellison, the Bills linebacker, recognized it and shadowed Watson into the end zone.
"I tried to throw it high on [Watson's] back shoulder," Brady explained, "and he just went up and made a phenomenal catch, so, I told him it was the best catch I've ever seen him make. Hopefully there're a lot more of those in store."
"He put it where the defender couldn't see it, only I had a chance at it. It was a great throw," Watson added.
"We certainly don't want to put ourselves in that position very often," Bill Belichickstated in his post-game remarks. "But whatever it was, [the offense] dealt with it and made some smart plays at the end. I wish we would have played like that earlier in the game. But give Buffalo credit. That's a good football team. They played extremely well tonight. My hat's off to their effort. It really just came down to a few plays at the end of the game and we made them."