FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Oct. 30, 2005) -- For once, Tedy Bruschi didn't mind being on the sidelines.
The emotional leader of the Patriots defense watched Corey Dillon run for two 1-yard touchdowns in the fourth quarter that gave New England a 21-16 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Just 8 1/2 months earlier -- and three days after his first Pro Bowl appearance -- Bruschi had a mild stroke then underwent surgery for a hole in his heart. But on Sunday night he started at inside linebacker just 11 days after returning to practice.
It was, he said, a "relief, just feeling good about the win, glad to be back playing football."
Another linebacker made the big play that led to Dillon's second touchdown with 5:32 left. Rosevelt Colvin stripped the ball from quarterback Kelly Holcomb and recovered at the Bills 23. Tom Brady then hit Deion Branch with a 22-yard completion, and Dillon, who missed the previous game with an ankle injury, scored the winning touchdown.
"I see Rosevelt Colvin making a play to win the game," Bruschi said. "He was the guy tonight and, hopefully, there will be other guys that do that many times for the rest of the year."
Bruschi's chances of playing again were in jeopardy last February, but on a mild night about 25 miles from the hospital where he was taken last Feb. 16 he and the defense played just well enough to overcome the Bills (3-5) and remain in first place in the AFC East.
Bruschi made two tackles and assisted on five for the Patriots (4-3) and said he felt a bit tired toward the end of the game. Coach Bill Belichick used him more than he expected as Buffalo held the ball for 22:07 of the first half.
"We were prepared to play him a little bit less, but he's in good condition," Belichick said. "He was doing fine on the sideline."
On the field, Bruschi raised his arms early in the game to spur the fans and called signals in the huddle.
"He's the heart and soul of their defense," Holcomb said. "He motivated them and got the crowd into it."
Dillon, who struggled most of the season before missing his previous game and practicing very little the past two weeks, entered the game when Patrick Pass hurt his leg early in the second quarter.
"Dillon helps them, of course. He's a very talented runner," Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey said. "But I thought our defensive players may have missed some tackles, too."
Despite Bruschi's return, the Patriots' defense struggled for much of the game. He made several good plays early, then fit right in with a defense that was as mediocre as it's been all season.
But it played well enough -- and the offense came alive in time -- to keep the Patriots from matching their loss total of the last two seasons, when they went 34-4 with two Super Bowl championships.
"I'd been training for this for a long time," Bruschi said. "It felt like the first game back, but I still feel I can get better"
Dillon, who had been questionable on the injury report, scored on a 1-yard run with 7:06 left, cutting the lead to 16-14 against the team that started the weekend with the NFL's second-worst rush defense. He finished with 77 yards on 18 carries.
Buffalo's last hope ended on a fourth-and-7 at the Patriots 40 when Holcomb completed a pass to Eric Moulds, who was stopped for no gain by Hank Poteat.
Bruschi was involved in a tackle on Buffalo's second play from scrimmage, then slowed down Roscoe Parrish on a reverse that resulted in a 6-yard loss. After that, he made few noteworthy plays.
"He gave them a boost," Mularkey said. "To come back from what he went through is something special. He's back and it's a positive thing because he's good for the game."
He had been the sparkplug and on-field strategist in the Patriots' three titles over the last four seasons and had been working out and attending meetings regularly since training camp began in July.
Holcomb capitalized on the Patriots' vulnerability to big plays with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Moulds for a 10-7 lead just four plays after Brady put New England ahead with a 33-yard scoring pass to Branch. The Patriots have allowed eight completions of 40 yards or more this season.
Rian Lindell kicked three field goals for Buffalo and Willis McGahee gained 136 yards on 31 carries.
Bruschi was the last defensive starter introduced before the game and raised his right arm to the roaring crowd. Several times before the Bills snapped the ball, he lifted both arms to urge on the fans.
They didn't have much to cheer for most of the game.
The Patriots held the ball for just 7:53 in the first half and trailed 3-0 on Lindell's 23-yard field goal. They appeared to tie the game on Adam Vinatieri's 39-yard field goal with 7 seconds left. But it was nullified by a delay-of-game penalty and his 44-yarder hooked to the left.
Lindell added field goals of 35 and 44 yards in the fourth quarter.
Notes: Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour missed his third straight game with a knee injury. ... Buffalo's only win in its last 10 games against New England was a 31-0 victory that opened the 2003 season.