It took a last-minute drive to tie the game in regulation and over 14 minutes in overtime, but the Patriots pulled off a 23-20 win against the upstart Houston Texans.
Vinatieri's 28-yard game-winner with :41 left in overtime won the game.
A Houston defense that beautifully mixed the blitz and good coverage had Tom Brady on his toes all afternoon but when crunch time came, the Patriots quarterback had the answers.
On the day, Brady was 29 of 47 for 368 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But the real hero on offense for the Patriots was Kevin Faulk with his 188 all-purpose yards; 108 in the air and 80 on the ground.
Although the Patriots defense had Houston on the ropes for most of the game, Brady's picks and one fumble, plus a blocked punt and field goal and another missed field goal, kept the Texans within striking distance throughout the game.
It was a wild one.
Houston was first to score. A big pass interference call on Eugene Wilson gave the Texans the ball on the Patriots 14-yard line on their second possession. Following that play, Bank threw a lateral pass to Jabar Gaffney and the wide receiver took it 13 yards to the 1.
From there the Patriots held tough, and the Texans settled for a Kris Brown 19-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Up to that point, Texans runner Domanick Davis already had 28 yards on 6 runs with 2:36 left in the first quarter. The scoring drive (8:41) was the longest in the Texans 27-game history.
New England took the lead with a 27-yard pass from Brady to Bethel Johnson with its next possession. On the drive, the Patriots picked their way downfield with short stuff to Faulk and Johnson, along with a Brady keeper for 7 yards that converted a first down. The drive took 10 plays and 67 yards in 4:24.
New England added three to its lead midway through the second quarter with a 21-yard field goal by Vinatieri. Officially, the drive only consisted of four plays but that's because Brady threw an interception after six plays of the initial drive. Eric Brown stepped in front of a pass intended for Johnson as the Patriots worked from the Texans 10-yard line. Johnson then forced a fumble from Brown and recovered it himself, giving New England the ball back.
Good pass coverage from there by Houston forced Brady to keep twice for six yards total and Vinatieri came on for the field goal. In the drive prior to the pick, Kevin Faulk had a couple nice plays – a 20-yard reception and then a nifty 6-yard run.
The Patriots sped things up to end the first half. Starting at his 42 with :59 on the clock, Brady worked downfield with completions to newly-signed Dedric Ward for 11 and 17 and then a 19-yarder to Faulk. With :13 seconds left, Brady looked to the end zone but threw incomplete and Vinatieri attempted a 38-yard field goal which hit the upright and bounced out.
That ended the half with the Patriots up, 10-3.
Momentum swung quickly to the Texans side in the third quarter when Brady was hit by Shantee Orr attempting to pass. The fluttering ball was picked off by Marcus Coleman who returned it 29 yards to the Patriots 11 yard line. Two plays later Banks hit Rooke phenom Andre Johnson for the touchdown from 10-yards out and the game was tied at 10.
Sensing some urgency, Brady took to the air on New England's next possession and hit Graham for 10 yards and Deion Branch for 19. After a 2-yard run by Faulk, Brady found J.J. Stokes wide open for a 31-yard pick-up and it looked like the Patriots were in good shape to score six, working from the Texans 8. But Smith lost 4 on the next play and then on third and goal from the 10, Brady was sacked for a loss of 4 as the third quarter ended.
Vinatieri hit the 32-yard field goal attempt and the Patriots regained an uncomfortable lead at 13-10.
After the New England defense put the clamps on the Texans next possession, Brady and company took over at the 42 of the Patriots. Faulk went to work with runs and a 12-yard catch. But disaster struck as Brady was harassed as he tried to pass on first and 10 from the Texans 31. Kailee Wong sacked Brady and the ball fell out of the quarterback's hand before he began his throw (the play was challenged by the Patriots but the call on the field stood). Jay Foreman picked up the loose ball and rambled down to the Patriot 31 where Patrick Pass pushed him out of bounds.
New England had a chance to minimize the damage with Houston facing a third and 9 from the 30, but Banks found Johnson for 11 and the first down. That was costly as two plays later, Banks hit Billy Miller for 16 yards and the touchdown.
Down 17-13 with 6:49 left in the game, the Patriots needed a touchdown but things went from bad to worse. On third and 5, Brady fumbled the snap for a 2-yard loss. Ken Walter's punt was blocked by Ramon Walker. Walter recovered on the 20 but it was Texans ball, first and 10.
Kris Brown made a 31-yard field goal putting New England down by seven with just over three minutes to play.
Brady began the last-ditch effort with a 13-yard completion to Branch up to the Patriots 33. After two incompletes, Brady dropped back and miraculously dodged at least two would-be sacks, finally finding Graham deep down a seam for 33 yards.
At the Houston 34, Brady dumped off to Faulk and the halfback weaved his way for 21 yards to the 13. Then it was a pass to Branch for 4. On third and 6, Faulk took it up the middle for 5 and now the Patriots were faced with a fourth and 1 from the 4-yard line with :48 left to play.
With the crowd noise at a deafening level, Brady went play-action and rolled right. He threw high into the end zone and down with the ball came Graham with perhaps the biggest catch of the tight end's career, a 4-yard score. Vinatieri was good with the extra point and the game was tied at 20 with :40 left.
Houston played it conservatively with its last try in regulation and so we went to overtime.
The Patriots lost the toss, the 12th time in a row. The other streak New England currently held was seven overtime wins in a row and it looked like that would continue. On his first play in bonus time, Banks threw over the middle only to have Mike Vrabel steal the pass.
Now on the Houston 23, the Patriots kept it on the ground for three tries. With the ball at the 19, New England brought on Vinatieri to win the game with a 37-yard field goal like so many times in the past. But, incredibly, the kick was blocked by Ramon Walker and Houston had new life.
Banks advanced the ball to the 48 with doses of Davis and a 9-yard pass to Corey Bradford. On third and 3, Banks hit Derick Armstrong for 10 and the first down. The drive ended, however, at the Patriots 40, where Houston punted.
New England took over at its own 9. After two Faulk runs netted only 4 yards, Brady was nailed by Jamie Sharper for the sack.
Walter had to punt from the end zone and his kick traveled only 31 yards to the 35-yard line.
Undaunted, the Patriots defense pushed back Houston 5 yards when McGinest hit Davis in the backfield and the Texans punted again. New England fair caught the ball at the 14.
The offensive player of the game, Faulk, continued his amazing day with a 16-yard catch and run. A 5-yard defensive holding penalty followed along with a 5-yard pass to Ward. On second and 5, Brady hit Johnson for 14 and another defensive holding call (negating a Brady interception), moved the ball to the Houston 41.
Now with the win in sight, Brady went to Branch for 13 and then Fauria for 10 more as the two-minute warning whistle blew.
New England was first and 10 at the Houston 18.
Two more runs by Faulk had the ball at the 10 where Vinatieri made the 28-yard game-winner.
Besides Brady's and Faulk's numbers, Bethel Johnson had 5 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Daniel Graham had 4 for 53 yards and a score.
For the Texans, Banks was 10 of 25 passing for 93 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Domanick Davis has 24 carries for 69 yards.
New England travels to Indianapolis to take on the Colts next week in a potential battle for playoff seeding.