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Patriots stay on top of AFC East, 21-16

Once the excitement of Tedy Bruschi returning to the field for the first time in 2005 died down, there was a football game to play Sunday night and it was a lot more difficult for the Patriots than many would have guessed.



]()Ultimately, the Patriots came away with a 21-16 win to take full control of the AFC East with a 4-3 record. But this one was in doubt right until Rosevelt Colvin stripped Kelly Holcomb in the fourth quarter to give his offense a chance to take the lead.

One look at Bills running back Willis McGahee's numbers (136 yards on 31 carries) and it shows that Buffalo was able to hold on to the ball for much of this one. In fact, they almost doubled up in time of possession over the Patriots with their 39:40 total.

In the end Tom Brady was unspectacular but finished with 199 yards and a touchdown on 14 of 21 passing. Corey Dillon did not start but replaced an injured Patrick Pass and wound up with 72 yards on 18 carries.

On defense, Tedy Bruschi finished with 7 tackles. Mike Vrabel led the way with 14 tackles and a sack.

Bruschi started the game at his inside linebacker and played every down of the Bills initial series that lasted alomost eight and a half minutes. He was his old self, involved in several of the stops including being the first to get to Roscoe Parrish on a reverse that wound up being a 6-yard loss. In fact, the Bills held on to the ball for 11 minutes in the first quarter and Bruschi was in on every play.

The lopsided time of possession through the game's first 15 minutes did the Bills no good on the scoreboard. The closest they came was a 46-yard Rian Lindell field goal attempt that he hooked badly to the left.



]()New England's one offensive effort of the first quarter was stymied by two holding calls. But as the second frame opened, Patrick Pass knocked off a 12-yard run. He followed that up with another burst for 9 yards right up the middle. The next play completely negated those two runs as Pass carried to the left sideline and fumbled while grabbing the back of his leg. Aaron Schobel fell on the loose ball and Pass left the game with an injury.

The Bills went back on the attack. McGahee immediately ripped off two runs of 8 and 11 yards down to the Patriots 34. From there, the Bills chipped their way to first and goal from the 10 but the New England defense held Buffalo to a 23-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead. Bruschi did not play during that scoring drive.

It wasn't until the end of the first half that New England was able to mount any kind of offensive threat. After an encroachment call on the Bills Sam Adams, Brady hit Daniel Graham for 15 yards over the middle to the Patriots 42 (the Bills challenged the completion call but lost). That play came at the two minute warning.

Corey Dillon was in the game at this point for the injured Pass and he was good for an 8-yard run. Brady then kept for 4 more yards and a first down across midfield. Givens caught a pass for 17 yards to the 29 but New England got not further than the 21. It was then that the first half was sort of summed up for the Patriots. Vinatieri was good on the field goal but his teammates were flagged for delay of game. That moved the kick back 5 yards to make it a 44-yard attempt and this time, Vinatieri was wide left.

The halftime scored remained 3-0, Bills.

New England took the opening kickoff of the second half and suddenly, it was like a new offense had appeared from the locker room -- an offense that more resembling the one Patriots fans were accustomed to.

The scoring drive began with a steady dose of Dillon until at the Bills 33, Brady looked deep to Deion Branch in single coverage. Branch caught the ball around the 10 and took it the rest of the way for the game's first touchdown and a 7-3 Patriots lead with the extra point.

The lead was short-lived as three plays later, Holcomb hit Eric Moulds on a 55-yard bomb for the quick touchdown strike.

New England was on the good end of the turnover stick for the first time since Week 3 when Asante Samuel picked off Holcomb later in the third quarter. Holcomb was looking to Moulds on the right side but Samuel jumped the pass and made the catch falling to the ground.

That gave the ball to the Patriots at the Buffalo 45 but a sack of Brady on third and 4 forced the Patriots to punt.

Now the game began to revert back to its first half look as once again, the Bills, despite beginning at their own 2-yard line, held on to the ball into the fourth quarter and Patriots territory. Whether it was the running of McGahee or Holcomb's passing, the New England defense looked like it was coming off the offseason rather than the bye. A 15-yard roughing call on Rosevelt Colvin added to the drive. It was a moral victory that the Bills only came up with three points on a 35-yard field goal after Josh Reed dropped a third and 3 pass.

It didn't matter. On the next play Aaron Schobel hit Brady's arm as he was about to pass and caused the fumble. Buffalo recovered at the New England 29. Luckily for New England, the Bills offense refused to put the final dagger in and settled for a 41-yard field goal.

Still, the extra three points put the Patriots down by two scores at 16-7 with 10:07 left to play.

That meant the Patriots had to work quickly and that's just what they did with Brady hitting Branch, who made a beautiful catch, for 37 yards on first down. Buffalo challenged this play and lost for the second time in the game, using up their remaining challenge.

From the Bills 24 Brady made his way to the 6 with a combination of pass and run. From there he hit Tim Dwight who was stopped just short of the goal line. It was Dillon who finished the job on the next play.

With 7:06 left, New England was down by 2 at 16-14. It was now up to the defense to do its part and not let Buffalo continue its pattern of ball control drives.

Colvin made sure of that when he sacked and stripped Holcomb on the Bills second play. He finished the trifecta by recovering as well.

Brady hit Branch for 22 yards on first down and Dillon ran in his second touchdown of the game from a yard out. Just like that, New England was up 21-16.

The speed of the Patriots two scores left plenty of time, 5:32, for the Bills to answer.

They got an assist by a Matt Chatham personal foul on the kickoff that moved the ball after the return to the Bills 47. McGahee ran hard four straight times until Holcomb was incomplete on second and 6 from the New England 38. That brought up third down and it looked like Holcomb converted with a pass to Moulds but the Bills number one receiver was flagged for pushing off and the Bills had to repeat the play.

On third and 17 from the 49, Holcomb hit Reed for 9 yards bringing up fourth and 8. With just over two minutes remaining, the Bills had to go for it. Holcomb threw to Moulds but short of the first down marker. Hank Poteat and Mike Vrabel made the immediate stop and New England took over on downs.

Despite not being able to get a first down, New England's punt came with only 21 seconds left. Parrish let the ball bounce past him before racing back to field it. By the time he was done with his return, only three seconds remained. Buffalo tried a short pass and some razzle-dazzle laterals to no avail. New England escaped with its fourth win of the season.

It gets much more difficult next week. The Indianapolis Colts are coming to town for a Mondy night tilt.

Notes: Patriots Inactives were Randall Gay, Kevin Faulk, James Sanders, Matt Light, Troy Brown, Richard Seymour, Chad Brown with Matt Cassel the third QB. For the Bills it was George Wilson, Jonathan Smith, Lionel Gates, Jim Leonhard, Liam Ezekiel, Greg Jerman, Jason Jefferson and Shane Matthews the third QB. ... Tedy Bruschi, activated over the weekend, started at inside linebacker next to Mike Vrabel.

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