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Winter wonderland - Patriots win, 13-10

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            **Orchard Park, N.Y. –** For the third consecutive time, the Patriots and Bills went into overtime but this one was arguably the most entertaining.  

Were it not for the fact that this game had no meaning in terms of standings or playoffs, it would have gone down as one of the best ever. It was fodder for NFL Films to make drama out of the men of the NFL, fighting the elements while the fought each other.

In the end, it came down to an Adam Vinatieri field goal for a 13-10 Patriots win at the very end of the overtime period.

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            Things looked pretty hopeless for the Patriots, down 10-3 in the fourth quarter and clearly having trouble moving the ball in what was quickly becoming a full-fledged Buffalo blizzard. That's when an unlikely candidate emerged from Bill Belichick's doghouse to give his team life.  

Kevin Faulk had been maligned with slippery hands, but with J.R. Redmond knocked out of the game with a bad leg and Raymont Harris and Patrick Pass inactive, it was Faulk who was forced into duty. The second-year back responded with two 13-yard runs, the second for the touchdown that tied the game with 4:45 left.

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            The score energized the New England defense and they held the Bills to three and out with Chad Eaton sacking Flutie on third down. But the Patriots could do no better on their turn with Bledsoe being sacked for a loss of 14 yards on third down.  

With the clock running down, it looked like Doug Flutie, who had replaced an injured Rob Johnson at quarterback, might perform his magic once again. He hit Peerless Price for 21 yards on a play in which Antonio Langham slipped and then Shawn Bryson had two runs for 19 yards. That put Buffalo on the New England 35.

With the wicked wind, the Bills still needed to get closer to be in range for a field goal attempt, but two big sacks, one by Eaton and the other by Willie McGinest, knocked Buffalo back to the Patriots 45 and well out of range.

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            Ball Patriots with less than two minutes left. A couple passes to Terry Glenn underneath got New England down to the Buffalo 31. A third was dropped. Then, Bledsoe found Tony Carter on a screen and the fullback went 21 yards. It looked like the scoreboard clock ran out but the Patriots managed to call a time out with :01 left. That brought Adam Vinatieri out for a 28-yard game-winning attempt.  

Holder Lee Johnson who had mishandled two long snaps prior, again mishandled a snap. This one prevented Vinatieri from getting a good kick off and the game moved to overtime.

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            The Bills won the toss but elected to kick and take the wind. New England could do nothing and the Bills got the ball back on their own 28. Bryson did most of the work, both running and catching – a screen for 18 yards, runs for 21. Jeremy McDaniel and Price also caught passes and the Bills lined up for a field goal from the Patriots 12. But nothing was easy on this day and Eaton got his hand on the low kick, extending the game.  

That's when Jermaine Wiggins caught two passed for 35 yards and Troy Brown one for 20. But on fourth and 5 from the Bills 30, the Patriots were forced to go for the first down and Terry Glenn dropped the pass from Bledsoe. Just then, a late flag was thrown – interference on the Bills Chris Watson and new life for the Patriots.

Two plays later, Bledsoe, yes Bledsoe, skated for 14 yards down to the Buffalo 3. A couple of attempts at the end zone later, Vinatieri lined up once again, this time from the 6-yard line. With under :20 left, he booted the game-winner and the Patriots had their fifth win of the season.

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            Horrendous weather welcomed the Patriots to Ralph Wilson Stadium. A mix of rain, snow, sleet and strong winds hampered both teams' offenses until just at the end of the first quarter, the Patriots broke the scoreless tie with a 22-yard Vinatieri field goal. Rookie J.R. Redmond had been a workhorse, carrying the ball 14 times for 51 yards through three possessions. But on third and 2 from the Buffalo 4-yard line, New England elected to hand off to Tony Carter who was stuffed up the middle, forcing the field goal.  

Buffalo's first score came as a result of Lee Johnson mishandling a snap on a punt attempt in the second quarter. New England was fourth and 1 from the Bills 45 at the time. The snap to Johnson was true, but Johnson lost it, perhaps in the wind. He recovered the ball but was chased to the Patriot 30 where he lost it again. New England recovered but Buffalo took over on downs.

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            On Buffalo's prior possession, Greg Spires had knocked Bills quarterback Rob Johnson out of the game with a concussion on a clean hit. Flutie came into the game and immediately lit up the sparse crowd by pumping once and then tucking the ball and running for 13 yards. Sammy Morris gained another 13 yards to put Buffalo on the Patriots 4-yard line. Tebucky Jones sniffed out a Flutie bootleg and dropped the fan favorite for a 4-yard loss. Jones came up big on the next play as well, nailing Bills tight end Jay Riemersma, separating him from the ball. The play was ruled incomplete and Buffalo settled for a 25-yard Steve Christie field goal to tie the game at 3.  

The second half began with the weather worsening. The rain had turned completely to snow but the wind had picked up even more and the traction on the field was treacherous. Despite the conditions, the Flutie-led Bills managed to get the ball to the Patriots 1-yard line on their second drive of the third quarter. The big play was a completion to Jeremy McDaniel for 31 yards. But on third down, Flutie fumbled the snap, and Christie lined up for a 23-yard field goal. As he went to kick, Christie's left foot gave way on the slick turf and ball barely got off the ground. Chad Eaton got credit for the block, his first of two, and the game remained tied at 3 with the Patriots taking over on the Buffalo 11.

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            With J.R. Redmond out of the game with an ankle sprain, Kevin Faulk and Tony Carter took over the running duties. The tandem ran well but on fourth and 1 from the New England 47, the Patriots went for it and Carter was stuffed. Prior to that play, the Bills cleverly called time out anticipating the stop and making sure they had at least one more play with the wind before the third quarter ended.  

The move worked as Flutie connected with Peerless Price on the very next play for 42 yards. That put the ball on the Patriots 4. Two plays later, Antowain Smith lost the handoff, the ball popped loose and off Ted Johnson's helmet. Garrett Johnson pounced on it and the Patriots evaded yet another Bills score.

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            But the weather prevented Bledsoe and his offense from mounting any charge. Meanwhile, Flutie continued to play like it was mid-September. He hit Riemersma for 19 yards on the Bills next drive. After Shawn Bryson ran for 4 yards, Flutie took it himself for 32 yards to the Patriots goal line. A little toss to Sheldon Jackson put the Bills up, 10-3.  

That's when things really started to heat up, so to speak.

The Patriots will return to Foxboro to end their season next Sunday with a game against the Miami Dolphins. Like this one for New England, the game will be played for pride alone and most likely in better weather. It couldn't get much worse.

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