The Patriots were just over two minutes away from losing to the Bills for the first time since 2003. And then Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin decided he wanted to come out of the end zone with a kickoff instead of taking a knee for a touchback.
Thanks in no small part to the much-anticipated return of Tom Brady to the Patriots, New England overcame a late 11-point deficit on Monday night to stun the Bills and the Gillette Stadium crowd with an improbable 25-24 win.
Patriots 25, Bills 24
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Sept. 14, 2009
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Headliner: Tom Brady hadn't played in a meaningful football game in over a year, and though he seemed off at times, the comeback king staged another late game-winning drive, with a bit of help from the Bills.
It wasn't the cleanest game Brady has ever played, but on a day where the Patriots were only able to muster 73 yards rushing, Brady shouldered the offensive load for the Patriots. Brady was 39-of-53 passing for 378 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, leading the Patriots to three scoring drives in the fourth quarter. His two touchdown passes came in the final 2:06 of the fourth quarter, and both passes were caught by tight end Ben Watson.
Game Ball: No one on the Patriots missed Tom Brady more than Randy Moss, and the big man was happy to see No. 12 back on the field on Monday night. Moss and Brady didn't connect in the end zone, but the dynamic duo did combine on 12 completions for 141 yards, the most receiving yards Moss has accumulated in a game since he had 145 on Nov. 4, 2007 against the Colts.
Now that the rust seems to have worn off, New Englanders can once again expect big things from the most feared offensive combination in the game.
Better Luck Next Week: The first time Leodis McKelvin fumbled on Monday, the Bills recovered the ball. The second time McKelvin fumbled, it cost the Bills the game.
With just over two minutes left and the Bills leading 24-19, McKelvin backed up in the end zone to catch the kickoff from Stephen Gostowski, but he decided against the touchback and instead ran the ball out to create a memorable moment for Patriots fans … and a forgetful one for the people of Buffalo.
Key Moment: McKelvin ran the ball out near the Buffalo 31 when the Patriots seemed to wrap him up, and it looked like the Bills would need to just run the ball and pick up a first down to put the game on ice. Instead, McKelvin gave a second effort in an attempt to pick up an extra yard or two. Pierre Woods knocked the ball loose, and following a huge scrum, Gostkowski ended up with the ball in his hands.
Just three plays later, Brady would find Watson in the back of the end zone to take the lead and deal the Bills a frustrating setback to start the 2009 season.
Scouting Report: The Patriots were barely able to beat a Bills team whose starters scored just three total points in the preseason and are without their starting running back, the suspended Marshawn Lynch.
The Patriots next opponent, the Jets, traveled to Houston on Sunday and blew out a hyped Texans team behind a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut. Now the Patriots will take the trip down I-95 to face the hungry Jets in a highly anticipated Week 2 matchup.
Under defensive guru Rex Ryan, the Jets defense looked superb in its Week 1 demolition of the Texans, and the Patriots will certainly have their work cut out for them against a much tougher group. But after dealing with the experienced Trent Edwards and Terrell Owens, the Patriots will get to go against rookie Mark Sanchez and a somewhat shakier group of wide receivers. However the Jets' running game poses a much greater threat with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.
It's another divisional matchup for the Patriots, and given the Week 1 performances of the division rivals, it's sure to be another nail-biter.