Bruschi's return inspires Pats to win, barely

Associated Press
Published October 31, 2005

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Tedy Bruschi raised his arms early in the game and the fans cheered. Then another returning star won it for the Patriots with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Corey Dillon, who struggled most of the season before missing his previous game with an ankle injury, came on to score on two 1-yard runs and New England came back to beat the Bills on Sunday night.

Despite Bruschi's return 81/2 months after having a mild stroke, the Patriots defense struggled for much of the game. The inside linebacker and emotional leader made several good plays early, then fit right in with a defense that was as mediocre as it has been all season.

"I'm back to doing what I love," Bruschi said. "Sometimes, you've just got to pick yourself off the ground and get back to living your life. That's all I was trying to do."

Bruschi was the sparkplug and on-field strategist in the Patriots' three titles over the past four seasons, but had a stroke 11 days after the latest championship. He had surgery to fix a hole in his heart in March and had been working out and attending meetings regularly since training camp began in July.

Bruschi had two tackles and five assists, playing most of the defensive downs. He played all of the first two series, but was on the sideline for the first five plays of Buffalo's third possession.

"I think everyone's happy to see him out there," coach Bill Belichick said. "But we've got to do our own jobs. We can't just rely on him to show up, and everything falls into place."

Things fell into place for New England's offense just in time as the Patriots held on to first place in the AFC East. The Patriots avoided matching their loss total of the past two seasons, when they went 34-4 with two Super Bowl championships.

Trailing 16-14, New England got the ball at the Buffalo 23-yard line when Rosevelt Colvin stripped it from quarterback Kelly Holcomb and recovered with 6:14 left. Tom Brady hit Deion Branch for a 22-yard gain, then Dillon, who rushed for more than 100 yards just once this season, scored his second touchdown.

Dillon, who came in when Patrick Pass hurt his leg early in the second quarter, was listed as questionable on the injury report. Dillon 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 league's second-worst rush defense. He finished with 77 yards on 18 carries.

Buffalo's last hope ended on 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, 32, played inside linebacker most of the game 11 days after returning to practice. He 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.

Bruschi joined the Patriots captains at midfield for the coin toss, getting a hug from former teammate Lawyer Milloy, now a Bills safety.

Holcomb capitalized on the Patriots' vulnerability to big plays with a 55-yard touchdown to Moulds for a 10-7 lead, four plays after Brady put New England ahead with a 33-yard scoring pass to Branch.

Rian Lindell kicked three field goals for Buffalo and Willie McGahee gained 136 yards on 31 carries.

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 it on Adam Vinatieri's 39-yard field goal with seven 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.