Despite the turnover, Tom Brady kept targeting Gronkowski, and he ended up with five receptions for 104 yards and the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth in front of family and friends — he grew up in nearby Williamsville.
“He really fought back after some tough plays there,” Belichick said.
Gronkowski was happy to bounce back after his early miscue.
“I had a fumble, a couple of drops, and I’ve just got to execute those plays. We can’t be having that,” Gronkowski said. “It hurts the team a lot and I’ve got to be protecting the ball better, no doubt about that. It’s awesome that Tom came back to me, trusted in my abilities, trusted in me throughout the whole game.”
Toeing the line
There was significant concern about how the Patriots’ offensive line would perform when it was learned that Logan Mankins would not make the trip. But the group was impressive, even against the Bills’ two very good tackles, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. “The offensive line did a great job,” Belichick said. “Buffalo is a good front. It was a good group effort. In the run game, it’s not about just one guy.” The Patriots managed to gain 247 yards on the ground after having been stymied in their last two games. “Our offensive line did an exceptional job,” Ridley said. “And really it wouldn’t have been done without them. It takes a team effort. It took 10 other players out there to do what we did on the ground.” The Bills were frustrated by their inability to stop the run. “The most discouraging thing about it is that they literally ran three running plays,’’ said Williams. “They ran the same thing over and over and over.”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower left during the Bills’ second possession after sacking Fitzpatrick. He did not return. The injury was believed to be to his hamstring. The sack was the first in the rookie’s career . . . Though Wes Welker made nine catches for 129 yards, one week after he had 142 yards against the Ravens, it wasn’t all good for the wide receiver. Welker fumbled at the end of the second quarter, a mistake that left the Bills with a first down at the New England 21. But the defense bailed him out, with Vince Wilfork recovering a fumble on the 1-yard line. “That was huge,” Welker said. “Hats off to the defense for making that big play. It really put us in a good position going into halftime, and being able to fight back going into the second half.” . . . Welker, who has at least one reception in 81 straight regular-season games, passed Troy Brown to move into second place on the team’s all-time receiving list with 6,485 yards. He has a ways to go to catch Stanley Morgan (10,352).
Kraft is honored
Patriots owner Robert Kraft received the Halas Award from the Professional Football Writers of America before Sunday’s game. The award is given annually to the NFL person who has performed with abandon despite personal challenges off the field . . . Belichick moved past Chuck Knox into sole possession of eighth place on the NFL victory list with 194. Dan Reeves is next with 201 . . . With Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Welker, and Gronkowski each going over 100 yards, it marked only the second time in NFL history that a team had two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers in the same game. Green Bay did it Dec. 28, 2008, when Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynn had 100 yards on the ground and Donald Driver and Greg Jennings had 100 in the air . . . The Patriots save their best rushing performances for games against the Bills, as they topped 200 yards on the ground (247) for the first time since 2010, when they did it twice in wins against Buffalo . . . The Patriots haven’t lost three straight games since 2002, a streak of 157 games . . . The Patriots scored 30 or more points against the Bills for the fifth straight game . . . Brady (41,206 passing yards) moved past Kerry Collins (40,922) into 11th place all time, and moved past Collins into 10th place in career completions (3,498).
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