THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In a bit of a fix

Patriots need to clean up their game a little

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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The final score meant the Patriots were victorious Sunday night. Yet the way the team defeated the Packers didn’t leave the coaching staff very excited a day later.

After watching film of the 31-27 victory, Bill Belichick pinned some of the struggles on coaching. Other problems were related to execution. And overall, he said his team needs to be more consistent.

Moments after the win, Belichick praised his team for sticking with the Packers for 60 minutes in order to get its 12th win of the season. But as the Patriots prepare for the postseason, just getting by may not be enough.

“In the end it worked out, but we obviously have a lot of work to do,’’ Belichick said after the game. “I think we need to play better than this or our season won’t last much longer.’’

The Patriots clinched a playoff berth with their victory against the Bears Dec. 12. A win Sunday against the Bills would give the Patriots the AFC East title and the No. 1 seed in the conference, which would come with home field and a first-round bye. But with so much at stake, finding ways to survive cannot be the game plan, Belichick said.

Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns with starter Aaron Rodgers unable to play because of a concussion. One breakdown was Flynn firing a 66-yard pass deep to James Jones on third and 7 as Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Devin McCourty collided, allowing Jones to run for the touchdown in the second quarter to give the Packers a 10-7 lead. It was one of 11 third downs the Packers offense converted (11 of 19).

“There were a lot of plays in the game that we have to do a better job of,’’ Belichick said yesterday. “Like I said [Sunday night], I’ve got to do a better job in coaching the team and preparing them and making sure that plays like that and the onside kick and strip sacks and stuff like that — that stuff can’t happen. It can’t happen or it will kill us.’’

The Patriots were flagged seven times for 52 yards against the Packers. While the numbers didn’t come close to a season high, the infractions came at critical moments.

After starting 0-8, the Bills have gone 4-2, and handed the host Dolphins a 17-14 loss Sunday. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played at Harvard, has completed 59 percent of his passes (237 of 404) and thrown for 23 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick made his first start of the season in a 38-30 loss against the Patriots in Week 3.

“Buffalo has been playing some tough games all year,’’ Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “All year they have been playing pretty good ball. They have put up some good points and they are very explosive on offense.

“Fitzpatrick, he has been throwing the heck out of the ball. The running game, [Fred] Jackson is probably one of the most underrated backs in the league. We are going to have to play some ball. Especially in a division game, you can’t look at a record and say, ‘This is a win.’ ’’

With two games remaining in the regular season, Wilfork didn’t have any problems with how the Patriots won Sunday night. Instead, he is hopeful the results will be more convincing in the future.

“The game wasn’t perfect, but at the end of the day Ws are what count,’’ Wilfork said. “Good teams find a way to win, especially in December.

“At times we did it well and at times we didn’t. You saw, people rose to the occasion. When the offense needed to score they scored, and when we needed to make a stop we made a stop. Special teams came up big, so I am not sad with a victory.

“I am not worried about how we won, but there are things that we can clean up and get better at. We won, we will look at corrections and move on, because we are going to have to win more ballgames than this if we want to get where we want to be.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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