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Patriots rally for win over Cowboys

Brady caps late drive with touchdown pass to Hernandez

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By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / October 16, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH – Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fared better than his brother, Jets head coach Rex Ryan, against Tom Brady and the Patriots, but in the end the result was the same.

Brady led the Patriots to their fifth victory of the season, capping a drive late in the fourth quarter with a game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez with 22 seconds left to defeat the Cowboys 20-16 at Gillette Stadium. It was the 32d come-from-behind win of Brady's career.

"It was great protection, a great catch by Aaron," Brady said. "A lot of guys made big plays on that drive, and we really needed it. We really kind of squandered away some opportunities throughout the game, but we came up big when we needed it."

Rob Ryan, who was Cleveland's defensive coordinator last season when the Patriots were upset by the Browns, now directs a more talented Cowboys unit and showed Brady a number of different looks yesterday that again held the high-octane Patriots offense at bay. Last week, Rex Ryan's Jets couldn't stop the Patriots in a 30-21 loss.

But in the end on Sunday, Rob Ryan’s defense couldn't trump head coach and offensive play-caller Jason Garrett’s conservative end-of-game approach.

The Cowboys were up 16-13 with 3:36 to play after the defense forced Brady and the Patriots into their only three-and-out of the day.

But when Dallas got the ball, rather than trying to slam the door on New England with a touchdown – or even a field goal, which would have necessitated that the Pats get into the end zone when it got the ball back – Garrett called nothing but run plays. The Cowboys went nowhere and punted the ball back to Brady and the Patriots.

Then Brady did what he does best. He led his team on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with the touchdown to Hernandez. The game-winning score was redemption for Hernandez, who earlier fumbled away a catch.

"We came through with some big plays in the clutch. You've got to give the players all the credit in the world. They hung in there," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Brady hit 27 of 41 pass attempts for 289 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions.

"I see this guy work every day. He wants to be perfect. It's hard to be perfect, but the way this guy strives in practice and the way he approaches practice and his work, he can't do anything else but carry everybody else with him," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "He's probably one of the toughest competitors I've ever seen."

Brady and Belichick tied the NFL record for wins by a coach/quarterback tandem with 116. Miami's Don Shula and Dan Marino set the mark.

Hernandez caught eight passes for 68 yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had seven receptions for 74 yards and receiver Wes Welker added six receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hit 26 of 39 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown.

"The defense was really incredible today. That's a good offense, with a lot of damn good football players, so they really buckled down when they needed to, and offensively, we put together a drive when we needed to," Brady said.

The game-winner, an 8-yard strike on second-and-4, wiped away a lot of mistakes for the Patriots offense: Brady was picked off twice, and Hernandez and Matthew Slater both lost fumbles.

It was the first time since that loss in Cleveland last Nov. 7 that New England has been held under 30 points, a streak of 13 regular-season games that was the second-longest such run in NFL history.

Credit also goes to the oft-maligned Pats’ defense, which played well against the Cowboys offense, which has its share of weapons.

"It wasn't perfect, but you know what? We stuck together as a team," Wilfork said. "There wasn't a doubt in my mind that our offense wasn't going to put in that situation in the end of the game. And they did. They came through for us."

Romo did little to help his team, however, missing open receivers several times, including tight end Jason Witten on more than one occasion and receiver Dez Bryant in the end zone late in the game.

The Cowboys were coming off their bye week, but the first half was sloppy at best: the teams were called for a combined eight penalties for 72 yards.

The problem was especially egregious on Dallas’ first scoring drive. Starting at the New England 23 after a Terrence Newman interception – a Brady pass intended for Deion Branch was a bit behind Branch – the Cowboys were actually pushed back seven yards on the possession before settling for a 48-yard field goal from Dan Bailey that tied the score 3-3.

The only positive play was a one-yard run by Felix Jones. Incomplete passes to Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson followed, and then the Pats caught a break when an obvious pass-interference call by Devin McCourty in the end zone was offset by a holding call on Dallas lineman Kyle Kosier.

On the third-down re-do, left tackle Doug Free was whistled for a false start, pushing the Cowboys back another five yards.

On third-and-14 from the 27, Dallas opted for a run play instead of a pass, and it was quickly snuffed out, with Gerard Warren dropping Tashard Choice for a three-yard loss.

After Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots a 6-3 lead with a 26-yard field goal, the Patriots took a 13-3 lead on a five-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Welker.

The Cowboys cut the lead to 13-10 just before halftime when Romo capped an 11-play, 93-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten.

The Cowboys tied it in the third quarter, then took a 16-13 lead when Dan Bailey kicked his third field goal from 26 yards, to cap a nine-play, 60-yard drive.

"We're getting better. Each week, we go in and we improve," Wilfork said of the Patriots' defense. "Going into the bye week, there's a couple things we can work on and continue to improve, but ever since week one, it's been improvement and guys moving forward."

The Patriots have a bye next week before returning to action against the Steelers Oct. 30 in Pittsburgh.

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