BOSTON (CBS) — For much of the afternoon at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the Patriots had nothing. Their defense was playing OK, but with an offense that seemingly couldn’t get anything going at all, and with Rob Gronkowski suffering a serious knee injury, it looked like the Patriots were well on their way to their fourth loss of the season.
Yet in what has become a recurring theme in the 2013 season, the Patriots came back.
Following a Cleveland touchdown with 3:04 left in the game, the Patriots took over at their own 18-yard line, trailing by 12 points. Tom Brady went to work, completing eight of nine passes, the last a strike to Julian Edelman in the back of the end zone, to give the Patriots a prayer.
For that prayer to be answered, Stephen Gostkowski would have had to kick a successful onside … which he did. Gostkowski tapped the ball straight ahead and ran alongside it before Cleveland’s Fozzy Whittaker touched the ball. Kyle Arrington recovered the loose ball, and the Patriots took over at the Cleveland 40-yard line (thanks to a personal foul penalty on Cleveland on the Edelman touchdown).
Brady launched a deep pass to the right side of the end zone intended for Josh Boyce, and as the ball fell incomplete to the turf, so did the official’s yellow flag. The call was for pass interference on Leon McFadden, and it was a highly questionable call. Yet the Patriots — who were on the bad end of a questionable non-call several weeks ago in Carolina — were happy to take it.
Brady hit Danny Amendola on the very next play for the touchdown that would prove to be the game-winner.
“That was awesome. What a game,” Brady said after the 27-26 victory. “Just proud of the guys, fought through a lot of adversity, lot of mental toughness, so we grinded it out. Pretty sweet.”
Brady finished the day with 418 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but even that was close to not being enough. He and the Patriots watched as Billy Cundiff attempted a 59-yard field goal with 1 second left on the clock, but the kick came up short, giving the Patriots the win.
On the troublesome end for the Patriots, the team experienced yet another lackluster first half, and it extended deep into the second half as well. Head coach Bill Belichick and the team, as always, chalked it up to a “lack of execution.” But on the positive side, the Patriots — like they did against the Saints, Broncos and Texans this season — overcame the hole they dug for themselves.
“You never know what’s going to come up, and you never know what’s going to happen in a game. You just have to take them as they come, and you have plays or you have calls or you have things that you prepare for in those situations, and you just have to recognize that this is it and this is what we need to do,” Belichick said. “And I think that really is our entire team, it’s not one guy. I mean, one guy can’t tell 10 other guys what to do on every play. As a team we have to recognize that.
“Overall, our team’s done a reasonably good job of that, particularly today. I mean, that’s about as hard as it gets today, being down by two scores with [2:39] left in the game. We dug ourselves in a big hole, but they made the plays they needed to make to get out of it, so you gotta give them credit for that. That’s what we practice for.”
Brady, who’s come to sound more and more like his head coach in recent years, relayed a similar message.
“We’re not trying to give them those leads and certainly our execution wasn’t great, but we came through when we needed to,” Brady said. “We’ve been playing 60 minutes all year, we’re 10-3, so it was a great win.”
The win was necessary for a team with championship aspirations, but those hopes took a serious hit when Gronkowski was carted off the field with a knee injury, presumed to be a torn ligament. Brady fumbled on the very next play after the injury, and he admitted that like most observers, he didn’t always feel great about the Patriots’ chances of coming back. But he never lost hope, and there’s no stronger indicator of that than his performance in those final minutes.
“It didn’t look good there at that point, and they scored and it didn’t look good,” Brady said of certain fourth-quarter moments. “But we’re just gonna keep fighting. Sometimes you may come up short, but it’s not going to be a lack of effort or toughness. We showed that we have some of that.”
Yet as great as the comeback was, and as much as nobody can take away that 10-3 record from the Patriots, even the reserved Belichick cracked wise at his team’s flair for the dramatic.
“We practice all of these situations, so I think it’s just the recognition that this is what the situation is that we practiced, this is what we need to do in this situation. We have to go out there and try to execute it. I think that’s really the short,” Belichick said. “Probably think we should practice the other stuff and those situations, right? We could do a better job of that.”