The New England Patriots defense in 2011 was one of the worst in the NFL. So far in 2012 they haven’t been much better. But with an offense that has failed to score a touchdown in seven of their ten games, the defense has been counted on to hold late leads. On Sunday, they made big plays which secured a Patriots win over the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots went into the fourth quarter Sunday with a 31-24 lead and in another game where offensive production was sparse late the defense was depended upon to win the game. The defense has been asked to do this before this season but usually has been unable to do so. On Sunday, they were successful.
The first key stop for the Patriots came early in the fourth quarter. After the offense was held to a field goal the Patriots led by ten, 34-24. Buffalo responded by driving 93-yards and were about to cut the lead to three before the stop. Bills star running back C.J. Spiller took a screen pass for 25 yards to the Patriots 13. The next play was for the Bills other running back, Fred Jackson. Jackson stumbled inside the Patriots 5-yard line and was about to stumble into the end zone before Patriots safety Steve Gregory reached in and knocked the ball loose at the 1-yard line. Cornerback Kyle Arrington recovered the fumble. Originally Jackson was called down by contact just shy of the goal line but after Patriots head coach Bill Belichick challenged, the call was overturned.
After the Patriots offense was again stopped and forced to kick a field goal extending their lead to six with 2:06 remaining, the defense was counted on to make one more stop. The Patriots nearly made that stop shortly into the drive. Starting at their own 20, the Bills had entered Patriots territory and were moving the ball successfully. On second and ten from the Patriots 44-yard line, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed a short pass to Jackson who gained nine yards. But on the tackle, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes jarred the ball loose. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Bills fullback Corey McIntyre was the first to jump on the ball.
After a pair of completions that put the Bills on the Patriots 15-yard line, the defense did make their key stop. With 33 seconds remaining and a second and ten from the Patriots 15, Fitzpatrick took a shot at the end zone aiming for wide receiver T.J. Graham. But before the ball could reach the waiting receiver Devin McCourty, who had been moved from cornerback to safety for Sunday’s game, stepped in front and made the game winning interception in the end zone.
The Patriots offense has been unable to convert during the fourth quarter of multiple games this season which has put pressure on the defense to make stops. In the past the defense has been unable to make those stops but on Sunday they came through. The takeaways by the Patriots defense turned a possible devastating loss into a key win that keeps the team in first place in the AFC East. Sunday’s win is a very positive sign for the Patriots because they now know that if the offense continues to struggle late, the defense can seal the win.