FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 11: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots prepares to throw in the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 11, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
It wasn't pretty, but this is the NFL. It doesn't have to be pretty. The Patriots held off the wily Bills and, thanks to a Devin McCourty interception in the end zone with 28 seconds remaining, New England held on to win, 37-31, and move to 6-3 on the season.
There will be questions, of course. The defense had three sacks, two forced fumbles (one at their one-yard line) and the game-deciding interception, but they also allowed a beleaguered Buffalo offense to go up and down the field. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- 27-of-40 for 337 yards (2 TDs, 1 INT) and Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller -- combined for 150 yards on the ground.
But on this day, two offensive old-timers, quarterback Tom Brady and wideout Deion Branch, acknowledge that the defense won it for them.
"The defense really saved the day," Brady said. "We certainly had more opportunities out there to score more points and we didn't. The defense made a couple great plays there at the end."
"We put a lot of pressure on our defense by not going out and finishing the game," Branch added. "There were a couple of times that we have put them away and we didn't … Thanks to our defense. They did a great job of saving us."
Not everyone was jazzed by the defense's effort. Specifically: Fitzpatrick, who took a hard hit from linebacker Brandon Spikes that left him without his helmet and not happy about it.
"I think the biggest thing is we're not going to back down from anybody," Fitzpatrick said after the game. "I think that Spikes is an emotional player. I think that he's a punk, at times. (Spike) took a cheap shot at (tight end) Scott (Chandler) in the first game (the teams played this season). He was doing a lot of jabbering and talking and hitting out there. (He's) not one of my favorite players, not high on my list."
Spikes and Fitzgerald might not be sharing eggnog this holiday season, but that's OK. The Pats now have a two-game lead in the division over the Dolphins, who were blown out by the Titans on Sunday. The Jets also lost (3-6), which puts them in a tie for last place with the Bills.
As you might expect of a Bill Belichick-coached team, the players see plenty of room for improvement.
"We have a lot of work to do if we want to be the team that we know we can," Branch said. … "We're a lot better than what we put out on the football field today."
And Brady was very Brady-like in his assessment: "It's frustrating when we don't play as well as we're capable of."
Good news: when you don't play your best football and still have a comfortable lead in the division, and remain are on pace for a first-round playoff bye. There are worse fates -- like every other team in the AFC East.