Brady and the offense, minus a consistent running game because of a personnel shortage that had them playing receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at running back, needed the defense to carry the day at New Era Field in front of a frenzied Bills crowd enjoying its first Monday night home game since 2008.
Led by an overpowering performance from defensive end Trey Flowers, disruptive play from linebacker Kyle Van Noy and an 84-yard Devin McCourty interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the defense delivered -- albeit against one of the weakest offensive attacks in the NFL.
After McCourty's interception, Brady led most of the players off the sideline to congratulate him in the end zone, which was a snapshot that reflected what the night was about. McCourty’s score was the first by the Patriots' defense since the 2015 season, a span of 40 games, which had been the longest active drought in the NFL.
“It was a great play and we needed it,” Brady said. “We’ll take the win, however we can get it, try to learn from it, and move on to the next one.”
It sets up one of the most exciting matchups in the NFL next Sunday night: Brady and the Patriots vs. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Foxborough, Massachusetts. It's only the second time the two future Hall of Famers will meet head-to-head.
Chances are good there will be a lot more points scored in that one.
“It’s a big game for us. It’s a great football team. They’re in it every year and Aaron is one of the best to ever play,” Brady said. “So it will be exciting.”
The Patriots, who improved to 6-2 to remain one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC, had entered Monday’s game having scored at least 38 points in each of their past four games, joining the 2014 Cowboys, 2004 Colts, 2000 Rams and 1998 Vikings for the longest single-season streaks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
They would have matched the 1949 Eagles had they scored 38 for a fifth straight week, but it was clear early on that this was going to be an old-school, grind-it-out game.
McCourty said sticking together was a message among players in the celebratory locker room.
“The last couple games, it was our offense scoring and them scoring and our offense coming back and scoring. This was a game where [our offense] was moving the ball but just couldn’t get in the end zone, so we needed to make sure Buffalo didn’t get in the end zone,” McCourty said. “Then we knew once it cracked, we had to take advantage. I thought it was a good job of playing 60 minutes -- a tough game, but finding a way to finish.”
The Patriots played their first game this season without committing a turnover, which was imperative on a night in which the margin for error was thin. That was something they've been talking about for weeks, and in a credit to Buffalo’s defense, the Bills made it tough on Brady & Co. for most of the game.
The Patriots’ defense took care of the rest, knowing a much stiffer test awaits next Sunday, when Rodgers comes to town.