FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The return of linebacker Tedy Bruschi was inspirational, but it didn’t cure all the New England Patriots’ ailments.

“There’s certainly was room for improvement there,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday, after the Patriots rallied from nine points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Buffalo Bills, 21-16, on Sunday night. “I’m not saying that was any masterpiece.”

It was good enough, though, to solidify the Patriots’ hold on first place in the AFC East. At 4-3 they have the upper hand on division foes Miami (3-4), Buffalo (3-5) and the New York Jets (2-5).

They also have Bruschi back, 81/2 months after the linebacker suffered a mild stroke days after playing in his first Pro Bowl. He later had surgery to repair a small hole in his heart.

The defensive captain logged plenty of playing time in his return because the Bills held the ball for almost 40 minutes. He was credited with seven tackles, and several teammates said his presence energized them.

“It was certainly a positive having him out there,” Belichick said. “I’m sure he’ll play a little bit better the next time. It was his first time out all year. He’s got a little bit of catching up to do, but he still gave us a good lift and performed well.”

Even though Bruschi only started practicing two weeks ago, he regularly has attended defensive meetings since training camp and has been working out at the team’s facility for several months.

With Bruschi back, the defense rediscovered its knack for the big play.

They forced two turnovers, including Rosevelt Colvin’s sack and fumble recovery that set up the winning score. Cornerback Asante Samuel’s third-quarter interception was the Patriots’ first takeaway in 17 quarters, dating back to Week 3 win in Pittsburgh.

The Patriots also forced the Bills to settle for field goals on each of their three trips inside the 20-yard line. New England entered the game with the league’s worst red zone defense.

On the other hand, the Patriots allowed 147 yards on the ground. They also let Eric Moulds catch nine passes for 125 yards and watched Buffalo convert seven of its 14 third-down opportunities.

The Patriots know those numbers don’t bode well for next Monday’s home game against unbeaten Indianapolis. The Patriots know they will have to contain Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison.

“We can do a lot of things better,” linebacker Willie McGinest said. “We have one of the best teams – if not the best team – in football right now coming in here next week. We have our hands full. If we don’t get better, there are going to be some problems.”

AP-ES-10-31-05 1500EST


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.