He rebounded from a miss off the right upright in regulation and a block early in overtime to hit a 28-yarder with 41 seconds left. The Patriots escaped Houston with a 23-20 victory, extending their winning streak to seven and establishing their best 11-game start at 9-2.
Vinatieri appeared poised to win it for the Patriots in the opening moments of overtime. The Texans' Tony Banks, starting as David Carr sat with a sprained right shoulder, threw an interception right to Mike Vrabel on the first play. But Ramon Walker gave the Texans a stay with the first field goal block in franchise history, coming free from the left side to deflect Vinatieri's 37-yard try.
"At that point I was a little down, but I had faith in our defense," Vinatieri said. "I just wanted another opportunity and I thought the defense would give it to me."
It did, although it took awhile.
The Patriots and Texans (4-7) bogged down in a defensive war that Houston appeared to win when Jamie Sharper's sack forced a punt from the 4-yard line. The Texans set up on the outer edge of Kris Brown's field goal range at the New England 35.
Willie McGinest proceeded to take over, stopping Texans rookie Domanick Davis for no gain, then tackling him for a 5-yard loss. Banks fired incomplete on third down and Houston had to punt back to the Patriots, who didn't give up the ball again.
"We talk a lot on our team about hanging in there and playing 60 minutes of football. Today was what, 74?" Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Brady was 29-of-47 for 368 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions and a lost fumble -- plus a 38-yard miss off the right upright by Vinatieri just before halftime -- kept the Texans in the game. Kevin Faulk had eight catches for 108 yards and 80 yards rushing for New England.
Banks, who helped beat Buffalo 12-10 last week after Carr was injured in the first quarter, was just 10-of-25 for 93 yards with two touchdowns. The Patriots outgained the Texans 472-169, though it didn't show on the scoreboard.
"We never thought that we were out of it the whole game," Texans receiver Jabar Gaffney said. "We were just doing little things to keep ourselves out of it."
Houston looked poised to go on its first winning streak midway into the fourth quarter when Brady lost the ball on a hit by Kailee Wong and Jay Foreman scooped the fumble and ran 33 yards to the New England 31.
Banks made New England pay when he hit wide-open tight end Billy Miller in the end zone to make it 17-13 with 6:49 left. Houston increased its lead to 20-13 two minutes later when Walker blocked a punt at the Patriots 20 and Brown converted a 31-yard field goal.
"It doesn't matter how you play, if you lose it's all the same," Walker said. "When you know you are a couple of plays from winning, it hurts even more."
The Patriots, who have won nine of 10, rallied with an 80-yard drive that ended with Brady's pass to Graham and Vinatieri's extra point to force overtime.
When New England hunkered down for Vinatieri's 37-yard field goal try three minutes into overtime, Walker juked around a blocker and batted the ball.
"I gave him an up-and-in move, got in free and laid down for the block," Walker said.
Houston took an early lead on Kris Brown's 19-yard field goal after the Patriots made a three-play defensive stand at their 1. The score capped a 79-yard drive, but Houston lost a combined 14 yards on its other possessions of the first half.
Eric Brown appeared to stop the Pats on their next drive with an interception in front of his goal line, but Johnson stripped and recovered the ball at the 7 to set up a 21-yard field goal.
The Texans tied it 10-10 late in the third quarter when Marcus Coleman returned an interception to the New England 11 and Banks found Andre Johnson for a 10-yard score.
- The other time New England started 8-2 was 1978. The Houston Oilers beat them 26-23 in the 11th game.
- Walker's punt block was the second in franchise history.
- The Pats improved to 62-41-1 against teams that make up the AFC South. It's the only division in which New England has an all-time winning record against each team.
The Associated Press News Service
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