No matter how inconsistently the Patriots have played -- particularly on the road -- or what distractions they've faced, one thing remains constant: They can always count on beating their perennial patsy, the Buffalo Bills.
Recap: Gumbel, Dierdorf in Buffalo
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A week after being accused of giving up by Carolina Panthers defenders, Moss bounced back with five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in a 17-10 win Sunday. And Tully Banta-Cain anchored a banged-up defense with a three sacks in a victory that lacked style points, but accomplished what's most important by inching the AFC East-leading Patriots (9-5) closer to clinching a playoff berth.
New England moved two wins ahead of both Miami and the New York Jets after both division rivals lost. Buffalo has lost 13 in a row to New England.
Leave it to Moss to sum up the victory with a defiant statement.
"You all did your talking, now let me do mine," said Moss in addressing reporters for the first time this week; he had one catch for 16 yards in a 20-10 win over Carolina last Sunday. "I've been in this league 12 years, and I've been through a lot. And these shoulders that I have on my body, you can put the earth on it. So just to let you know, I bounced back. I appreciate it."
Moss then left the podium without taking questions.
Tom Brady never had any doubts regarding the receiver.
"He came out and showed what kind of character he has," said Brady, who finished 11 of 23 for a season-worst 115 yards. "He's a very competitive guy. The way he played today, he made some tough catches in traffic."
The Patriots built a 17-3 lead through three quarters, and then wound up hanging on to win their 18th in 19 meetings with the Bills. In the process, New England improved its road record to 2-5, with its only other away victory a 35-7 win over Tampa Bay at London's Wembley Stadium in October.
The Bills (5-9) were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, capping a decade of futility. They'll miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season, tied with Detroit for the longest active drought.
"Very sick of losing to the Patriots," safety Donte Whitner said. "They have a little swagger about themselves because they know they've beaten us so many times."
Actually, the Bills played a big role in beating themselves. Buffalo was undone by 11 penalties for 124 yards, including a pair of pass-interference calls that set up New England's first two TDs.
Whitner was flagged for interfering with Moss at the Bills 3. That set up Brady hitting Moss for a 13-yard touchdown for a 7-3 lead. Laurence Maroney scored on a 1-yard run, a touchdown set up after Buffalo's Reggie Corner was flagged for interfering with Wes Welker on a deep pass into the end zone.
Buffalo's 104 yards in penalties in the first half were the most by an NFL team in an opening half this season.
"It's tough to beat a good football team like New England," said Perry Fewell, whose record as Bills interim coach dropped to 2-3. "But when you kill yourselves with those kind of mistakes, then you lessen the chance of your probability to win."
Buffalo then recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the play was negated by -- what else? -- an offside penalty against rookie Aaron Maybin.
The Patriots' defense proved too much for the Bills despite missing regular linemen Vince Wilfork (foot) and Ty Warren (ankle). After allowing Buffalo to open with a 69-yard march capped by Rian Lindell's 25-yard field goal, New England limited the Bills to 172 yards the rest of the game.
"I don't know about making a statement. We got the job done, and that's the most important thing," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "Winning makes everything better."
A key Patriots defensive series came at the start of the fourth quarter, when Trent Edwards came off the bench to spell Fitzpatrick for Buffalo. The Bills went backward as Edwards went 1 of 2 for minus-1 yard and was sacked by Banta-Cain for a 9-yard loss.
It was Edwards' only series; he hurt his right ankle, forcing Fitzpatrick to return on Buffalo's next possession.
- The Patriots improved to 26-3 in the month of December since the 2003 season.
- Bills CB Terrence McGee left after hurting his right arm during a collision with Moss in the third quarter. S Bryan Scott did not return after sustaining a blow to the head late in the fourth period.
- Bills WR Terrell Owens was limited to two catches for 20 yards, leaving him two receptions short of becoming the sixth NFL player to hit the 1,000 mark.