Stephen Gostkowski kicks four field goals to lead Patriots past Bills

Associated Press

Devin McCourty returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown, and the New England Patriots’ defense smothered the Buffalo Bills’ anemic offense in a 25-6 win on Monday night.

James White scored on a 1-yard run, and the Patriots relied more on Stephen Gostkowski’s leg than on Tom Brady’s arm for their fifth straight win, which improved their AFC East-leading record to 6-2. Brady finished 29 of 45 for 324 yards, but was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season.

Gostkowski hit four of five field-goal attempts, including two from 25 yards after New England drives stalled inside Buffalo's 10.

McCourty sealed the win with 5:54 remaining by intercepting Derek Anderson's pass over the middle intended for LeSean McCoy and taking it to the end zone.

Two plays before the pick, Bills tight end Jason Croom's diving one-handed touchdown catch was negated following a video review. Replays clearly showed Croom never had possession in attempting to make the 25-yard catch, which would have made it a one-score game.

Buffalo lost its third straight and dropped to 2-6 for its worst start since opening the 2010 season with eight losses.

Credit the Bills’ defense for not playing the role of the expected pushover against a Brady-led offense that had scored 38 or more points in each of its past four games.

Buffalo’s problem continued to be an offense that has managed just 87 points this season, and was held to under seven points for the fourth time. Stephen Hauschka accounted for the scoring by hitting field goals from 51 and 47 yards.

Anderson was escorted off the field with 1:25 left when he was sacked by Kyle Van Noy. Anderson was making his second start in place of rookie Josh Allen, who’s listed as week to week with a sprained elbow on his throwing arm.

Anderson finished 22 of 39 for 290 yards with two interceptions.

Brady continued his string of career-long dominance over the Bills by improving to 29-3, extending the NFL record for most wins by a quarterback against one opponent.

The Patriots beat Buffalo for the seventh straight time and improved to 32-5 in their last 37 meetings under coach Bill Belichick.

Bills honor Thomas: Thurman Thomas recalled a phone call he received a couple of weeks ago from former Bills teammate Bruce Smith.

“Do yo know what it means to have your jersey retired?” Smith asked Thomas. “Do you realize the importance?”

“I do now,” Thomas told to a sellout crowd at New Era Field. “Now that I'm here with you, I realize it even more.”

The Bills retired Thomas’ No. 34 during a ceremony at halftime of Monday’s game against the Patriots. He is the third player in Bills history to receive the honor. Jim Kelly had his No. 12 retired in 2001, and Smith’s No. 78 was retired in 2016.

With the lights turned out at the stadium, highlights from Thomas’ Hall of Fame career were shown on the video scoreboard while two spotlights projected 34s onto the field.

Retired ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman introduced Thomas, who was joined by his family on an elevated platform at midfield. His name and number were unveiled on a wall above the east end zone.

“When I look up and see the No. 34 retired under my name, I’ll be reminded that number doesn’t just belong to me,” Thomas said. “It belongs to the Bills fans everywhere.”

Kelly and Smith were among several former teammates who watched the ceremony on the field. Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy and former general manager Bill Polian were also among the group.

Earl Campbell, one of two Hall of Fame running backs, along with Walter Payton, who inspired Thomas to wear No. 34, recorded a video message for the ceremony.

Thomas played 12 of his 13 seasons in Buffalo and is the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (11,938) and yards from scrimmage (16,279). He was voted NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1991 and led the league in yards from scrimmage in four straight seasons from 1989-92.

The Bills put Thomas on their Wall of Fame in 2005, two years before he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Nine other players have worn No. 34 for the Bills, including Cookie Gilchrist, the 1962 American Football League MVP and star of Buffalo’s 1964 AFL championship team.

Oklahoma State College and Willowridge High School in Houston have also honored Thomas by retiring No. 34.

Gronkowski returns: The Patriots got tight end Rob Gronkowski back in their lineup, though rookie running back Sony Michel was inactive for the game.

Gronkowski, who grew up in suburban Buffalo, returned after missing one game with ankle and back injuries.

Michel sat out after hurting his left knee in a 38-31 win at Chicago on Oct. 21. He leads New England with 422 yards rushing, and his absence left the Patriots with two healthy running backs: James White and Kenjon Barner.

Patriots starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower was also inactive after spending the past week practicing on a limited basis due to a knee injury.

Bills running back LeSean McCoy started a day after being cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol.

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