Patriots keep winning with comebacks

The New England Patriots are making the amazing look

automatic.

Week after week, comeback after unlikely comeback, they startle

fans and foes by finding strange ways to win.

They overcame a 24-point halftime deficit then recovered their

overtime punt after it bounced off an opponent and kicked the

winning field goal against Denver.

They came back from 10 points behind at halftime and won on a

53-yard field goal with just over three minutes left against

Houston.

They scored two touchdowns in 30 seconds with the help of a rare

recovered onside kick against Cleveland.

And that’s just in their past three games.

”Sometimes the stars align in your favor,” special teams

captain Matthew Slater said Monday. ”We’ve been real blessed this

year to have the ball bounce our way and we’re just going to go

with it. We’re not going to question the why of it.”

A charmed life, perhaps?

”There’s no charm in winning in the NFL,” defensive end Rob

Ninkovich said. ”You fight hard for four quarters and you come out

with the win.”

What makes the Patriots’ late-game success even more remarkable

is that they’ve achieved it without some of their best players.

Defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, linebacker

Jerod Mayo and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer were on injured

reserve for the past three games.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski joined them there Monday after

suffering an injured right knee midway through the third quarter

Sunday with Cleveland leading 12-0.

Even without him, the Patriots beat the Browns 27-26 with a

comeback crammed into a bizarre final 61 seconds:

– A 2-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman.

– A 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for a hit on

Edelman.

– Because of that penalty, an onside kick from the 50-yard line

instead of the New England 35 that was recovered by the

Patriots.

– A defensive pass interference call that moved the ball from

the Cleveland 30 to the 1.

– The go-ahead scoring pass to Danny Amendola on the next

play.

– And, finally, a failed 58-yard field goal attempt by

Cleveland’s Billy Cundiff.

Even Slater had to wonder why the Patriots have been able to

rally in so many games so late.

”Especially after yesterday,” he said. ”It took a lot for us

to pull that one out.”

It helped that the Patriots (10-3) have plenty of experience in

close games, keep practicing situations that rarely come up just in

case they do and have Brady at quarterback.

They’re 7-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer this

season.

A 30-27 win over the then-unbeaten New Orleans Saints in the

Patriots sixth game was a hint of what was to come.

The Patriots trailed 27-23 when they got the ball with 73

seconds and no timeouts left at their 30.

A 9-yard completion on fourth down gave them a first down at the

Saints 17. The Patriots rushed to the line and Brady spiked the

ball, stopping the clock with 10 seconds remaining.

Then he lofted a 17-yard pass to undrafted rookie Kenbrell

Thompkins for the winning touchdown with 5 seconds to go.

”We just knew that it was going to come down to the last

minute,” Thompkins said. ”Until that clock said all zeros on it,

we were going to fight.”

Their latest run of rallies began on Nov. 24 when the Patriots

trailed Denver 24-0 at halftime.

Then they scored on their first five series of the second half

and won 34-31 after Ryan Allen’s punt bounced right into the

Broncos’ Tony Carter and was recovered by Nate Ebner. Three plays

later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal.

Seven days later, another bad first half left them trailing the

lowly Houston Texans 17-7. They still trailed 31-28 before

Gostkowski kicked two 53-yard field goals in the last 7 1/2

minutes.

The Patriots also have been on the losing end of some wacky

finishes.

They lost to the New York Jets 30-27 in overtime when Nick Folk

got another chance at a field goal after Patriots defensive tackle

Chris Jones was penalized for pushing a teammate into the offensive

line when Folk missed his first attempt.

And they fell 24-20 to the Carolina Panthers when the officials

picked up a flag thrown for pass interference against Panthers

linebacker Luke Kuechly when he wrapped up Gronkowski in the end

zone as Brady threw to his tight end on the last play.

But that onside kick on Sunday?

Never in their 54-year history had the Patriots scored the

winning points on the possession after recovering one.

”My job is to get it 10 yards and give the team a chance.

That’s what I did and the ball bounced our way,” Gostkowski said.

”I’ve never been that jacked up after a game. I don’t celebrate

too much after field goals, but when we get an onside kick, I was

all over the place.

”I probably looked like an idiot out there.”

There’s a first time for everything.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org