Patriots notch last-second win in half-empty stadium

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Too bad all those Patriots fans who left Gillette Stadium in disgust when their team was down didn’t wait a minute.

Because that’s all Tom Brady needed.

Fans left in a half-empty stadium roared when the two-time NFL MVP threw the winning touchdown pass with 5 seconds left. Those who left beat the traffic while the Patriots were beating the Saints, 30-27.

Coming off one of his worst games, Brady threw the decisive 17-yard pass to rookie free agent Kenbrell Thompkins, knocking New Orleans from the unbeaten ranks Sunday.

“Guys made big-time catches,” Brady said. “It was just a great game.”

Slowly but steadily, new pass-catchers have made their mark after the Patriots lost their top five receivers from last season’s highest-scoring NFL team. Now Brady’s throwing to Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola and Austin Collie.

“I have confidence in those guys,” Brady said. “We’re certainly not perfect out there. We’re definitely just grinding.”

Many fans had abandoned hope and left Gillette Stadium by the time the Patriots it out. But at Fenway Park, some 30 miles away, a big cheer went up at Game 2 of the AL championship series between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers when Thompkins jumped for the winning pass.

“Coach Bill said that it might come down to the final seconds,” Thompkins said. “You had to stick with the system. We just had to go out there and fight to the finish.”

The Saints (5-1) had taken a 24-23 lead with 3:29 remaining on Drew Brees’ 34-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills and the extra point, but couldn’t put away New England.

The Patriots (5-1) survived an interception by Keenan Lewis on their first snap after Garrett Hartley’s 39-yard field goal made it 27-23.

Brady started the winning 70-yard drive, with no timeouts, with completions of 23 yards to Julian Edelman, 15 to Collie and 6 to Dobson for a first down at the Saints 26. But he threw two incompletions before connecting with Collie for a 9-yard gain on fourth down and a first down at the 17.

He spiked the ball to stop the clock, then sent his receivers deep.

“We had everybody going to the end zone and (Thompkins) kind of snuck into the corner and I put it up there for him and he came down and made a great catch,” Brady said.

Thompkins outfought cornerback Jabari Greer in the left side of the end zone.

“That’s something that you’ll replay in your mind for a long time,” Greer said. “We fought hard, we’re resilient, and it happens like that. For it to happen to me, I’ll just have to bear the burden for this week.”

The Patriots were headed for their second straight loss one week after the Cincinnati Bengals beat them 13-6. Brady’s streak of 52 regular-season games with at least one touchdown pass ended in that defeat; Brees holds the NFL record with 54.

Brady completed 25-of-43 passes for 269 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It was the 38th time he’d led the Patriots to victory after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter. One week earlier, he was just 18-for-38 for 197 yards and a passer rating of 52.2

New England continued the strong defense it’s played all year by holding star tight end Jimmy Graham without a catch for the first time in 46 games, dating back to the middle of his rookie season in 2010. He limped off the field after Kyle Arrington intercepted a pass intended for him, but returned.

“The one thing they do a good job with is they disrupt you at the line of scrimmage really better than anyone,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “They do a really good job of getting hands on receivers and tight ends.”

Packers 19, Ravens 17

BALTIMORE — Aaron Rodgers threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, Mason Crosby kicked four field goals and Green Bay held on to beat Baltimore.

Eddie Lacy rushed for 120 yards to fuel the Packers’ first road win of the season. Green Bay (3-2) took a 16-3 lead into the fourth quarter and was up 19-10 with 4 minutes left, but the Ravens (3-3) kept coming back.

After Baltimore closed to 19-17 on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Dallas Clark with 2:04 remaining, Rodgers clinched the victory with a 52-yard completion to Jermichael Finley on a third-and-3.

Rodgers went 17-for-32 for 315 yards.

Despite playing without injured linebacker Clay Matthews, the Packers limited Baltimore to 47 yards rushing and registered five sacks, including three by A.J. Hawk.

Broncos 35, Jaguars 19

DENVER — Peyton Manning threw for two scores and Knowshon Moreno ran for three to lead Denver to a tougher-than-expected victory over winless Jacksonville.

The Broncos (6-0) came in as 27-point favorites, and much of the pregame hype centered on whether they’d cover the spread and when Manning would come out of the game.

Neither happened.

Manning finished 28-for-42 for 295 yards, but lost two fumbles and threw a pick-6 — a 59-yard interception return by Paul Posluszny that pulled the Jaguars (0-6) within 14-12 at halftime.

It was a two-point game late in the third quarter, before Moreno scored his last touchdown, an 8-yard run, for a 28-19 lead. Moreno finished with 42 yards.

Justin Blackmon had 14 catches for 190 yards for Jacksonville.

Steelers 19, Jets 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ben Roethlisberger threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, Shaun Suisham kicked four field goals, and Pittsburgh won its first game of the season.

The Steelers (1-4) were off to their worst start since 1968, when they lost their first six games during a season in which they finished 2-11-1. Sunday’s victory was also the 600th in franchise history, including the postseason, as Pittsburgh became only the fourth team to reach the milestone.

Geno Smith was intercepted twice by a Steelers defense that entered the game as the only team in the league without a takeaway.

Panthers 35, Vikings 10

MINNEAPOLIS — Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score, and Carolina romped past Minnesota.

The Vikings (1-4) trailed the whole game. Matt Cassel threw two interceptions, both to Mike Mitchell, and the Panthers (2-3) responded each time with a touchdown.

49ers 32, Cardinals 20

SAN FRANCISCO — Vernon Davis caught touchdown passes of 61 and 35 yards and finished with a career-best 180 yards receiving, leading San Francisco to its third straight victory.

Colin Kaepernick threw for 252 yards and Frank Gore ran for 101 yards on 25 carries.

Kendall Hunter ran for a 6-yard touchdown that sealed it for the 49ers (4-2) with 6:35 remaining.

Rookie safety Eric Reid made his team-leading third interception and also recovered a fumble to stop an Arizona drive deep in 49ers territory in the third quarter. San Francisco forced four turnovers for the second straight game.

Arizona (3-3) lost star defensive end Calais Campbell to an apparent right leg injury late in the game.

Seahawks 20, Titans 13

SEATTLE — Marshawn Lynch ran for two touchdowns and had 155 all-purpose yards, Richard Sherman came up with his third interception of the season, and Seattle finally shook Tennessee in the fourth quarter.

Seattle (5-1) won its 11th straight at home despite a long list of mistakes that allowed the Titans (3-3) to hang around into the fourth. There was a careless turnover, missed defensive assignments and a comical muffed field goal attempt that led to the Titans’ only touchdown on the final play of the first half.

But the Seahawks made enough plays thanks to Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson and Sherman’s interception to remain on top of the NFC West. Lynch had TD runs of 3 yards and 1 yard.

Bengals 27, Bills 24

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Mike Nugent hit a 43-yard field goal with 6:44 left in overtime to give the Bengals the win.

Brandon Tate’s 29-yard punt return to the Bills 33 set up the decisive score. Andy Dalton went 26-of-40 for 337 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. He bounced back after a two-game touchdown drought and led the Bengals (4-2) to their first road win of the season.

The Bills (2-4) were led by quarterback Thad Lewis, starting in place of injured rookie E.J. Manuel. Lewis went 19-of-32 for 216 yards and two touchdowns after being promoted off the practice squad last week. Both touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter, including a 40-yarder to Marquise Goodwin with 1:08 remaining.

Lewis also scored a touchdown rushing in making only his second career start.

Lions 31, Browns 17

CLEVELAND — Matthew Stafford threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half, rallying Detroit.

The Lions (4-2) outscored the Browns 24-0 in the second half, sealing their win when Stafford hooked up with tight end Joseph Fauria with 2:01 left. Fauria caught three TD passes for the Lions, who played like a completely different team in the second half after being dominated up front and trailing 17-7 at the half.

The Browns (3-3) had their chances at a comeback end when quarterback Brandon Weeden’s baffling shovel pass with 4:36 left was intercepted by linebacker DeAndre Levy.

Lions running back Reggie Bush finished with 135 total yards, 121 in the second half.

Stafford finished 25-of-43 for 248 yards.

Eagles 31, Buccaneers 20

TAMPA, Fla. — Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth, leading Philadelphia over winless Tampa Bay.

Foles finished a long first-quarter scoring drive with a 4-yard run and threw TD passes of 12 and 36 yards to DeSean Jackson.

With the injured Michael Vick active but not playing, Foles made his seventh career start and beat the Bucs (0-5) for the second time. He was 1-5 as a rookie a year ago, with that victory also coming at Tampa Bay.

But unlike last December, he didn’t have to throw a last-second TD pass for the win. He gave the Eagles (3-3) the lead for good with a 47-yard scoring pass to Riley Cooper in the third quarter, then gave his team breathing room with his second TD pass to Jackson.

Cowboys 31, Redskins 16

ARLINGTON, Texas — Dwayne Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown and set up another score with a 90-yard kickoff return as the Cowboys handed Robert Griffin III his first loss in his home state with a victory against the Redskins.

Tony Romo had just 170 yards passing a week after getting 506 in a wild 51-48 loss to Denver.

That’s because Harris had 222 total return yards and Kyle Wilber forced and recovered a fumble on a sack of Griffin that left the Cowboys needing just 3 yards for a clinching score in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys (3-3) gave owner Jerry Jones a win on his 71st birthday.

Dallas kept the defending NFC East champ Redskins (1-4) from building any momentum after a win and a bye following an 0-3 start.

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