Drew Bledsoe raised his broken finger in yet another dramatic triumph, the white tape bright against the dark sky.
The Buffalo Bills raised their voices in anger at a yellow penalty flag that had given the Patriots a second chance.
For the second game in a row, Bledsoe threw the winning touchdown pass with a broken finger on Sunday as the New England Patriots won, 25-21, with no time left on a completion to Ben Coates in the back of the end zone.
“Guess you can start the jokes now,” said Bledsoe, who played with a splint. “Why didn’t I break my finger in preseason? I don’t know if I can take too many more of these.”
Bledsoe and the Patriots were the happy recipients of what the Bills claimed was a gift from the officials. They said Shawn Jefferson was out of bounds on a 10-yard catch that gave the Patriots a first down at the Buffalo 26 with six seconds left. And they were livid about an end zone interference call against safety Henry Jones that gave New England one more play.
“We were robbed,” Jones said. “Terry Glenn jumped for the ball, but no one even grabbed him.”
Coates made his touchdown catch on the next play and, with the Bills already in the locker room, kicker Adam Vinatieri ran for a two-point conversion against no opposition as the Patriots (7-5) stayed in contention for a playoff berth.
“Well, [the officials] gave them the game,” Buffalo Coach Wade Phillips said. “They might as well give them the extra point.”
But it was Bledsoe who hurt the Bills the most after Doug Flutie led them back from a 14-0 deficit to a 21-17 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed with 6:14 left.
“Drew played with a lot of heart,” Flutie said.
Last Monday night, Bledsoe fractured his right index finger on the winning drive leading to his 25-yard touchdown pass to Jefferson with 29 seconds left in a 26-23 victory over Miami. On Sunday, he was seven for 10 passing on the final drive which covered 82 yards.
“With a broken finger, to find the strength [to do that] really demonstrates the type of athlete he is,” cornerback Ty Law said. “He’s the leader of our team.”
Bledsoe completed 28 of 43 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
The victory tied the Patriots with the Bills (7-5), one game behind Miami and the New York Jets in the AFC East.
“Maybe,” New England Coach Pete Carroll said, “there are no odds that we can’t overcome.”