Pats Find New Ways to Win
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates his go-ahead touchdown pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) with Julian Edelman, hugging Brady, in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots' Kyle Arrington (25) celebrates with Nate Ebner, right, after he recovered an onside kick by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signals for his team to attempt a two-point conversion against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, speaks to Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, right, after an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, celebrates his go-ahead touchdown pass with center Ryan Wendell (62) in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Foxborough, Mass. — 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 (Sunday),” 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 7½ 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.