ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Once Tom Brady started connecting with his favorite receivers, there was nothing wrong with the New England Patriots.
Brady led six straight touchdown drives in the second half to lead New England to a 52-28 rout of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The Patriots (2-2) overcame a sloppy first half and a 21-7 third-quarter deficit to avoid their first three-game skid in 10 years.
Brady finished 22 of 36 for 340 yards and three touchdowns, plus one rushing.
Cornerback Devin McCourty had two interceptions in keying a defense that forced six turnovers and had three sacks.
Two familiar star receivers — Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski — played key roles in helping the Patriots finish with 580 yards offense, 358 coming in the second half.
Welker had nine catches for 129 yards, and Gronkowski had five for 104 yards and a touchdown as both players bounced back from first-half fumbles.
Brady tied the game at 21 with a 4-yard run, during a drive in which Welker had three catches – all for first downs. He then needed only five plays to cover 63 yards, capping the next drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski for the go-ahead score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Gronkowski, who grew up just outside of Buffalo, has now scored eight times in five games against the Bills.
And the Patriots’ dominance of their AFC East rivals goes well beyond that.
New England improved to 17-1 in its past 18 meetings against Buffalo, and 22-2 dating to the 2000 season. The Patriots lost their last trip to Orchard Park, 34-31 after blowing a 21-0 lead.
This time it was the Bills turn to unravel after building a 21-7 lead on their first possession of the third quarter, when Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones for a 68-yard catch and run.
Nothing else went right. Buffalo combined for just two first downs and 31 yards on its next four drives, two of which ended with turnovers.
Fitzpatrick finished 22 of 39 for 350 yards and four scores – including two to Scott Chandler.
The Bills high-priced and revamped defense produced a significant dud. Defensive end Mario Williams – who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in March – and company managed one sack and allowed the most points Buffalo’s given up since a 56-10 loss to New England on Nov. 18, 2007.
More embarrassing, the 580 yards allowed were the second most in team history, just short of the 598 Buffalo allowed 34-31 win at San Francisco in 1992.
The Bills offense sagged despite the return of its two top running backs. Fred Jackson had 13 carries for 29 yards and three catches for 50 yards, but lost a fumble in his first game back since spraining his right knee in a season-opening loss at the New York Jets.
C.J. Spiller didn’t fare much better. He had 33 yards on eight carries, and also lost a fumble at the goal line late in the second half that prevented Buffalo from building a 21-7 lead. Spiller played a week after hurting his left shoulder in a 24-14 win at Cleveland.
The win was the 194th of Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s career, moving him into eighth place on the NFL list, one ahead of Chuck Knox.
The Patriots comeback began with their second possession of the second half, when Brady hit Danny Woodhead for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
With game tied at 21, the Patriots go-ahead scoring drive came as a result of a Bills rookie punter Shawn Powell’s wobbly 28-yard punt. New England got the ball back at its own 37, and needed only five plays to score.
Powell was making his NFL debut days after replacing veteran Brian Moorman last week.
Brandon Lloyd scored on a 25-yard catch and Brandon Bolden scored on a 7-yard run for New England.