Ever so slowly, ever so tediously, the New England Patriots a
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Ever so slowly, ever so tediously, the New England Patriots are learning to win the close ones.
Leonard Russell capped an 80-yard drive by bursting 4 yards up the middle with two minutes left Sunday as the Patriots came from behind to beat Cleveland 20-17, burying what was left of the Browns’ playoff hopes.
″We’ve been saying all year that we’re just a play or two away here or there,″ New England coach Bill Parcells said. ″Unfortunately, the majority of the time these plays have gone against us. Today they didn’t.″
Cleveland (6-8) has lost six of the last seven to spoil a 5-2 start. The Browns will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
New England (3-11) won its second straight, after it had lost seven in a row - six of them by less than a touchdown. Eight of the Patriots’ 11 losses this season have been by six points or less; two were in overtime.
″We’ve been in position to win before, but we haven’t gotten it done,″ said Drew Bledsoe, New England’s rookie quarterback. ″That’s what makes it so important for us to get a win like this against a good team.″
Former Cleveland kicker Matt Bahr, signed by New England after being cut by Philadelphia last week, was perfect on field goals of 23 yards in the second quarter and 34 yards in the third. He replaced the erratic Scott Sisson, who was inactive Sunday. Matt Stover hit a 23-yarder for Cleveland.
Vinny Testaverde was brilliant for the Browns most of the afternoon, but the game turned around when he threw interceptions on his last two passes late in the fourth quarter.
Dion Lambert’s interception in the end zone killed Cleveland’s threat with 4:50 left and set up the Patriots’ winning drive. Kevin Turner took over from there, bursting 49 yards through the right side of the line and adding a 9- yard run that took the ball to the Cleveland 13.
The 49-yard run, on a first-and-15 draw play, was Turner’s longest since high school, and the longest by a Patriot this season.
″I broke through their first wave and caught a couple of their DBs off guard,″ Turner said. ″There was quite a bit of room there.″
A third-down defensive holding penalty on Cleveland’s Mike Johnson gave New England a first down at the 4, and Russell took it the rest of the way for the winning points with 2:02 left.
Maurice Hurst then intercepted Testaverde near midfield on the Browns’ next play from scrimmage, sealing it for New England.
″The one play that really stands out in my mind is the interception in the end zone,″ said Testaverde, who was playing in his third game since returning from a separated shoulder. ″The arm is fine. I’m healthy. There’s no excuses for the balls I threw. They were just poor decisions.″
The matchup between Parcells and Cleveland’s Bill Belichick was anything but the conservative, ground-it-out affair that might have been expected from the former New York Giants colleagues.
Testaverde completed 21-of-31 passes for 297 yards, including a pair of 10- yard touchdowns to Keenan McCardell. They were the first career TD catches for McCardell, who started because Michael Jackson had a sprained knee.
Bledsoe threw 47 passes, completing 19 of them for 210 yards. He hit Turner with a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 late in the first half, closing the gap at the time to 14-10.
″I think we understood this was an important game to keep our playoff hopes alive,″ Belichick said. ″Certainly we don’t want to finish the season on a note like we had today. I think we just have to get back to work and finish it on a more upbeat note.″