FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) _ The explosive Buffalo Bills came to town with the NFL's top passer and runner. They left with a loss and a lesson.

New England's defense belted ballcarriers and blanketed receivers. It forced Jim Kelly into a career-high four interceptions, held Thurman Thomas to an inconsequential 89 rushing yards and pounded the Bills back to earth.

''In a scary way, this could be a blessing in disguise,'' Buffalo safety Leonard Smith said after the Patriots won 16-13 on Sunday. ''It will make us just a little more hungry.

''It makes us realize that we just can't turn it on at any time and win it,'' he added. ''We've got to have that killer instinct and go ahead and put teams away.''

The Bills (10-2) have battered most opponents with an offense that had averaged 31.1 points per game, second-best in the NFL before Sunday. They would have clinched a wild-card playoff berth by winning.

Instead, their five-game winning streak ended and their AFC East lead dwindled to three games over the New York Jets (7-5), their opponent next Sunday.

''The defense played good, the special teams played good,'' said Kelly, who completed 26 of 44 passes for 204 yards. ''The offense stunk out the entire Northeast.''

The Patriots (4-8) had plenty to do with that, sacking Kelly four times and holding the Bills to their second-lowest point total of the season. They even survived six sacks against quarterback Hugh Millen and four blocked kicks - two on field goals and one each on a punt and extra point.

Wary of twin threats Andre Reed and James Lofton, New England guarded against the deep strike. Kelly's longest completion went just 14 yards, his shortest long-gainer in any game this year.

''The key was not necessarily Kelly, but controlling Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, his two main guys,'' Patriots linebacker Vincent Brown said. ''Kelly didn't have anybody to go to a lot of times. That's why you saw him back there running around, scrambling for his life.''

The Patriots tried to keep Kelly off-balance by varying their coverages - using several types of zones, a man-to-man coverage and blitzes. They also improved their tackling, a recent problem with their defensive backs.

''Defensively,'' linebacker Andre Tippett said, ''this was our best game of the year.''

''We are a big-play team on offense and we couldn't come up with the big plays,'' Buffalo tight end Keith McKeller said.

The Patriots did.

Millen threw a 50-yard pass to Irving Fryar for a touchdown that cut Buffalo's lead to 10-9 at halftime. Then he threw a 34-yarder to Fryar that set up his own 2-yard quarterback sneak for the winning touchdown with 13:09 left.

That put the Patriots in the unusual position of trying to hold a late lead instead of struggling to overcome one. They had lost their previous four games after comeback attempts in the final minute fell short.

One of those losses was in Buffalo on Nov. 3. Darryl Talley's interception at the Bills' 30 with 46 seconds left preserved their 22-17 win.

Kelly also had trouble in that game, completing only half his passes and throwing two interceptions. Six of his 14 interceptions have been against New England.

''This was a great reward for all those weeks of being close,'' Patriots free safety Fred Marion said. ''You have to be close before you overcome.''

On their final drive, the Bills moved from their 20 with 2:27 left to a third down at the New England 35 with 1:07 to go. Brent Williams then sacked Kelly. On fourth down, Kelly evaded pressure but underthrew a closely covered Lofton. The Patriots then ran out the final 43 seconds.

''Sometimes,'' Bills coach Marv Levy said, ''a .400 hitter goes 0-for-4.''

The Bills had capitalized on high snaps to block two kicks and take a 10-0 lead.

J.D. Williams blocked Charlie Baumann's 51-yard field goal attempt after Tim Goad's high snap. Scott Norwood kicked a 23-yard field goal on Buffalo's next possession.

Steve Tasker blocked Shawn McCarthy's punt after Danny Villa's high snap. That led to a 10-yard pass play from Kelly to Thomas for Buffalo's only touchdown 1:11 into the second quarter.

Baumann kicked a 46-yard field goal on the Patriots' next series. Maurice Hurst's second interception of the game led to Millen's 50-yarder to Fryar 27 seconds before halftime. But Jeff Wright blocked Baumann's extra-point try to preserve a one-point lead.

Norwood's 29-yard field goal gave Buffalo a 13-9 lead late in the third quarter.

On the next series, Millen completed six of eight passes for 59 yards, including a 34-yarder to Fryar that got the ball to the Buffalo 7. A 5-yard completion to Fryar set up Millen's winning touchdown.

''Our offense is trying to get him the ball,'' Millen said of Fryar. ''I'm always thinking, on every pass play, about where he's going to be.''

But the defense was the difference.

''I think,'' Brown said, ''we did a pretty decent job of controlling them.''