FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Butch Davis would have liked the Cleveland Browns chances of pulling off a win in New England this week had he known his defense would give up just three field goals all afternoon.
"You've got to feel like if you can hold people to just three field goals, you put yourself in a position to try and win that game," said Davis.
You might think that.
But then, playing with just four of the 11 players on this year's projected starting lineup, the banged-up Browns offense couldn't find its way to the end zone either in a 9-3 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Despite all the injuries, the Browns (3-5) somehow found themselves in a familiar position with a chance to pull out a win as the clock wound down. In the 41 games coached by Davis since 2001, 26 have now been decided in the final minute. Unfortunately for the Browns, they are just 11-15 in those tight games.
The Browns hopes for a last-minute prayer were ended with 51 seconds on the clock by Patriots cornerback Ty Law, who intercepted an under-thrown pass from Kelly Holcomb to Kevin Johnson at the Patriots' 25-yard line.
"I was just trying to make a play and it didn't happen," said Holcomb, who came off the bench in the second quarter, bad ankle and all, when starting quarterback Tim Couch was knocked out of the game with a sprained thumb.
The gusting 22-mile-per-hour winds didn't help the ball reach its target, and when the throw came up short, it turned into a jump ball between Law and Johnson.
"He just put the ball up there, and it was up for grabs," said Law. "It was like let the best man win."
Those odds couldn't have been good for a Browns offense that didn't have most of its best players.
With left tackle Barry Stokes and left guard Shaun O'Hara not even making the trip because of injuries, the Browns were forced into a patchwork line that featured Joaquin Gonzalez at left tackle and Enoch DeMar at left guard. For Gonzalez, it was his first career start. For DeMar, it was his first NFL action, period.
"Some people stepped up today," said Davis. "Some guys on the offensive line who three and a half months ago people questioned whether or not they should be in the NFL, or be on a professional team.
"Given the set of circumstances and some of the adversity that they faced during the course of the week, I thought they showed up and competed as hard as they possibly could."
They may have played hard, but the Browns inexperience up front was just an open invitation for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to attack Couch and Holcomb with wave after wave of pressure.
"Mike had a little bit of freedom in the pass rush," said Belichick. "We used him some coming off different edges and a little bit up the middle. I thought that we took advantage of his quickness getting off the ball."
With Vrabel wreaking havoc, the Patriots defense allowed the Browns offense to cross midfield just once all day. Holcomb led that lone drive into New England territory running a hurry-up-offense in the closing minute of the first half and resulting in a 29-yard field goal by Phil Dawson that tied the game at 3 just 24 seconds before the half.
"We found a little bit of consistency and had a little momentum going into the half, but that is a good defense over there," said Holcomb, who completed 15-of-25 passes for 115 yards and the one interception. "They made some changes and did a few things differently in the second half ... I got confused a couple of times."
One of those moments of confusion hit in the opening minute of the fourth quarter when Holcomb tried to hurry a snap to beat the play clock. As Holcomb looked away to motion for a receiver to go in motion, center Melvin Fowler, who was making his second consecutive start in place of the injured Jeff Faine, snapped the ball over his head.
The miscommunication between Holcomb and Fowler resulted in a big 20-yard loss on a critical third down. The Browns were trailing 6-3 and had the ball at midfield, needing 5 yards for a first down and threatening to sneak into Patriots territory for the second time in the game.
"There were a couple times where we had communication problems, where the offensive line couldn't hear me," said Holcomb. "That's my fault. I have to go up and down the line ... On that play, Melvin and I weren't on the same page, and it's my job to make sure we are."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was on the same page all day with his tight end Daniel Graham, who pulled in seven passes for 110 yards. Prior to Sunday, Graham had just nine catches for 104 yards on the entire season.
"Everybody's been waiting for Daniel to really step up and do these type of things," said Brady, who completed 20-of-33 passes for 259 yards. ""We had a lot of plays that were going to him."
Still, Graham only helped set up one score, catching a 38-yard seam pass to help set up a 28-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri that broke the 3-3 tie with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter.
Vinatieri also booted a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 38-yarder to put the Patriots (6-2) ahead 9-3 with just 2:05 to play in the game.