FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — It’s one game.
But for New England’s porous defense, holding off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-14 was a step in the right direction.
“We didn’t play perfect,” safety Devin McCourty said after Thursday night’s victory.
“But that’s the thing. We don’t have to play perfect all the time to get a win,” McCourty added. “Just play smart, be on the same page and not have mental errors. I thought we did a better job of doing that.”
The Patriots (3-2) entered the prime-time matchup on pace to set a NFL record for yards allowed in a season. They’d also yielded 32 points per game during their worst start since 2012, and the Bucs looked a team that might be able to take advantage of their defensive shortcomings.
Jameis Winston threw for 334 yards and one touchdown without an interception , but most of that production came in the fourth quarter.
Nick Folk hindered the young quarterback’s effort to come from behind in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.
The veteran kicker missed two field goals and an extra point before beating the New York Giants with a kick as time expired last Sunday.
This time, Folk missed a 56-yarder just before halftime, a 49-yarder on the second play of the fourth quarter and a 31-yarder that would have pulled the Bucs within six points with 5:36 remaining.
“It’s been a bad week,” Folk said. “I left points out there. We should have won that game 20-19. This is on me.”
Winston, however, insisted he was to blame. He threw an 18-yard TD pass to Cameron Brate to trim Tampa Bay’s deficit to 16-14 with just over two minutes left, and nearly led his team downfield to win after Stephen Gostkowski kicked his fourth field goal to put the Patriots up by five.
With two seconds remaining, Winston took a snap and threw incomplete down the middle for O.J. Howard.
“There are two seconds on the clock, your quarterback has to make a play for you,” Winston said. “You’ve got to do something.”
The Patriots held the third-year pro to 109 yards passing through three quarters. Winston threw for 225 yards and his seventh TD of the season in the final 15 minutes.
Tom Brady, meanwhile overcame his first interception in the past eight regular seasons games and a sack/fumble. Neither turnover led to points and the New England quarterback noted the defense had a lot to do with that.
“I wish we could have scored more points offensively, but the defense really held their own,” Brady said.
“Hopefully we keep finding ways to win. I’ve been a part of lot of teams that we didn’t score many points but we won the game anyway, and there were games where we scored a lot of points and we got a win,” Brady added. “That’s what team football is all about. Offense isn’t always going to have a great day; defense isn’t always going to have a great day. You’ve got to figure out a way to get a win. We did that today.”
Brady, playing without injured star tight end Rob Gronkowski (thigh), threw for 303 yards and one TD.
And with his 186th career regular-season win as a starter, the five-time Super Bowl champion tied Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for the most by a quarterback in NFL history. He also has 25 postseason victories.
“Very proud of our football team,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Coming off a tough game on Sunday and going on the road Thursday night, I thought they really responded with a great effort.”
Some things to know about Patriots-Bucs:
Bucs RB Doug Martin provided a lift in his return from a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancers with 74 yards rushing and one TD in his first regular season game since last Dec. 18.
Brady opened the game with four straight completions before throwing his first interception of the season, overthrowing a wide-open Hogan in the middle of the field to end a streak of 264 pass attempts without an interception.
Since 2003, New England is 44-6 in regular-season games following a loss. The Patriots have dropped back-to-back games only six times during that time span — in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012 and twice in 2015. As a starter, Brady is 44-10 in games following a loss.
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