FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Buffalo kick returner Leodis McKelvin went for the extra yard and gave the New England Patriots a chance to get back into the game.
The Patriots had just gotten within five points when McKelvin took the kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone and brought it out, fighting for the extra yards as he passed the 30 yard-line. But Pierre Woods stripped it, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski recovered to set up the Patriots’ comeback for a 25-24 victory Monday night.
“I chose to bring it out because that’s me,” McKelvin said in a somber locker room. “If I had that choice, probably 100 times, I’d do it again. Next time I get the opportunity, I’ve just got to do my job and make sure I hold onto the ball.”
For the Bills, it was a painful reminder of recent Monday night collapses — including a loss to Dallas in 2007 when the Cowboys scored nine points in the final 20 seconds to win 25-24. Buffalo, which hasn’t won on Monday night in a decade, lost to Cleveland last year when Rian Lindell missed a potential game-winning field goal with 46 seconds left.
“I wanted to shut everybody up that says we aren’t a good football team. We had an opportunity, and we let it go,” said safety Donte Whitner, wiping tears from his eyes. “(An) 11-point lead, with four minutes left. This is bad, because I know how hard these guys work. I know how hard I work.”
McKelvin fumbled the previous kickoff return. But on that one, Buffalo’s Nic Harris recovered and advanced the ball 16 more yards to give the Bills good field position and start them on the drive that made it 24-13 with 5:32 left.
Tom Brady hit Benjamin Watson for an 18-yard touchdown pass to complete an 81-yard drive, but after the failed 2-point conversion New England still trailed 24-19 with 2:06 left.
Gostkowski’s kick carried McKelvin into the end zone, and he decided to bring it out. He came out past the 30 and fought off Brandon Meriweather’s attempt to strip it, but Woods knocked it loose and Gostkowski dived into the pile to grab the loose ball.
“I guess he’s carrying the ball like a loaf of bread instead of carrying it high and tight,” Woods said.
A 2008 first-round draft choice from Troy University, McKelvin tied the NCAA Div. I-A career record by returning eight kicks (seven punts and one kickoff) for touchdowns. Last year he set the Bills’ season record with 1,468 kickoff-return yards, and had one 98-yard touchdown.
He earned the starting job at cornerback midway through the season, and finished with two interceptions — one for a touchdown.
And he had only one fumble.
Bills coach Dick Jauron expressed confidence in McKelvin.
“It was one of those things that happen, but I don’t have any problem with Leodis,” he said. “He’s a guy that plays hard. He’s a guy that really could take it to the house.”