American football: Immediate cash return for Patriots

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The Independent Online
American football

Drew Bledsoe celebrated a $42m (pounds 26m) day at the negotiating table by steering the New England Patriots to a 27-14 victory over their AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills.

Bledsoe, who signed a seven-year contract earlier in the day, completed 23 of 40 passes for 262 yards as the slow-starting Patriots won their first Monday night game in eight years and halted a five-game losing streak. Bledsoe, who was the last NFL starting quarterback to throw a touchdown pass this season - it took him five games - threw one of five yards to Vincent Brisby.

The Bills (5-2), who had won five in a row, remain in first place in the AFC East but the Patriots (2-5) who were the NFL's lowest scoring team renewed their play-off hopes against a team that began the weekend with the NFL's top-rated defense.

Missing from the Bills sideline was Marv Levy, their head coach, who missed his first game in 45 years of coaching. Levy was at home recovering from surgery for prostate cancer. Elijah Pitts, the running backs coach, ran the team with a game plan drawn by Levy.

Bledsoe's passing opened up the rushing attack for New England and Dave Meggett and the rookie running back Curtis Martin took advantage.

Martin rushed 36 times for 127 yards, including a 20-yard run for a touchdown that opened the game's scoring in the first quarter. Meggett added a three- yard touchdown run in the second quarter for the Pats.

"When he's throwing like that, it's going to open up the running game," said Martin of his quarterback.

Martin said that the rare Monday night appearance for New England also helped to fire up the team. "It was definitely a motivating tool for me," Martin said. "I always watched Monday Night Football as a kid growing up. It was exciting for me."

Meggett's touchdown gave the Pats a 21-6 lead with 2min 22sec left in the half but Jim Kelly, the Bills quarterback, led Buffalo down the field in a hurry on a drive capped by a 45-yard touchdown strike to Bill Brooks. Kelly found Carwell Gardner in the end zone for a two-point conversion, the Bills' first successful conversion since the two-point rule was introduced last season, that made it 21-14.

Matt Bahr kicked a pair of field goals in the second half to provide a cushion against the Bills, who lost their starting running back, Thurman Thomas, to a hamstring injury in the first quarter but his two catches set a team record with receptions in 43 consecutive games.

The Patriots recovered three fumbles and had four sacks against a team that had lost just three fumbles and been sacked seven times all season.

Thomas' fumble on his first carry led to Martin's touchdown. His replacement, rookie Darick Holmes, lost a fumble on the first play of the second half and Matt Bahr followed with a 39-yard field goal for a 24-14 lead.

A former NFL executive pleaded guilty on Monday to participating in a scheme to defraud the league of $350,000. (pounds 222,000). Brian Hughes admitted to one count of mail fraud in connection with submitting fraudulent invoices for goods the NFL never received.

Michael Ornstein, another former NFL executive, pleaded guilty to similar charges last week. Hughes and Ornstein face up to five years in prison and $250,000 (pounds 158,000) in fines under the teams of their plea agreements.

According to federal prosecutors, Hughes, who was the NFL's vice president of corporate sponsorship, conspired to defraud the league with Ornstein, who was the senior director of club marketing, and Richard Schulman, who owns four Los Angeles companies that sell promotional items to corporations.