ST. LOUIS — Adam Vinatieri beat the St. Louis Rams with his leg in the 2002 Super Bowl. This time, he used his leg and his arm.
New England’s place-kicker hit a season-best four field goals, then threw his first career touchdown pass on a fake to Troy Brown to help the Patriots bounce back from their only loss with a 40-22 victory Sunday.
“You kind of hope to get these guys sleeping a little bit, and we did,” Vinatieri said. “Troy kind of hid out on the side and we snapped the ball before they noticed him.”
Corey Dillon returned after a one-week absence with 112 yards rushing on 25 carries and a touchdown for the Patriots, whose 21-game winning streak ended in a loss to Pittsburgh last week. They had won an NFL-record 18 straight in the regular season.
“I’m just here to do my part and help the team win,” Dillon said. “Everybody stepped up after last week.”
The Patriots (7-1) compensated for an injury-ravaged secondary by sacking Marc Bulger five times, forcing a fumble and intercepting a tipped ball. Bulger said the Patriots’ strategy was to jam the receivers at the line and then pass them on to the safeties.
As a result, he had to wait longer to make throws.
“There’s different reasons for it, schemes and all of that,” Bulger said. “I probably held onto the ball too long sometimes, and things happen, but I don’t think we can throw blame around quite this soon.”
New England was without both starting cornerbacks, then lost one of the fill-ins, Asante Samuel, with an arm injury in the first quarter. That forced them to use Brown in the secondary.
“We moved guys around from different positions, but they just hung in there and kept fighting,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Those players really stepped up and played like we all know they can play.”
The Patriots’ secondary makeup, which had Randall Gay and Earthwind Moreland at the cornerbacks after Samuel went out, made little difference because Bulger seldom had enough time to throw. Moreland was signed on Saturday.
Bulger was 23-for-33 for 285 yards and two touchdowns and Leonard Little recovered a fumble by Tom Brady in the end zone for St. Louis (4-4).
The Rams have lost twice at home. They had a 15-game regular-season home winning streak before losing in overtime to the Saints in September, but now have dropped two of the past three.
St. Louis had been 4-0 after the bye week under coach Mike Martz, but did not benefit from an extra day of practice in the game week. This was its worst loss at home in his five seasons and it was the first time it had allowed 40 points since a 49-10 loss at Kansas City on Dec. 8, 2002.
In the previous 18 games at home, counting the postseason, the Rams had lost twice, both times in overtime.
“It’s really hard to come in here and win,” Belichick said. “It was probably as complete a victory as I’ve ever been around.”
Vinatieri’s best play was his touchdown pass, a perfect spiral to a wide-open Brown. Martz was trying to get a timeout.
“I don’t think that was the trickiest thing in the world,” Martz said. “I mean, where was he going, to the john? We’ve got to pay more attention than that.”
Reminiscent of his automatic 48-yarder that provided the margin of victory in a 20-17 Super Bowl victory in 2002, there was no doubt on any of his field goal attempts from 43, 31, 45 and 36 yards, all in the first half.
Brady was 18-for-31 for 234 yards, and the first of his two touchdown passes also was an oddity with linebacker Mike Vrabel on the receiving end of a 2-yard play in the second quarter. Vrabel has three career touchdown receptions, one of them in the Super Bowl last February.
Dillon, out with a thigh injury last week, scored on a 5-yard run to give the Patriots a 33-14 lead with 3:36 to go in the third period. David Givens had five catches for 100 yards.
Bulger’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt with 14:13 to go and Marshall Faulk’s conversion run cut the gap to 11.