Here is a quick wrap up of last Sunday's showdown between the Patriots and Bills. We will take a closer look at what stood out from the Patriot's offense, defense and special teams and glimpse ever so briefly into next week.
In last week’s preview of the Bills, I expressed concern over their defensive line--and rightfully so. I was even more apprehensive after left guard Logan Mankins went down with an injury prior to gameday and tight end Rob Gronkowski was limited in Friday’s practice due to a hip complication. How would reserve lineman Donald Thomas hold up in place of Mankins? How would second-year left tackle Nate Soldier fare against prized free agent, defensive lineman Mario Williams?
However, I also forgot that statistics and hearsay do not tell the whole story. Certain, unmentioned and unrecorded “X” factors can be the difference between a win and loss. In this game, they included, but were not limted to the following:
- The Patriots were angry and hungry for a win. They had not lost 3 straight games since 2002.
- This was still the Buffalo Bills and although they had “built their defense” to beat the Patriots, as I duly noted in last week’s column, they have a history of folding in key moments. (Just wait until the end of this season.)
- Last week, the Patriots actually held the Raven's defensive line in check behind the coaching of renowned line-coach Dante Scarnecchia.
- Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had emphasized, as noted after the game, that they wanted to increase the productivity of their running game. In the past two games, Patriot running backs averaged less than 3 yards per carry. Against the Bills, they averaged well over 5 yards per carry.
In this game, the “X” factors certainly came into play. The offensive line not only safeguarded Brady (1 sk, 7 yds), but put cavernous size holes in the Bill’s front-four with the likes of second-year running back Steven Ridley and free agent pick up Brandon Bolden who collectively ran wild for 243 yards.
Two players that stood out were cornerback Devin McCourty (2 int, 5 tckles, 2 pd) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (7 total tkles, 2 ff). McCourty, who likely would have been matched up with either Bill's receiver Donald Jones or star wide out Steve Johnson, completely shut down Johnson. Johnson finished with 2 catches for 23 yards and 0 touchdowns and was targeted 10 times.
Although McCourty’s interceptions were not necessarily game-changers, they indicated how he bounced back nicely from his tough fourth quarter last week against the Ravens. He will need to continue that play this week against Peyton Manning.
After two injury-filled season, but seasons that also showcased his potential, Brandon Spikes has more than come into his own (19 total tkles, 2 ff). Starting 3 out of 4 games, Spikes has strengthened the Patriot’s run defense, which currently ranks 8th in the league. It is giving up only 85 yards per game, 3.4 yards per carry and a total of 2 touchdowns to opposing rushers.
Patriot's Special Teams
Leodis McClevin (1 kick return for 26 yards) was kept in check. Zoltan Mesko’s 3 punts were not returned and were all downed inside the 20-yard line. He averaged roughly 40 yards a kick and had a long of 50 yards.
The only downside was kicker Stephen Gostkowski (10/13 on the year) who has struggled some since he bungled the game-winning kick against the Cardinals. Since that miss, he has hit 8 out of 11 kicks—not a bad percentage—but still, Patriot fans seem to be holding their breath.
What Does This All Mean?
1. I do not believe I know everything: As soon as I began to, once again, trash defensive end Rob Ninkovich for his lack-luster defensive-end play, he records a strip sack on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
2. Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos travel to Foxborough next Sunday for a 4:25 EST showdown. He has returned to his old form and he is no Ryan Fitzpatrick. Enough said?
At the end of the week, look for my post on Patch for a preview of the Bronco’s and Patriots matchup.