The Patriots used a physical, smash-mouth style of play, in disposing of the Buffalo Bills in monsoon like conditions, 34-20, in Foxborough. This marks the second straight week that the Pats have dominated their opponent physically, and bodes well for the Boys in Blue as they head into the play-offs. Thanks to this win, the Pats will enjoy a much needed bye week, before likely dealing with the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: In a word, "physical". Gone were the relentless dinks and dunks to metriculate the ball down the field. In it's place were wrecking ball runs through a constant downpour, resulting in a bevy of breakway jaunts by RBs LeGarrette Bloiunt, and Stevan Ridley.
1.) QB: Going into this game, if I were to tell you that the "Terrific One" would complete just 14 of 24 passes for 122 yards, a TD, and a pick, how many of you would have felt comfortable with those stats? But, no worries. This stat-line came about as a result of Tom's decision to rely on his newly discovered power running game. Folks, when you're playing in a driving rain storm, and you're running game is getting you over six (6) yards per carry, why throw the ball? Despite the game being close into the fourth quarter, this was a rocking chair game for Tom, who, when he did decide to throw, was hardly pressured. Facing a 3rd and six from around midfield with five (5) minutes remaining in the game, and the Pats nursing a ten point lead at 27-17, Shane Vereen bobbled of a "safe" swing pass, which resulted in Tom's lone pick. Though nothing Tom did today jumps out at you, he led his offense, and did what needed to be done to secure the win: GRADE: B;
2.) RBs: LeGarrette Blount turned in perhaps the finest game by a RB in franchise history, as he rushed for 189 yards on just 24 carries. But, as we know, that was only half of the story, as Blount returned two kickoffs following Buffalo TDs for 83 and 62 yards. His 35 yard TD run with 2:31 left to play iced the game, as it increased the Patriots' lead to 34-20. In addition to the Blount heroics, Stevan Ridley contributed 74 yards on just 12 carries...highlighted by a 29 yard first quarter jaunt. FB James Develin converted a 3rd and one into a first down with a four (4) yard plunge, to help get the Patriots out of a second quarter field position hole. Though Shane Vereen did nothing running the ball, he had three receptions for 42 yards, including a 4 yard TD reception. But, as stated above, he had that bobble of a Brady pass which led to an interception. and allowed the Bills an opportunity to get back in the game. The other thing that needs to be stressed is that, despite the briiliant ground assault, the Pats had four (4) fumbles...one each by Brady, Blount, Vereen, and WR Julian Edelman. Fortunately, all four of these fumbles were recovered by the good guys. This is something that can't happen in the play-offs: GRADE: A+;
3.) OL: Aside from some weak play from Marcus Cannon and Ryan Wendell, there's little to complain about here. Cannon and Wendell had back to back holding penalties, which killed a potential third quarter scoring drive. But, the left side of the line was, for the most part, dominant. The Big Uglies collectively allowed just one sack, and two QB hits on Tom Brady. Folks, when the running game notches 267 yards and averages over six (6) yards a rush...that's getting it done, and then some: GRADE: A;
4.) TEs and WRs: Though the TEs collectively had no receptions, their blocking played a part in the success of the running game. As for the WRS, Julian Edelman reached the 100 catch/1000 yard milestone for the first time in his carreer. Jules finished with nine (9) catches for 65 yards, along with a third quarter two-point conversion reception. The rest of the depleted WR corp hardly contributed, as rain and the run reigned: GRADE: C;
II. DEFENSE: After a solid first half, had some trouble containing Bills' back-up QB Thaddeus Lewis and the Bills' dynamic RB duo of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. Though this unit failed to force a single turnover, they forced a couple of change of possessions, by making a pair of fourth down stops. These stops prevented the Bills from launching a more serious challenge.
1.) DL: Though the DL allowed a good amount of yardage on the ground (35 rushes for 169 yards), the guys up front almost appeared as if they were taking a "bend but don't break" approach to the Bills' RBs. But, most of the mileage that RBs C.J. Spiller (19 carries for 105 yards) and Fred Jackson (14 carries for 60 yards) earned on the ground was inconsequential. The Bills got a break from the refs on a ticky-tack "illegal hands to the face" penalty against Chandler Jones, which negated a sack....and led to a TD, instead on a FG. The inability to get consistent pressure on QB Thaddeus Lewis resulted in zero forced turnovers, and three (3) 20 plus yard pass plays. Huge second quarter stop of Lewis on a 4th and one play at the New England 44 by Rob Ninkovich (5 tackles, 3 solos, a sack and 2 TFLs) blounted a potential Bills' scoring drive. Solid performance by DT Sealver Siliga, who led he team with nine tackles (5 solos), and had a sack: GRADE: B-;
2.) LBs: This corp is hurting playing without Jerod Mayo, and with Brandon Spikes at 75%. Dont'a Hightower had six (6) tackles (2 solos). Credit the Bills for running a no-huddle offense for most of the game, forcing the Patriots to go without situational substitutions. There was a coverage snafu on the huge 37 yard catch and run on a short pass over the middle to RB Fred Taylor, which set up the Bills' final TD...cutting the Pats' lead from a dominant 24-10, to 24-17. Jackson and Spiller did quite a bit of damage, with a combined for eight (8) catches for 81 yards, coming out of the backfield: GRADE: C;
3.) SECONDARY: The Pats caught a break this week, as Buffalo's best WR, Stevie Johnson, missed this game,due to the passing of his mother. Forced into service due to the absence of FS Devin McCourty, rookie Duron Harmon had his difficulties...surrendering a 22 yard completion to WR Marquise Goodwin, and a 27 yard play to TE Scott Chandler. Kyle Arrington got torched for 25 yards by WR Robert Woods. That aside, the coverage generally was decent. For the game, Thaddeus ewis finished with 16 completions in 29 attempts for 247 yards, and a TD. Though some Lewis accuracy issues and dropped passes helped the cause, the footing likely dictated more soft coverage, in hopes of limiting big plays: GRADE: B;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: This group as truly special today...led by LeGarrette Blount...who answered two Bills' TDs with kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards. These returns led to 10 New England points. PK Stephen Gostkowski broke the Patriots' scoring record for a season, tacking on four (4) FGs in the process. Another great job by punter Ryan Allen, who averaged 53 yards on two punts. Even Tom Brady got in the act, with a 32 yard pooch punt on a 3rd and 32 play, from around mid-field. Julian Edelman had two punt returns for seven (7) yards, and an unforgivable muffed punt. Fortunately, he recovered his own miscue: GRADE: A+;
IV. COACHING: BB has his Boys ready to play despite the downpour, as they jumped out to an early 16-3 halftime lead. Decision to stick with the running game was an easy one, based on the weather conditions, and the overwhelming success of the ground assault on the field. Despite their 6-10 record, the Bills have talent...and are a good QB away from being a contender. It's truly amazing that BB has been able to lead this team to a 12 win season and a bye week, despite the injury barrage. Over the past two weeks, BB and Josh McDaniels have done a great job of transitioning away from Gronk, and finding other ways to get it done. Whether or not the smash-mouth approach is successful in the play-offs remains to be seen. The Cincinnati Bengals appear to be the Pats' playoff opponent, and may be the most talented all around team in the AFC: GRADE: A;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: After the Bills had scored a TD, cutting the Patriots' 16-3 lead down to 16-10, LeGarrette Blounts' 83 yard kickoff return was the tonic the Boys in Blue needed to regain control of the game.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: LeGarrette Blount carries this team on his back to victory, in one of the finest overall performance I've seen from a RB in some time.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331229017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.
Enjoy the win! Happy New Year, my friends!!