Taking a look at the television copy of Sunday's game against the Bills and offering some fourth quarter observations:
1) After three quarters of a mainly pass-first offense, the Patriots changed their offensive attack early in the fourth quarter, with RB Stevan Ridley seeing increased reps. TE Rob Gronkowski was motioned and used as an inside blocker on three straight plays, the first of which was a 19-yard end-around by WR Wes Welker. That run and the ensuing two rushes by Ridley all included blockers getting into the second level immediately off the snap, bypassing any double-teams against defensive linemen, or combination blocks. The shift was likely aimed at corralling what had been a swarming Bills front seven, and saw some success, with Ridley gaining 12 yards on his two carries.
2) When the Patriots spread it out and went back to the pass on the fourth play of the drive, QB Tom Brady took a shot at the end zone. With single-deep safety coverage, Brady pump-faked to his right to hold the safety before targeting Gronkowski streaking down the left seam. The throw was came in slightly short -- Brady could have lofted it more towards the end zone and have taken advantage of Gronkowski's size -- and SS George Wilson, trailing in coverage on Gronkowski, made an acrobatic interception to prevent a touchdown.
3) The pass rush was a problem for the Patriots the entire game, and the 48-yard catch by WR Donald Jones on a first-and-10 early in the fourth quarter was no different. On the play, the Patriots rushed five against a six-man protection, pitting DEs Rob Ninkovich and Shaun Ellis against single blockers. Neither player, including Ellis, who has struggled in pass rushing through the early part of the season, was able to generate any pressure on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a clean pocket from which to throw. Meanwhile, CB Leigh Bodden, who gave Jones a 10-yard cushion off the snap, bit on Jones' route fake and was caught three yards behind the receiver. With the Bills in a spread offense and the Patriots rushing five, there was no safety help available for Bodden.
4) After allowing two touchdowns to the Bills in ten seconds, the Patriots offense returned to the Ridley-focused attack. On the second play of their final drive, Gronkowski, along with C Dan Connolly were again used to quickly seal linebackers in the second level, leading to a 16-yard gain up the middle. This same strategy using Gronkowski and Connolly yielded a 6-yard gain by Ridley on the next play. A play action pass then followed out of this formation, which was batted down at the line. On third-and-4, the Patriots went back to the spread formation and took a shot at the end zone, with Ochocinco dropping a nearly sure-fire touchdown, which would have capped an impressive drive where the Patriots adjusted well to the Bills' defense.
5) Despite the success earlier on the drive, the Patriots replaced Ridley with BenJarvus Green-Ellis after extending the drive on fourth down. A more conventional blocking style returned, and Green-Ellis was only able to gain a total of three yards on the ensuing two carries. Two completions to Welker put the Patriots on the 1-yard line, though, where Green-Ellis was unable to punch it in on another two carries. The second saw LT Logan Mankins (with Donald Thomas at LG) unable to control DT Dwan Edwards, who stopped Green-Ellis short of the end zone. With the running game faltering, the Patriots again had to rely on Welker, and he delivered, with a 6-yard touchdown reception.
6) Even after tying the score, the Patriots still had little answer for the Bills' passing attack, with CB Devin McCourty unable to contest yet another big catch, this one 29-yard grab by Jones. The Bills' final drive began with empty-set, spread formations, and despite it being a pin-your-ears-back-and-rush situation, the Patriots' pass rush failed to deliver, with Ninkovich and DE Andre Carter unable to beat single blocks on the edge. On RB Fred Jackson's 38-yard catch-and-run, the secondary had issues of its own, with FS Josh Barrett falling down as he approach Jackson for the tackle. The rest of the Patriots secondary -- namely McCourty and SS Sergio Brown -- lacked the speed to chase down Jackson on the play.