- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 52-28 win over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
What it means. Early in the third quarter, it looked like some were ready to bury the Patriots and declare a changing of the guard in the AFC East. Not so fast. The Patriots, who came in as losers of two in a row and had a nightmare of a second quarter, charged back to score on seven straight possessions and rip control of the game away from the Bills. This was the Patriots’ first AFC East game of the season, and it sets them up nicely in division play.
Spikes sparks turnover-producing effort. The Patriots forced six turnovers, and linebacker Brandon Spikes, in particular, was a thumping force with two forced fumbles. Spikes’ forced fumble at the end of the second quarter saved a possible half-ending Bills touchdown as the Patriots recovered. The turnovers: Spikes’ two forced fumbles, Devin McCourty’s two interceptions, Jerod Mayo’s interception on a tipped pass by Vince Wilfork and safety Tavon Wilson’s pick late in the fourth.
Running game pounds it home. The key point in the game came after the Patriots fell behind 21-7 in the third quarter. Some teams might have panicked but the Patriots stayed disciplined with the running game. The Bills were staying with a smaller defense against the Patriots, almost daring them to run it. The Patriots ran it right down their throat. This is the first time since 1980 that the Patriots had two running backs go over the 100-yard mark, as Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden ran hard and can thank the line and tight ends in front of them for opening holes.
Offensive line answers the call. Playing without four-time Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins, there were questions as to how the Patriots’ up-and-down offensive line would protect Tom Brady. Nate Solder (left tackle), Donald Thomas (left guard), Ryan Wendell (center), Dan Connolly (right guard) and Sebastian Vollmer (right tackle) were solid. Didn’t hear much, if at all, from Bills defensive end Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. The line, as well as the tight ends, turned in a very strong effort against the rush.
Hightower’s hamstring injury. On the injury front, rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Veteran Tracy White took his place. The Patriots are thin at linebacker, and if Hightower’s hamstring injury is a lingering concern, it could lead the team to promote Jeff Tarpinian from the practice squad or possibly look toward a player who was with them in training camp, such as Bobby Carpenter.
What’s next. The Patriots return home to face quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos (CBS, 4:15 p.m. ET).