Monday, December 21, 2009
Five observations from the Pats' victory
By Tedy Bruschi
Observations from the New England Patriots' 17-10 win over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
1. Style points don't matter; just wins. It wasn't a blowout, but it doesn't matter how you get it at this time of the year. Just win. The big thing now is that the Patriots have positioned themselves well for winning the AFC East, and that's all they should care about. Having a two-game lead gives them a little bit of breathing room. The mindset now can be something along the lines of "If we beat Jacksonville, we have a bye the next week at Houston." Instead of going into the final week of the season needing a win to solidify a playoff spot, they have a chance to have that Week 17 "bye" in which they can rest some of their players at Houston and prepare for a first-round playoff game at home.
2. Adalius Thomas turns the page. Thomas was a starter in the 3-4 defensive scheme, and that's a good sign. It may not seem that the tension between Bill Belichick and Adalius has totally disappeared, but it looks like they've turned the page. Adalius just wants to play football and Belichick wants to get his best players out there that help him win. Thomas is still one of his best linebackers and to have him contribute -- two tackles, one assisted tackle -- helps the team come together, particularly on the road. That is a step toward achieving the goal of making the playoffs.
3. Randy Moss responds in a big way. Moss bounced back with a strong performance -- five receptions for 70 yards, with one touchdown. He was also interfered with on a key play early, resulting in a 43-yard pass interference penalty that set up the first touchdown. I don't think there was ever any doubt as to which Randy Moss would show up, but the effort of the Patriots' offense to get him the ball -- from the coaches to the players -- stood out. Some of the passes to Randy were into double coverage, but it didn't matter to Tom Brady. He seemed to be making a concerted effort to get him the ball the week after Moss' effort was questioned. It was almost as if they wanted to put the situation to rest. If a coach or player is attacked by outside forces, this team historically rallies around them, and Sunday was no different.
4. Bills' issues against Patriots are major. The Patriots have now beaten the Bills 13 straight times, and during the streak, there have been games in which it isn't a case of the Patriots outplaying the Bills, but the Bills beating themselves. The Bills had a great chance to end the losing streak last year when Brady wasn't at quarterback. They also had their chances this season. In the opening game, they basically had the Patriots beat and then they fumbled a kickoff late, and the Patriots went on to win the game. In this most recent game, another key play came on special teams, when the Bills went for the onside kick and recovered it, but were offside. There was also a false start on the opening drive after the Bills advanced to the 2, which hurt their chances to score a touchdown (they settled for a field goal instead). Beating a team so often can demoralize the mentality of players on that team. Buffalo has to stop making critical errors before they can hope to compete with the Patriots.
5. Spotlight on defensive line play. You could see at the start of the game how playing without nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Ty Warren affected the Patriots. The Bills were moving the ball between the tackles in the run game with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch and drove the ball to the 2-yard line. They were able to get movement on rookie Ron Brace at the nose guard spot. On that drive, you saw how valuable a solid nose guard can be in a 3-4 defense. It must be your best player, and the Patriots have one of the best in the league in Wilfork. His absence was obvious. The Patriots' coaching staff countered by moving players and their alignments. Mike Wright, who was effective all day, saw some snaps at nose and they reduced the ends down to "3" technique positions over the guards at times. This subtle adjustment allowed the defensive line to work on the edge of a blocker rather than down the middle of them. For younger players, this technique can counter their inexperience with a two-gapping style.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this report.