Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Patriots 31, Bills 17 (10/3/2004)

Patriots score first, beat the division rival Bills 31-17, continue the winning streak to 18 consecutive, and remain tied for the division lead at 3-0. Life is good. It wasn't exactly a work of art (both teams had too many penalties and some ugly special teams play -- and even an official left the game injured), but it got the job done -- again. Here's what I saw:


The O-line shuffle from the past two games was pretty much gone. They stuck with five guys for most of the game, and I imagine that will continue as the weather gets cooler and heat exhaustion problems are diminished. Faced with 6-man blitzes two-thirds of the time, they protect Brady pretty well -- zero sacks, but he did get hit more than a few times. I give Buffalo's defense some of the credit; it's obvious that's where they've spent most of their time and money.

With the Pats running game slowed for most of the day (3.8 yards a carry), Tom Brady, David Patten, and David Givens came up big. Brady escaped with no interceptions, although he could have had at least two, and had two touchdowns and almost 300 yards passing despite being blitzed and harassed all day long. Patten went over 100 yards and had a huge touchdown just before the half, and Givens continues to be a big-time receiver who will make the tough catches over the middle. With Ben Watson out for the year, the Patriot receivers will have to do the dirty work over the middle again this year, so having Givens is a big plus. (Note: the Pats are already thin at wide receiver, with Troy Brown day-to-day, Deion Branch out of Sunday's game, and the injury to Bethel Johnson on Sunday.)

Corey Dillon was sort of give-and-take against the Bills. He had a great touchdown run right up the gut early in the game, and then fumbled at the 2-yard line (and had an uncalled fumble later on). The fumble was part of two "14-point swings" in the game: one where the Dillon fumble cost the Pats a touchdown and led to a Buffalo touchdown; the other when Drew Bledsoe's fumble cost Buffalo a possible touchdown and was directly converted to Richard Seymour's touchdown (more on that later).


The defense probably surprised the Bills by not blitzing for the first three quarters. The Pats stayed in their base defense, concentrating on making Buffalo sustain long drives to score, and for the most part, it worked. The Bills had one very long drive (96 yards) -- that was aided by a misplayed punt that went for a 34-yard gain, but most all their other drives stalled out eventually. The secondary did a better job tackling than covering, and they got two Bledsoe turnovers (interception early, fumble late). And once the Pats were ahead late and they knew the Bills would pass almost every down, the Patriots blitzed and had a man coming free on Bledsoe every down.

The D gave up only ten points (the other seven were on special teams). Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Eugene Wilson, and Rodney Harrison deserve special mention. All played well (especially Seymour, who continues to draw double- and sometimes triple-teams), although I wish Harrison didn't have to work so hard against the run. The D notched seven sacks and about twice that many pressures, and that led to many mis-thrown passes or wrong decisions by Bledsoe. And even when the Bills did complete passes, the defenders were right there to make the tackle, so there were very few yards after the catch for Buffalo. And of course, the Bruschi/Seymour combination on the fumble return for a touchdown was great. Buffalo's O-line blew the assignment, with the guard switching out to take Willie McGinest (who dropped into coverage instead of rushing) and the running back missing the assignment switch to take out Bruschi.

The Pats run defense continued to struggle, giving up 138 yards and a 5.3 per rush average. The only time they seemed to stop the run cold was when Vince Wilfork (who is getting better by the week) and Keith Traylor are on the field at the same time -- or when the running back fell down on his own. Sometimes playing Ted Johnson helped, but when he's on the field, teams usually switch to a pass play because he's weak in coverage. The Bills were committed to the run, and that made it more difficult; but when the Patriots play the more balanced offenses of Seattle and the NY Jets, they'll have their hands full if they can't stop the run with their base 3-4 (i.e. with either Wilfork or Traylor in the game -- but not both at the same time).

Special Teams

My mother always told me if I didn't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Good thing she's not on this list. The Patriots special teams got their assess fed to them at gunpoint by Buffalo. The Bills ended up with more return yards than passing yards (213 to 199), and out-returned the Pats almost two-to-one (213 to 117). A lot of those yards were on the 98-yard return by Terrence McGee, but the next four Patriot kickoffs resulted in the following field position for Buffalo: Bills 40, Bills 41, Bills 42, and Bills 39. They might as well have kicked all of them out of bounds (which Vinatieri did once) with those results.

The Patriots lost outside contain on a botched punt (which the punter ran it for 34 yards to keep an eventual touchdown drive alive), gave up two 10+ yard punt returns, and had two botched punt returns by Tyrone Poole. They did get a few good kickoff returns, but it did little to offset the yardage given up to Buffalo. Just a disaster for the Pats and their special teams coach Brad Seeley. I have a lot of respect for the Bills special teams coach, Bobby April (who ran the out-standing St. Louis special teams the past few years). But I know Bill Belichick will have everyone working on this all week, because Miami's special teams are historically among the top ten in the league. Look for more starters on special teams if things don't improve against Miami.


Buffalo is the ultimate Forrest Gump team: you never know what you're gonna get. Their defense is very fast and hard-hitting, but they gave up a lot of stupid of penalty yards; the offense ran well, pass-protected poorly, and came up with only ten points; and the special teams rocked most of the game but a penalty on a Pats field goal allowed the Pats to score a touchdown instead. It was a nice divisional win, but the Pats still have too many penalties (10 for 77 yards), are giving up too many yards on the ground, and need to be more careful with the ball (Brady could have thrown two INTs, and Dillon had two fumbles).

If they play the same type of game against Miami, it won't cost them a loss, because Miami's strong defense, they can't beat you if they can't score. However, the Pats better get their act together for the run against Seattle, the NY Jets, and then some tough road games. But of course, all-in-all it's nice to get a win. 18 straight and if they win next week, they will own the NFL record all by themselves. Sorry about the delayed update, but I was renovating my home this weekend and was exhausted Monday morning.

(The return of) Your Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Looks like Buffalo made a real mistake not waiting to hire Charlie Weis [Patriots Offensive Coordinator]. If they'd waited until after the Super Bowl, they could have had a great offensive coach who might have turned their program around. But they rushed the decision and now they're 0-3 and look like they hired a guy who's in over his head [Mike Mularkey]."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 3-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment