Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots Gameday Preview
By Lori Chase - Staff Columnist
Published: September 25th, 2010
PATRIOTS OVERVIEW (2010 RANKINGS)
Are the Patriots the team that lit up Cincinnati in the season opener, or the one that collapsed down the stretch against the Jets last week? As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.
OFFENSE (#13 total yardage, #24 rushing, #9 passing, #t5 scoring):
Last week in the Meadowlands, it was Mark Sanchez – who Jets fans wanted to throw off the Brooklyn Bridge at one point in the first half – making the plays, and “Tom Terrific” looking anything but. The New England offense inexplicably got worse instead of better when Darrelle Revis left the game after tweaking his tender hamstring, with Brady completing just one more pass to Randy Moss and throwing his only two picks of the young season as New York roared back for a 28-14 win.
Trouble is, Buffalo can’t match the Jets’ attacking defense, and Brady just loves facing the Bills. He’ll have his favorite targets back from last year as well, following Wes Welker’s remarkably quick return from an ACL tear. The Pats upgraded the tight end position in the offseason, signing Alge Crumpler and drafting a pair of promising rookies, Aaron Hernandez and Williamsville North’s Rob Gronkowski.
Disappointing first-round pick Laurence Maroney was dumped in a trade with Denver – a move the Pats may be rethinking, now that Kevin Faulk is on injured reserve with a knee injury. You never heard too much about Faulk during the week, but whenever it came down to crunch time, the steady veteran always seemed to be there to make a crucial play to tip the game in New England’s favor. They’ll miss him. For now, the running game depends on the aging legs of Fred Taylor, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris also getting some carries.
The line is without its best player, left guard Logan Mankins, who has missed all of the preseason and the first two games in a contract dispute. Moving Nick Kaczur there wasn’t the answer even before he went out with a back injury requiring surgery, so now, they’re down to third-stringer Dan Connolly lining up between center Dan Koppen and left tackle Matt Light. The right side is set with guard Stephen Neal and tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Light’s eventual successor.
DEFENSE (#26 total yardage, #t15 rushing, #28 passing, #t25 scoring):
Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork is the last man standing from the great defensive lines the Pats used to field. Jarvis Green has moved on and Ty Warren went on IR in the offseason, leaving Gerard Warren and Mike Wright listed atop the depth chart at end.
The days of New England’s linebacking corps posing for Sports Illustrated cover stories are long gone, as are all of the players who made up that veteran group. Now, Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich are the starting outside ‘backers, with not much depth behind them. (Shawn Crable was just activated; unknown whether or not he’ll dress for the game.) Inside, Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton – who has their only interception so far this season – anchor the front seven behind Wilfork.
The team took another offseason hit when Leigh Bodden went on injured reserve, leaving rookie Devin McCourty to start opposite Darius Butler at cornerback, with the underwhelming Terence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite in reserve. Brandon Meriweather starts at strong safety, alongside veteran James Sanders.
Stephen Gostkowski is off to a miserable start in 2010, hitting just one of his first four field goals. Not so with rookie punter Zoltan Mesko, though, as the Michigan alumnus is crushing the ball to the tune of a 44.5-yard net average. Kickoff returner Brandon Tate could give the Bills trouble; he’s already taken one back 97 yards for a touchdown this year. The coverage teams have done their job, not allowing a return of more than 19 yards in the first two games.
Only the numbers have changed since the last time I wrote about New England’s recent dominance in the series. Thirteen losses in a row, by an average of 18 points per game. Eighteen of the last 19. Oh-for-forever at Gillette Stadium. Doug Flutie remains the last Bills quarterback to beat the Pats in Foxborough. Some of the faces are different, but the song remains the same.
So while the Bills offense should look marginally more competent with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, and I’m not sure the two-touchdown spread is completely justified (as it was in the Packers game), it’s still hard to bet against the Pats in this one.