By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 03, 2002

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Oh, yeah, that trade. Looks like Bill Belichick was dead on, huh?

One must wonder why the tearful reunions with Curtis Martin weren't this happy and wonderful. When this one was over, Drew Bledsoe didn't look at all like a Buffalo Bill. He looked exactly like a New England Patriot.

And by that, we naturally don't mean his teary face at the end of last year's AFC title game, or moments similar. We mean looks of frustration. Fluster. Anguish. Disgust. The NFL passing yardage leader was reduced to his former existence in sixty long minutes by his incredibly hungry former mates. Bledsoe looked exactly like he did during most of the end of his nine-year reign as The Franchise in New England.

But that's not the worst of it all for His Drewness.

Doing what the Patriots did to Bledsoe wasn't even the key to the game. It was only a sidebar. The Patriots laid a 38-7 pasting on Bledsoe's new team, and what they did to Bledsoe was merely icing on the cake. It wasn't why the Patriots won. Not even close.

The Patriots won this game because they read this column Saturday afternoon. Okay, we'll stop this unfounded boasting right now, but it is eerily evident that the Patriots did exactly what this writer asked them to do: beat Buffalo, not Bledsoe. Riding the crest of a record-breaking day by Tom Brady, a vintage Antowain Smith day, a breakout day by Daniel Graham, and a fired-up defense that actually did make plays when it had to, the Patriots simply kicked the Bills around in their crib, and dominated them in every area from successful screen passes to missed field goals.

Right from the start, the biggest key to this win was the starting lineup. The offensive line was the same as the one that finished last year. The Kenyatta Jones experiment mercifully ended, and Greg Robinson-Randall started at right tackle. Joe Andruzzi started right next to him. The center and left side was the same as it has been all year long.

Andruzzi enjoyed a great day, springing two long gains with key blocks. One of them was a screen pass that went to Kevin Faulk that went for 45 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. Smith had numerous holes in which to run through, en route to a 111-yard rushing day with three touchdowns, two by air, one by ground.

Brady's great day (23 of 27 completions, the 85% breaking the record he set last year, 310 yards, 4 touchdowns) was made possible by having enough time to throw. He was sacked once, but it was a useless two-yard loss only because he was tripped up by Aaron Schobel. Who cares, because on the next play Brady tossed a 14-yard screen pass to Smith in which he took to the house. It made the score 38-7 Pats.

Speaking of screens, the Patriots threw them fairly often on Sunday. On the first drive, Graham caught a flanker screen and took it for 23 yards, a pattern usually run by a wideout. Graham opened the second quarter with a 14-yard screen over the middle that helped set up a 12-yard screen toss to Smith, the first of two such passes that would go for touchdowns. Three screen passes would go for touchdowns.

Three Patriots exceeded 60 yards receiving. David Patten bounced back from being shut out last week to grab eight passes for 88 yards. Graham finished with 68 yards, and Kevin Faulk had 64. But what really helped the Patriots greatly was Smith's day catching the ball. Two of his five catches went for scores. And he rushed for 111 yards.

Golly, how much of that had to do with shutting down Bledsoe?

One thing that helped was the Patriot edge in time of possession. The Patriots had the ball for 34 minutes and change, the Bills 25 minutes and change. Six of the nine Patriot drives went for 52 or more yards. Keeping Bledsoe off the field was a great idea. Scoring every time he was off the field allowed the Patriots to tee off on him enough to put Bledsoe into a Pete Carroll "pumped and jacked funk" most all game long.

To his credit, Bledsoe never lost his composure, and really never made stupid throws like he was prone to do in his Patriot days. Bledsoe did throw a late pick to Law, an underthrown intermediate crossing pass intended for Eric Moulds. The throw was not real ill advised, it was more Law making a great play in closing late on the ball.

One other area which did not directly affect Bledsoe (though it did indirectly) was their work in stopping Travis Henry. Henry was held to 53 yards rushing, breaking the skein of allowing 100-yard rushers every week since the Kansas City game. Henry did average 4.8 yards per carry, but the Patriots managed to stuff Henry before he could get into a rhythm and rip off long runs all game long.

Bledsoe was sacked four times, and faced constant pressure all game long. Willie McGinest, Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour, all invisible since Week 2, did the honors. McGinest was called for a ridiculous personal foul on Bledsoe on what would have been his second sack late in the second quarter; take that play away, and the Patriots handled Bledsoe almost flawlessly.

If the Patriots had any lingering problems, it was in penalties and missed tackles. The Patriots did ring up eight penalties, several for holding. Late in the second quarter, Josh Reed caught a 20-yard pass on third and 15, thanks to missed tackles by Terrell Buckley and Otis Smith in the open field.

But the Patriots righted their ship by playing nearly perfect against Buffalo. They ignored the spectre of facing Bledsoe for the first time, played with great composure, and won by 31 points on the road. Their level of execution was so outstanding, one has to wonder what the heck the team had been doing while sleepwalking through the previous four weeks.

The Patriots picked a good time to rebound, with road games coming up against Chicago and Oakland. The team has its confidence back, as well as their intensity and attitude.

And now, everyone knows that Belichick is a real, unabashed genius. He sure knew exactly what to do with Bledsoe, and who to trade him to.

Now, let's see what position the Bears need to upgrade, and try and accommodate them.


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