Patriots at Bills: 5 Observations

Ryan Hannable
September 30, 2012 at 09:19pm ET

Free agent WR Eric Decker says he would be 'good fit' with Patriots
Man charged with robbing Gronkowski's home arraigned
Buckley: What will Tom Brady do when he retires from football?
Tom Brady teases with Instagram comment
Devin McCourty not disappointed in Tom Brady

The Patriots offense erupted for 45 points in the second half to overtake the Bills 52-28 in Buffalo, snapping a two-game losing streak and improving to 2-2 on the year. It was a very balanced attack as every unit contributed to the win, in a game in which the Patriots trailed 14-7 at halftime. The team will return home next Sunday to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Here are five observations from Sunday's win:

Brady takes charge

Things were looking great for Tom Brady and the offense following an opening drive which saw Brady go 5-5 and the team march 90 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead. Following the drive, Brady went 5-13 for 61 yards on his next 18 pass attempts. The team did not score for the remainder of the half, partly  because of two critical fumbles, one by Rob Gronkowski and the other by Wes Welker. Brady was clearly frustrated and not happy with the way things went in the first half, so he took matters into his own hands for the second half.

After punting on their first drive of the half, the Patriots scored on their final seven possessions of the game (6 touchdowns, 1 field goal) to run away with the win. Brady led the charge by finishing the day going 22 for 36, for 340 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. He was in one of his zones where seemingly no defense can stop him and he can make any throw possible. After a rough first half, Brady took the game over and that is what elite quarterbacks do when their teams need them most -- put them on their shoulders and lead them to a win.

Offensive line shines

The Patriots' offensive line had a great game without their leader, Logan Mankins.(FILE:USPresswire

Many were concerned with how the offensive line would play going into the game after guard Logan Mankins, their best linemen was declared out with a hip injury. The group responded by playing arguably their best game of the year, playing a crucial role in the victory. From left to right the starting line was Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer. Some credit has to go to the tight ends as they were kept in on some plays to help out in the blocking, notably Rob Gronkowski.

The group did a great job in protecting Brady as he was sacked only once, and hit just three times, but more importantly the line led the way for the Patriots to rack up 247 yards on the ground and two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 1980. The group paved the way by opening up huge holes all game long for running backs Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. Ridley rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries while Bolden ran for 137 yards on 16 carries, which equates to an impressive 8.6 yards per carry. Thomas struggled mightily in the Cardinals game and was essentially benched in the Ravens game, so it was a solid bounce back game for him. Although the backs are the one who do the running, the offensive line did a tremendous job in opening large holes in the defense for the backs to run through. With Mankins' status up in the air it is clear the Patriots can survive, at least in the short-term without Mankins.

Defense generates pressure

After a game last week where the defensive line generated zero pass rush, the defensive front seven responded by having arguably their best game of the season in the win. The front seven had three sacks of Ryan Fitzpatrick and hit him four times, but there was a visible pass rush, which forced Fitzpatrick to force throws, including four interceptions. Rob Ninkovich had his best game of the year finishing with a team-high seven tackles and a sack. Defensive end Chandler Jones, who was contained by Michael Oher last week, got back on track totaling five tackles and a sack. Dont'a Hightower had the other sack, but he injured his hamstring in the first half and did not return. Word out of the locker room after the game was that the injury was not expected to be serious.

Vince Wilfork had an outstanding all-around game with three tackles, two pass deflections, one of which leading to an interception, a fumble recovery and a massive hit on Bills wide receiver Brad Smith. Brandon Spikes might have been the MVP of the defense as he was the one who forced the fumble at the goal line right before the half, where if the Bills were to have scored they would have led 21-7. Spikes' hard-hitting also led to another fumble in the second half. There is no Patriots defender who is as intense as he is, but the issue with Spikes is he isn't a three-down linebacker as he struggles in pass coverage. He needs to improve on that aspect in order to be a complete linebacker. The pressure the defensive line generated also helped the secondary by getting to Fitzpatrick and not allowing him to have all day to throw. In order to be at their best the Patriots defense needs to be able to get after the opposing quarterback week in and week out.

Lloyd/Branch limited

With Julien Edelman and Aaron Hernandez out with injuries one would have thought Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch would play more of a role in the offense, but both were very limited on Sunday. Lloyd was shutdown on the outside by the Bills secondary, but it seemed Branch was limited in terms of snap count, although a look at the official snap counts which usually are released Monday morning will say for sure. Lloyd was targeted seven times and finished with just three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown on his final catch of the game. The catch came late in the fourth quarter in garbage time. Lloyd and Brady's go-to route has been a comeback route on the sidelines, but the Bills were ready for it and didn't allow the Brady and Lloyd connection to get going. It still is interesting to see how the offensive is run without Hernandez and now Edelman. It seemed Sunday the run was used a lot more than usual to set up the pass. The Patriots ran the ball 40 times, compared to throwing it 36 times. Welker and Gronkowski were obviously the main targets, as they were targeted 11 times each. Welker finished with nine catches for 129 yards, while Gronkowski had five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, but did have a few unusual drops. Next week against the powerful front-seven of the Broncos, the team might have some difficulty establishing the run, so Josh McDaniels might need to get creative in getting the ball in the hands of the Patriots play makers.

Tough to figure out McCourty

Devin McCourty is one of the story lines that never seems to go away. After having a miserable week last week, he following it up with an impressive, two interception performance this week. Last year McCourty was so bad at cornerback he needed to be moved to safety, and this was after a rookie season where he was drawing comparisons to Darrelle Revis. Clearly, he is very inconsistent, but does have natural, raw talent. He isn't big enough to jam some of the receivers at the line so he depends on getting in the proper position to defend the pass. When he gets out of position and uses the wrong technique is when he struggles. Personally, I think he can be a good corner in the league, he just needs to stay committed to the proper technique and playing smart. Obviously if the Patriots front-seven can generate a pass rush and force early, tough throws it makes McCourty and the other members of the secondary's jobs even easier.