October 22, 2006
A Great Study In Knowing How To Win
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's quite clear why the Patriots are 5-1 and the Bills are 2-5.
The Patriots still can't tackle Willis McGahee like they'd like to. Three times the Bills had long, sustained drives of nine or more plays. Tom Brady was sacked four times and was hit on four other occasions. The Bills gained only nine fewer total yards than the Patriots at game's end. The Bills, in short, played generally well enough to win this game, just like Week 1 up in Foxborough.
Yet the game was never close. The Patriots got two first quarter touchdown runs by Corey Dillon and never looked back. Brady threw two second half touchdowns, and school was out. The final score was 28-6 Patriots, and the Bills can only look at themselves in the mirror with scorn. Key turnovers and an idiotic penalty negated whatever good things the Bills did on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Patriots began the game with a brilliant opening drive which should have portended how the game would go. It did just that, in a way, though Buffalo would shake off this 14-play, 71-yard drive (6:37 time of possession) fairly well when they got the ball back. Reche Caldwell was the star on this drive, catching three passes for 19 yards, all on quick flanker screens. An end around by Chad Jackson for 14 yards and a 14-yard screen toss to Ben Watson (sprung by a crunching block by Stephen Neal) set up Dillon from eight yards out, and he blasted up the middle to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
What should have happened next was a quick three-and-out by the Bills, but they were able to solve the Patriot defense. On third and 14 at the Buffalo 27, J.P. Losman got into trouble and tossed a quick shovel pass to McGahee in the right flat. With a ton of blitzing Patriots caught upfield, McGahee was able to take off on a 56-yard scamper, with only Eugene Wilson preventing a touchdown. Four plays later, Rian Lindell hit from 40 yards out to make it 7-3.
At this point, the Bills had served notice that they would once again not knuckle under and play the Patriots toe to toe. But on the ensuing drive, the Bills showed reason number one why they are 2-5 and the Patriots are 5-1, and what would send Buffalo into a pit which they would not be able to crawl out of.
A 74-yard kickoff return by Laurence Maroney gave the Patriots great field position at the Buffalo 21. The Patriots were still at the 21 on third down when Brady took off on a scramble right. Seeing nothing out there and not wanting to get clobbered, he merely took a seat at the 24-yard line, conceding a sack, a three-yard loss and a 40-something field goal attempt.
But out of nowhere came Chris Kelsay, who blasted Brady about two seconds after he took a seat at the 24. All defenders should know that once a quarterback slides or sits down, he is conceding the play and cannot be touched. The personal foul gave the Patriots the ball at the Buffalo 12, and Dillon ran it in from the left end on the very next play. This was a brain cramp of major proportions committed by Kelsay, which was either a product of bad coaching or brazen stupidity.
After a three-and-out, Buffalo self-destructed on their next two possessions. Early in the second quarter, Buffalo got the ball at the Patriot 36. They drove to the Patriot 40 before Mike Vrabel came charging in on a blitz and stripped Losman of the ball. Vince Wilfork recovered the fumble, but the Patriots did not take advantage thanks in part to a sack of Brady for nine yards by Kelsay.
The next drive drove another nail into the Buffalo coffin, and it still wasn't halftime yet. Losman led Buffalo on a beautiful 11-play, 57-yard drive just before intermission. McGahee had four rushes for 14 yards, Losman hit Peerless Price for 11 yards and a first down and Robert Royal for 21 yards deep over the middle. It was third and eight at the Patriot 23 when Losman tried to hit Price on a left sideline pass. Losman did not see Asante Samuel in coverage, and the Patriot cornerback closed quick and made the interception, ending what should have been an easy scoring drive.
Losman would suffer one more turnover. Late in the fourth quarter, he would attempt a pass but was hit before he could bring his arm forward. Tedy Bruschi recovered the fumble, and the Patriots ran out the clock. Losman finished with 16 of 25 passing for 193 yards, one pick and a rating of 70.9.
Brady, meanwhile, sustained a few hard hits in the backfield yet played brilliantly. He was 18 of 27 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of 112.4. He found Jackson in the third quarter on a fake post route for 35 yards and a touchdown, as his fake got him separation from Terrence McGee and was left wide open in the end zone. Late in the fourth quarter, he found Doug Gabriel from five yards out as Gabriel did a marvelous job of getting open on a broken play.
Other than Caldwell suffering three dropped passes, little went wrong with the Patriot passing game. Brady hit seven different receivers, with Watson and Caldwell making five catches each. Gabriel hauled in a nifty 31-yard right sideline pass in the fourth quarter. Even Jackson, who is still being scrutinized for his lack of production, did well with his long touchdown catch and his end around run early on.
The Patriots continue to do well as a team in rushing, rather than in individual efforts. As a team, the Patriots ran 27 times for 94 yards, nothing spectacular, but enough to make a difference. Dillon only ran for 47 yards, but his two touchdowns were obviously huge. Maroney had the long kickoff return to compliment only 29 yards rushing.
One other telling stat which landed in the favor of the Patriots was penalties. Kelsay's dumb penalty was one of nine committed by the Bills for 67 yards, while the Patriots committed only three penalties for 25 yards.
This is what the Patriots have to do if they aspire to win another Super Bowl. They need to come in and beat up on teams where the Patriots have a wide edge on paper. Winning this game by this margin is a huge boost for the Patriots, especially given that they face a tough road game next weekend in Minnesota.
The Bills, meanwhile, go back to the drawing board again and curse their inability to defeat the Patriots despite putting out a decent, if flawed, effort. You don't beat a team seven times in a row without really knowing what you're doing. As for the Bills, it's just one of those things they have to live with (for instance, how long has Denver dominated the Patriots?).
But sooner or later, the Bills will have to figure out what they're doing to lose games like this, and correct the mistakes instead of perpetuating them.
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