November 09, 2008
Not Real Exciting, But Still A Win
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriot home crowd is sometimes condemned as one of the quietest home crowds in the NFL.
On Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the fans had very little to cheer about. This is most unusual, given that the Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills, 20-10, and held on to a share of first place in the AFC East. The game itself was a very lackluster, unexciting, and non-riveting contest between these two AFC East rivals, but in the end a win is a win is a win, and the Patriots will more than gladly take it.
There were no spectacular plays in the game. Buffalo never wins here (nine straight losses for the visitors, 0-for-Gillette). Trent Edwards was never allowed to get into a rhythm. Marshawn Lynch wasn't trusted in key third-and-short situations not once, but twice. Someone gained 100 yards rushing, but the guy who did it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Esq., of counsel). The Patriots nearly killed off the final 11 minutes of the final quarter with a 92-yard drive which seemed more methodical than spectacular.
In short, there was nothing to really get excited about other than the win. It was a nice bounce back win for the Patriots following that galling loss at Indianapolis last Sunday night. It keeps the 6-3 Patriots even with the 6-3 Jets, and these two teams will meet on Thanksgiving minus two weeks (translation: Thursday of this week, in just three days). But this game was a basic yawner, a game where the Patriots didn't have to go too far out of the way to achieve victory, one where, despite a strange late flourish for the Bills, was really never in doubt from the get-go. It lacked suspense, drama, and excitement for the most part.
One of the reasons for this was the play of the rookie running back from Ole Miss. With his mom in attendance at the game (his mom's last name is Green, his dad's is Ellis), Green-Ellis eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his NFL career. He gained 105 yards on 26 carries for an even four yards per carry. Like Matt Cassel, his confidence is growing by leaps and bounds with each passing game, and he is looking less and less like the next Sedrick Shaw. The offensive line was opening up nice holes for him and he has yet to show an ability to blast through narrow or no holes, but he did show some good power runs at times where he was able to drag or move three or four tacklers at the same time.
But Green-Ellis' longest run was only 13 yards. Green-Ellis got his 105 yards thanks to a steady stream of mostly good but not great runs. This is not to say that Green-Ellis didn't have an outstanding day; it's just that he didn't exactly remind you of the speed or Curtis Martin or the power of Corey Dillon. But 105 yards is 105 yards, and G-E's mom loved every inch of those 105 yards.
Cassel continues to sparkle out there, and figures to make a lot of money for some other team next year when his contract is up and assuming Tom Brady is ready to reclaim his old job. Cassel was 23 of 34 for 234 yards and a passer rating of 87.1. His favorite target was Wes Welker, who made 10 catches for 107 yards. Randy Moss chipped in with five catches for 53 yards.
An underrated and not often brought up element of Cassel's game is his ability to run with the ball. Cassel wound up being the second leading Patriot rusher, with nine carries for 22 yards. Twice during the game the Bills went into man coverage, leaving the middle largely unguarded. The first of those times, Cassel was able to scramble up the middle for a first quarter 13-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 Patriot lead. Cassel, who is 6-4 and 230 pounds, is at times a tough quarterback to tackle in the open field. He will slide like other quarterbacks, but he has taken some tough hits during the year with no ill effects shown from any of them.
The Bills made it interesting in the end, but the Patriots dominated this game throughout. Following the 92-yard drive which made it 20-3, Leodis McKelvin took the ensuing kickoff and ran it back 85 yards to the Patriot 14 (and it would have gone to the house if Jonathan Wilhite didn't take the right angle and push McKelvin out of bounds). On the very next play, Edwards hit James Hardy at the right pylon for a touchdown and it was 20-10 very suddenly. The Bills followed with a strange onside kick which appeared to touch Tedy Bruschi first, making it possible for Buffalo to recover the kick before it went the required ten yards. But the officials ruled that Bruschi was not the first to touch, the Patriots recovered, and ran out the clock.
Welker's first catch in the second half gave him six catches at the time. He became the first receiver in NFL history to have at least six catches over the first nine games of the season. Green-Ellis scored on a one-yard touchdown run to cap the final 92-yard drive, which gives him one touchdown in each of the four games he has played in as a Patriot. Moss's five receptions moved him ahead of Shannon Sharpe for 16th place on the all-time list, and his 53 yards brought him to within three yards of 11th place on the all-time list, with former Patriot Irving Fryar the one he is just behind.
The Patriots have a very short week to prepare for the Jets, who will invade Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. They will then get a long break and prepare for a rematch with Miami down in Florida, which embarrassed them during Week 3 and introduced the NFL to the wildcat formation. The Patriots came out of the Buffalo game pretty healthy, so once the minor bruises and owies heal, they should be ready for still another first place showdown in the division.
The Bills are letting their magical start to the season get away from them, and if they had had Aaron Schobel for this game (a monster pass rusher who usually provides a tough matchup for Matt Light), the game may have been closer or even gone the other way. Still, this was a good test that the Patriots passed, and by making it look as easy as it was, that should help them for their rematch with the Jets in three nights.
How will Green-Ellis fare against the Jets? At least he knows he can get 100 in the NFL. That certainly won't hurt.
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