December 26, 2010
Bills Hand Patriots Top Conference Seed
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Patriot Christmas tree had seven nice little presents underneath it.
Three of them were interceptions and four of them were fumbles. Bill Belichick thanked Buffalo head coach Chan (Santa) Gailey, and the Bills coach left bellowing "Ho Ho Ho!" Belichick took those gifts and let his defense open them up. They used those presents to defeat the Bills 34-3 on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
No matter how good or bad you play, you'll win a lot of games when you get seven takeaways. It's a good thing that the Patriots faced Kris Kringle instead of Gailey, because if the Bills played a clean game, the long win streak against Buffalo might have been in jeopardy. But Buffalo would not allow that to happen, and the Patriots cruised to an easy win, their fifteenth straight against the Bills.
The victory locks up both the AFC East and the one seed in the conference playoffs for the Patriots. This has, in the past, been an automatic ticket to the Super Bowl for the Patriots, as they have never failed to reach the Big Show when they are either the one or two seed and get the first week off in the playoffs. This is the third time they have been the one seed, with 2003 and 2007 being the other years they were able to secure home field throughout the playoffs.
Despite a 31-point win, you might wonder what the Patriots would have to worry about. It turns out that the Patriots are still capable of being exposed defensively, and the offense won't always be able to bail the team out if the other team plays a good defensive game.
Fred Jackson continues to be tough to handle for the Patriots. The Buffalo back gouged the Patriots for 81 yards and a 6.2 yards per carry average. C.J. Spiller had 30 yards and a five-yard average. As a team, the Bills averaged six yards per carry. On the opening drive of the game, Jackson gained 50 yards on five carries. But the Bills had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Rian Lindell, and the Bills would not score again for the rest of the game.
Despite a bad passer rating (37.1), Harvard's Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to pass for 251 yards and four receivers had 50 or more yards. Both Spiller and Donald Jones hauled in passes of 40 yards or better. Stevie Johnson, Jones and Naaman Roosevelt had 14 catches between them.
But what did the Bills in was turnovers, and lots of them. Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions, one of them an end zone pick by Dane Fletcher. All three of them were on Fitzpatrick, as they were all based on bad decisions. The fumbles may have been more harmful; one of them was a red zone fumble by Fitzpatrick who was strip-sacked by Gary Guyton at the Patriot 17 which gave early momentum to the Patriots that they would not relinquish.
The Patriots were able to take these gifts and coast into the top AFC seed with ease. The Bills defended the run poorer than the Patriots did, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis amassing 104 yards and a 5.5 average per carry. Danny Woodhead chipped in with 93 yards and a 7.2 average. The team averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 217 total rushing yards, which allowed them to control the game and offset the fact that six of the eight Patriot possessions in the second half were three-and-outs.
Tom Brady had decent numbers even without rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. Rob Gronkowski, who grew up in nearby Amherst, caught two touchdown passes and had four receptions for 54 yards. But Wes Welker had a horrid afternoon, dropping three easily catchable balls, one of them which might have resulted in a third quarter touchdown.
Gronkowski had a drop also, which proved to be historic. Just prior to catching an 8-yard scoring pass early in the third quarter to give the Patriots a 31-3 lead, he dropped a pass at the goal line. The drop turned out to be the 309th straight pass without an interception for Brady, breaking Bernie Kosar's NFL record set back over 1990-91. Brady was able to make it through the entire game with nary a pick, and the Patriots have still not turned the ball over since the Cleveland loss.
The Jets, dealing with FootGate all week long, lost a wild game at Chicago which would have given the Patriots the division title anyway, but they clinched a Wild Card berth despite the 38-34 loss. The Patriot win made any worries in Chicago moot, but the Jets are experiencing problems finishing their season, and one has to wonder when the zany antics of their head coach will at some point prove to be more distraction than funny and/or cute.
The Patriots have no such problems. They head into their season finale at home against Miami with nothing to play for other than fine tuning and preventing injuries. Two things the Patriots might want to work on next week would be defending the run and getting off the field on third down. With Ricky Williams and the threat of the Wildcat, the Patriots should be able to work on both.
As for the rest of the playoff picture, the Steelers, Jets and Ravens have locked up playoff berths. Baltimore could still win the AFC North, as they are tied with Pittsburgh at 11-4. Indianapolis and Kansas City have still not locked up their divisions. If things stay the same and home teams win in the first round, the Patriots would be looking at a rematch with the Colts at home during the Divisional round. The Patriots defeated the Colts earlier this season, 31-28.
Right now, the Patriots will celebrate the holidays and look forward to a bye week in two weeks. They will go home secure in the knowledge that the road to the Super Bowl goes through the Boston Post Road. They will have history on their side, and plenty of time to get their young defense ready for the postseason.
Meanwhile, one of these days the Bills will win one of these games. The Patriots have not lost to the Bills since the Lawyer Milloy game of 2003. It's not like the Bills are terrible, they just played that way. Seven turnovers won't get the job done on any level.
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