FOXBORO, MA — The Patriots will head to Buffalo on Sunday and will be looking to do something they haven’t done in a while, and that’s to not allow the Bills to keep the game close.
It’s probably going to be difficult, especially if the recent trends are any indication. Five of the last seven meetings were decided by four points or fewer.
In their last meeting back on Nov. 11 when they handed the Bills a 21-11 defeat in Foxboro, it was still a tight game with New England leading only 14-11 with just under two minutes to go in the game.
And it was also a very ugly game.
The Patriots allowed 7 sacks to quarterback Tom Brady along with two fumbles and an interception, and they weren’t very impressive offensively. Antowain Smith was the only bright spot in the game with 100-yards rushing, however 42 of those came on a breakaway touchdown run with just under two minutes left in the game to put Buffalo away.
As for Brady he finished the game 15-of-21 for 107 yards and a touchdown, and he’s going to need to play better than that if New England hopes to beat Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills pass defense is 5th in the NFL giving up an average of 197.8 yards per game, but they’ve been unable to force many interceptions, and have only picked off opponents six times this season.
With Alex Van Pelt now at quarterback, the Bills look as though they are prepared to put a final run together after beating Carolina last Sunday 25-24. They did it rather impressively, overcoming an 18-point deficit in the final 30 minutes to rally and beat the Panthers, and also ended a six game losing streak.
Van Pelt came into the Nov. 11 game against the Patriots after starter Rob Johnson was knocked out of the game, and led the Bills back, coming very close to stealing a win in Foxboro. Belichick feels that his team had too many problems on offense in their last meeting against Buffalo, and his team is going to have to play much better if they hope to come out with a win on Sunday.
“I thought we had some problems offensively,” said Belichick on Wednesday. “Their offensive line is coming back together and it seems like Van Pelt is giving them a lift at quarterback. He is getting rid of the ball quickly like he always does and they are not taking a lot of negative plays, sacks and losses and that kind of thing and he has thrown ten touchdown passes.”
“We had trouble blocking the [defensive] front. We gave up some pressure on the quarterback, gave up some sacks, so we need to do a little better job than we did the first time in that area.”
The Bills have struggled on offense this season, especially when it comes to third down. They have converted a mere 35.4% on third down while opponents have converted 41.6%. They have given up 42-sacks and have reached the endzone 24-times compared to opponents who have scored 38-touchdowns.
The result is obviously a 2-10 record.
But like quarterback Tom Brady the Bills’ Van Pelt has come in and turned things around. His four starts coupled with his 8-appearances when previous starter Rob Johnson left the game have resulted in the same number of yards that Johnson had after his eight starts. Van Pelt has thrown for 1425-yards compared to Johnson who had 1465, and like Johnson he’s completed 60% of his passes. He’s also thrown for twice as many touchdowns (10) and currently has a higher quarterback rating than Johnson (80.5 compared to 76.3).
Needless to say, don’t think for a moment that Belichick hasn’t noticed this trend.
“He and Rob Johnson have thrown about the same number of passes, for about the same number of yards roughly and Van Pelt has only been sacked maybe a third of the time (11 compared to Johnson’s 31),” said Belichick. “He is a guy that doesn’t scramble around like Rob does so he doesn’t present that kind of problem.”
“He releases the ball quickly, he makes quick decisions and gets it out of there in a hurry and it forces your coverage to match the routes a lot quicker.”
Sunday’s game is an important one for both sides. Buffalo has a chance to close out their season on a positive note by playing spoiler to the Patriots, Jets, and Miami who are all in playoff contention. For New England this is a must-win game for them if they hope to win the AFC East as well as earning a possible home playoff game. They are currently in second place in the division behind Miami, and should they beat the Bills they will be in very good shape when the Dolphins come to town next weekend.
But unless they beat the Bills on Sunday they will be simply fighting for a second place finish, and that’s not where they want to be. Not according to Belichick.
“It is about where we finish, not where we are in the middle of December,” said Belichick. “Right now it is Buffalo, that is it. 9-5, that is all we can do anything about, that’s where we want to be.”
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season