Amidst an unrelenting blizzard that ravaged through the East Coast, the New England Patriots spent the Christmas weekend trekking through the elements to Orchard Park, New York to face their conference rivals, the Buffalo Bills.
With a discouraging 3-11 record, the Bills would didn’t seem to be a threat for the 12-2 Patriots team who hit their stride mid season and are riding a wave of dominanting wins against teams like the New York Jets, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. All three games had analysts predicting that each would be a challenge for the Patriots and would expose the key tactics to beating New England.
Each team was unable to successfully slow down the Tom Brady led offense and had no answer for a flourishing young defense. The Buffalo Bills were the latest to struggle in constructing a strategy against New England.
The Patriots overpowered the Bills with a final score of 34-3 to improve to a 13-2 record earning them the title of 2010 AFC East Divisional Champions. The latest win marks the Patriots’ 15th straight win over the Buffalo Bills and is also among the top three longest running streaks against a single opponent in NFL history.
Brady Quietly Orchestrating Dominance
|Tom Brady vs the Buffalo Bills Dec 26, 2010. (AP /Mike Groll)
It goes without saying that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is having an exceptional season. Along with one of the winningest records in the league, Brady has continued to break records nearly every time he’s stepped onto the field.
Brady completed 15 of 27 passes for 140 yards and threw three touchdowns to finish the game with a passer rating of 107. Among one of the more impressive records he attained on Sunday was that of most consecutive passes thrown without an interception. Brady has thrown 319 passes without being picked off and also has thrown a touchdown pass in each of the last 15 games.
When head coach Bill Belichick was asked about his record-breaking quarterback, the head coach was surprised with the news.
"I didn't realize he broke that,” in reference to Brady’s consecutive passes without an interception streak, ”That's great. Tom does a good job. [Buffalo] didn't get their hands on too many balls, like they did last week. He did a good job placing it.”
The emergence of the Patriots offense is due to a variety of levels. From bringing in some exceptional veterans to set an example for the rookies to going back to the basics of playing smart football, the methods are working for New England.
The draft class of 2009 and 2010 has been unexpectedly successful for the Patriots. The team’s success was not predicted by many experts because this was dubbed ‘a rebuilding year’.
Suddenly, it was the rookies that were making the biggest plays for the Patriots offense. The tight end tandem of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski has added the most unique dimension to the offensive scheme that was usually one dimensional. Hernandez has recorded 45 receptions and six touchdowns while Gronkowski has 36 catches and tallied nine touchdowns, two of them during Sunday’s game.
Gronkowski has now tied Ben Coates in most touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season in franchise history.
It’s not just the rookies though that really showed their skills against the Bills, the veteran tight end who has been the mentor for Hernandez and Gronkowski also had a special moment. Alge Crumpler makes his first career touchdown as a Patriot with a 4 yard catch late in the second quarter. Gronkowski showed his excitement for his mentor, “He's been a great leader. I love a man who leads by example with everything."
Patriots Defense: More than Rebuilding
|Love cebrates a sack (AP Photo)
The Patriots defense has taken many teams in the league by surprise.
With no outstanding pass rusher, many were waiting to see just how the defense would hold up against some of the best offenses in the league.
To the surprise of many, the most unexpected players have made the greatest impacts and the game against the Bills was a prime example of this.
Rookie free agent Dane Fletcher from Montana State was given a chance to play in the league when the Patriots signed him early this season. Since then, Fletcher has played in 10 games and recorded his first interception in the fourth quarter against the Bills.
Kyle Love was just another undrafted free agent when the Patriots signed him. Although Love only played his first game as a Patriot in September against the Jets, the Mississippi State alum is slowly gaining more play time. Love recorded his first career sack against Bills’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, the 2008 Patriots 10th overall draft pick, is making a statement this season and also for a spot at the 2011 Pro Bowl. The Tennessee alum is having his best season yet with 110 combined tackles so far.
There were six total turnovers that were caused by the Patriots. Safety Patrick Chung picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick for 16 yards, Jarrad Page also had an impressive pick off of the struggling Bills’ quarterback too.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was named the starter over Trent Edwards in their first game against the Patriots this season, knew that it was his mistakes that made the win much more difficult.
“I killed the team today by turning the ball over. You can't do that on any day when you play a team that is that good and that efficient on offense, it hurts you that much more.”
The Patriots defense attacked every facet of the Buffalo defense and held an offense with substantial talent to just a field goal and nothing more.
This is the third time this season that the Patriots have held their opponents to single digit points.
Miami's Brown has had success vs the Patriots (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Looking Forward: The Miami Dolphins
The NFL is entering week 17, at this point most of the teams that will be making a playoff appearance are pretty much set. After the explosive win against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots secured the number one seed in the AFC East and even home field advantage.
The question arises as to what this upcoming game against the (7-8) Dolphins will really mean for the Patriots.
Will Bill Belichick play his starters? Of course.
Whether or not it’s a preseason game or just the finishing game before the road to playoffs, the Patriots see every game as if it could be their last of the season. The match up against the Miami Dolphins is no different.
For the Dolphins have battled injuries all season, the running attack with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have been the highlights of this Chad Henne-led offense. The Patriots rush defense have greatly improved in the last few games, but with Brown and Williams averaging over 10 yards per carry, they are major threats.
A major contrast between these two teams is their ability to execute games. The Patriots not only manage to run up the score early on, they finish games efficiently, even if it means keeping Tom Brady on the field until the last three minutes of a game in which the team is up by 30 points.
The Miami Dolphins struggle to get wins against some of the lesser competitive teams such as the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. Their inability to hold on to a lead has prevented any sort of momentum from being established. Defensively, the Dolphins are effective to a point but have struggled to create turnovers. When facing Tom Brady and his illustrious record of most passes without an interception, this may not be the game in which Miami could improve this aspect of their defense.
With a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, look for the Patriots to utilize other player in this game to experiment with some new looks in offense and defense. Varied sub packages will also be used and some of the players vying for a prominent role may also get a chance to play and show their skills.
The New England Patriots are set to face the Miami Dolphins in Foxborough, Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium on January 2, 2011.
Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m est.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check back for regular updates by Kisha
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