"After you've worked with a man a certain length of time, you come to know his habits, his values...you come to know him." ~Chinatown
The Patriots have been the best team of this decade, and judging from their first three games, their stranglehold on that title is only going to get stronger.
After Sunday's beatdown of the Bills 38-7, the Pats have clearly sent a message to the league, with that being "it will take an extraordinary effort by anybody to beat this team." Once again, New England was running on all cylinders. The offense put up five touchdowns, the defense was as stingy as ever, and even the special teams looked like they got back on track this week, most notably Wes Welker, who is quickly becoming one of the popular Patriot players because of his work ethic and his ability to make big plays.
Tom Brady seemingly cannot be stopped. After a wild off-season filled with signing after signing of free agents on offense, it has not taken too long to see the rewards. Randy Moss has been nothing short of outstanding. Moss hinted during the start of training camp that he was "rejuvenated," but because he did not play any during the pre-season, no one could have known the kind of impact he might have. Even if they thought it was a sound addition, it would be almost impossible to have predicted Moss would revert back to his early Minnesota days to become one of the most dominant possession receivers in the game -- again. With yet another hundred-yard receiving game, Moss became the first player in NFL history to record 100 yards receiving in his first three games after being traded the year before. After going the2006 season without a go-to receiver, it's clear that Moss has become the No. 1 guy in this offense, which is such an advantage for other receivers like Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, and Benjamin Watson. While defenses sometimes use up to three defenders to cover Moss, that strategy opens up the Patritos' other receivers, allowing them to make big plays of their own.
Two plays against Buffalo in particular stood out in terms of Moss' impact on the passing game. The first came with about six and a half minutes left in the third quarter. New England was up 10, and it was absolutely imperative that the Pats put the ball in the end zone to erase any hopes the Bills may have had in terms of a comeback. After already catching a 45-yard pass earlier in the drive, it seemed as though Moss, who also had caught a short TD earlier on in the game, was going to be the guy Brady would be targeting. The left side of the Bills' defense, cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas, starting for the injured Terrance McGee, and safety Bryan Scott, clearly had their focus on Moss as the Pats broke the huddle on the third and goal play from the Buffalo 4-yard line. As Moss broke to the back of the end zone, the corner and safety followed him, leaving Jabar Gaffney, who broke to the outside, all by himself in the end zone, resulting in an easy touchdown. Moss' presence alone was one of the main factors to why Gaffney was so wide open.
The second play came towards the early stages of the fourth quarter. With the game seemingly well in hand at 31-7, it appeared as though the Pats would not be putting up any more fireworks in this game...then again, we've never seen Tom Brady and Randy Moss together on the same field. On a second and one play from just inside Buffalo territory, Brady stepped back to pass, pump-faked to his short receiver, then aired it out down the right sideline. Jabari Greer, the Bills' other starting corner, was covering Moss just about as well as it could possibly be done. Still, Brady was able to get the pass to fall just over Greer's shoulder. The ball was almost thrown a little too hard, but somehow Moss was able to reel it in with his long arms and score yet another touchdown for the Patriots. That play was the final score of the game by either team. It was a catch that would have been nearly impossible to make for any of the Patriots receivers last year. The Moss dynamic explains why there was such an emphasis put on stocking up at the receiver position by the front office. Anytime the No. 1 receiver from the year before is so low on the depth chart that he gets cut in the following year, proves that shakeups were necessary.
|Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch (23) is stopped by New England Patriots' James Sanders and Rosevelt Colvin in the third quarter of New England's 38-7 win in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)|
The running game was solid, and even more effective than they were in the first three games. It is hard to imagine that being the case, considering Brady threw for over 300 yards and 4 TDs. Laurence Maroney is learning to run more "downhill" than he did last year. Maroney's improvement showed on Sunday. He finished the day with his first 100-yard game of the season, earning a 5.4 average per carry. In addition to the emergence of Maroney becoming more of an offensive weapon, his other running mates have also stepped it up. Earlier this year, I wrote how this year, it would pretty much be all Maroney, and that the other backs on the team would contribute on an irregular basis. So far, Sammy Morris has emerged as an above-average, change-of-pace back. Morris has shown the ability to perform, not only in short-yardage situations, but also a reliable back that can fill in for Maroney when he needs a rest. This is a huge bonus for the Pats. It was unclear whether or not the running game would be effective this year given the questionis surrounding Maroney's health and the loss of Corey Dillon. Maroney's 177 yards through three games gives the team 455 for the year, fourth best in the league. It's clear now that this unit will be one of the best as the season rolls on.
The defense was again on their game. Entering the season, there were question marks surrounding this side of the ball. First with the disappearance, then re-emergence of Asante Samuel, the suspension of Rodney Harrison, the knee injury to Richard Seymour that will sideline him for at least the first six weeks, and the "aging" linebacking core, the "experts" predicted a rough start to the season. Now, the Pats are No. 1 in total defense, allowing a meager 207 yards a game. In the first quarter against the Bills, the Pats brought pressure on defense, forcing a J.P. Losman fumble on the third play of the game. After a New England field goal resulted, it seemed as though new Buffalo QB Trent Edwards had the Pats' front seven figured out. Behind the running of Marshawn Lynch, and a couple of key third down receptions, Edwards and the Bills marched 80 yards in 6:42, with Lynch capping the drive with an eight-yard touchdown. After that though, the Pats stepped up to the challenge of having to figure out Edwards and proceeded to confuse the rookie QB the rest of the game. Edwards finished the day 10/20 for 97 yards, including a late pick thrown to the aforementioned Asante Samuel, who nearly returned it for a score. Samuel and Ellis Hobbs deserve credit for the ineffectiveness of the Bills' passing game, especially for shutting down Lee Evans. Evans has been one of the biggest deep-threat receivers in the league since his rookie season. New England kept him in check by limiting him to just one reception for seven yards. The most discouraging aspect of the Patriots defense was the way they allowed the Bills to find success on the ground with Lynch. While the run defense was fantastic for most of the game, it's those early pushes that are important to stop.
|Jarvis Green Sacks Trent Edwards (Photo by Jim Rogash / Getty)|
Two guys have really stood out on New England's defense so far, Adalius Thomas and Jarvis Green. Thomas was expected to make an immediate impact after signing as a free agent this year, and Green, who has been a back-up since joining the Pats, has become almost as reliable as the guy he is replacing (Richard Seymour). Thomas is one of the few guys in the history of the Scott Pioli / Bill Belichick era to make the front office spend as much money as needed to get him on this team. After all the dollars shelled out for the former Pro-Bowler, Thomas was asked to add a spark to a linebacking unit that was already one of the best in the league. After having arguably one of the most impressive touchdown returns in Patriots' history, Thomas had another solid game, amassing seven more tackles, giving him 17 for the season, good enough for second on the team. Thomas has a rare combination of dynamic speed, size, and play-making ability for a linebacker, and looks to have a huge first season in New England.
Green entered the 2007 season in a role that he has come to embrace. In his sixth season in the league, Green has been third on the DE depth chart since right around his rookie season. However, in the times when he has been called upon, he has excelled with his knack for beating offensive tackles by using his speed off the corner, and his nose for the ball. However, with Seymour sidelined for the foreseeable future, the weight was squarely on Green's shoulders to fill the enormous shoes left by Seymour. Once again on Sunday, Green was doing what he had done in his first two games as a starter -- making plays. On the first series of the game, Ellis Hobbs came in on a corner blitz, sacking Losman and forcing a fumble, which Green recovered. Then, Green recorded his third sack of the season in the third quarter, which puts him in a tie for fifth amongst the league leaders.
All and all, it was another complete victory for New England, who now get an extra day to prepare for their upcoming Monday night game at Cincinnati (1-2). The Pats' secondary will be put to the test, but from all indications, it seems like they will be up for the challenge.
Rich Lyons is a Boston fan and USC Gamecock graduate. You can read more of Rich's material on Sports Central or on his personal sports blog "Mell-o's Thoughts."
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