Of all the possible scenarios that could have played out on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, a thirty-one point blowout of the Bills would have been at the bottom of most people's lists. The Patriots showed that they aren't quite ready to be written off and might just yet climb back into the playoff chase. Excellent line play on both sides of the ball, a solid running game that opened up the short-to-medium range passing game, and a physical smashmouth attitude all added up to what could be a statement game. All of these characteristics were missing for the last month but they returned on Sunday. These three characteristics were the foundations of last year and could be the keys again to this year's success. What's wrong with embracing the past if it brings you success in the present and the future?
Obviously, the big story today was the results of Episode 1 of Bledsoe vs. Brady. Brady played with the calm poise that was so characteristic of his play last season. At times Bledsoe looked hurried while standing in the pocket. As much as Bledsoe had something to prove on Sunday, perhaps more was at stake for Brady. As a quarterback suffering the worst losing streak of his young career and coupled with all this week's hype, Brady had a lot on the line if he wanted to silence the revisionist historians who thought the Patriots picked the wrong guy. And silence them he did. He threw a very efficient 23 out of 27 for 310 yards and 4 touchdowns in a big game. Like last year, he showed the poise of a veteran well-beyond his current experience.
For all the grief Belichick has taken the last month in this space and elsewhere, he and Romeo Crennel deserve credit for devising the game plan for the Bills. The schemes employed by the defense threw the timing of the Bills offense off and allowed the Patriots to control the tempo of the game. Again, like last year, the Patriots had timely blitzing and excellent secondary coverage on the Bills talented receivers. The Patriots also employed new, creative schemes that confused the young Bills offensive line. Exhibit A took place in the second quarter. The Patriots defensive front lined up several times with no down lineman and had all of their lineman and linebackers moving around freely like blitzing safeties. The results were missed blocking assignments by the Bills offensive line and heavy pressure up the gut against Bledsoe. And as we know from watching Bledsoe for the last nine years, when he is hurried, his efficiency in the passing game drops significantly. This is to take nothing away from Bledsoe. Few quarterbacks are more deadly when he has a strong pocket from which to throw the ball. However, if that pocket collapses like it did today, he becomes an average NFL quarterback.
The other refreshing occurance from Sunday was the return of the running game and the ability of the Patriots front seven to limit the Bills running game. Antowain Smith rushed 29 times for 111 yards. That's good enough for a cool 3.8 yards per carry average. The Patriots offensive line, employing the same starting five that won them the Super Bowl, opened up nice holes and picked up blitzers to allow Brady time to get the ball off. On the other side of the ball, Travis Henry was limited to 53 yards and the Patriots held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing for the first time in over a month. Clearly, something to build on.
If all of these good things continue against Chicago next week, the Patriots might just start tearing off another late season winning streak. It's there for the taking. Chicago is all done. The Raiders game in two weeks will be no picnic but they aren't the same team they were in September. And then two games against Norris Division foes-Minnesota and Detroit. How would 8-4 look at the end of this month? If Sunday becomes the rule and not the exception, it could be a very real scenario. Time will tell.
Okay, enough of that. Time to throw out the Zingers...
Mrs. Rousseau is STILL having bouqets thrown her way by so-called Zinger fans for her bye week column! You know who you are out there. Please, it only encourages her. She's just asked me when the next bye week is because she has come up with "fresh material."
As an ongoing public service, I will continue to rebuff the claims made in the now infamous bye week article. As for having our wedding in June "so that it wouldn't interfere with anything," the intention was not to get in the way with some insane obsession with training camp. Rather, have you ever tried to book a room on the lovely coast of Maine in July or August? Good luck. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The last time I remember seeing Bills' offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, he was being sucker punched on the sidelines by Buddy Ryan down in Houston. Almost as funny as Jim Mora's "playoffs?" press conference from last year. Almost, but not quite.
At first, I hated the "un-pure" yellow first down marker. Now, I can't function normally without it. Kind of like my current relationship with cashews.
Under the giving credit where its due department: A few weeks ago, I took Kevin Faulk to task in this column. Well, on Sunday, he played terrific and deserves an "atta-boy."
I'm all for protecting the well-being of players, but just when did "tackling too hard", as we saw twice against the Patriots today, become a 15 yard penalty in FOOTBALL? In today's game, legendary Hall of Famer defensive terror Night Train Lane would be considered the dirtiest player in the game.
I would absolutely have no problem if the San Diego Chargers kept their old powder-blue AFL uniforms as their main threads for the rest of eternity. They looked sharp on Sunday and who doesn't love having the player's number on the side of the helmet? Are you noticing all of these teams like the Jets and Giants returning to their old uniforms simply because they looked so sharp? As a rule of thumb, for whatever reason, uniforms in all sports looked so much classier back in the good old days. Now its a contest to see whose uniforms can most resemble a BU student at a nightclub in the Back Bay on a Saturday night.
Watching the game, I saw the UPS commercial with the music from "Cheers." I have never, nor do I hope I ever, feel the compelling need to hug my UPS man.
Okay, that's it for this week. I would love any feedback and/or advice on this column. Besides inflating my already "out of control self-ego (Mrs. Rousseau's assessment)," it brings me great happiness to write this column for you, the reader. Zingers that do not give Mrs. Rousseau further ammunition are always being accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org