By John MacKenna, Patriots Insider
Important records should be hard to break, so it seems unfair that the 0-2 Buffalo Bills and the 0-3 Miami Dolphins should be the only obstacles remaining in the Patriots' pursuit of an NFL record 19-game winning streak.
It's a good thing that the Patriots adhere to Bill Belichick's one-game-at-a-time approach, because these both are trap games. The Bills or Dolphins are both theoretically capable ending the streak. In reality, though, expect the Patriots to win both games.
Should the Patriots beat Buffalo this Sunday and match the record, the 2004 Dolphins will be solely responsible for protecting the record that the 1972 Dolphins set. How ironic that the best team in Dolphins history must trust its 32-year-old record to what might be the worst team the franchise has ever fielded. Could there be a longer shot now in the NFL than the Dolphins visiting Gillette Stadium?
In the meantime, the Bills in Buffalo pose the much tougher threat. Their defense could shut down New England and put the Bills in position to win on a turnover or a big play. Should the Patriots score two first-half touchdowns, however, they need only guard the ball to leave with a victory.
The Patriots, of course, are treating the Bills with respect. Defensive end Ty Warren this week praised Bills QB Drew Bledsoe. "I've been watching Bledsoe since before I came into the league, and I think he's still dangerous now with that strong arm. I haven't paid too much attention to what he's done so far against other teams (this season), but I know he's a smart guy and is a dangerous weapon for that team."
What Bledsoe has done much so far isn't much: 351 yards passing in two games. Eric Moulds continues to be the favorite target with 8 catches for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns. No. 2 receiver Josh Reed has only four catches, and rookie Lee Evans has three. The run game has been inconsistent, with lead back Travis Henry gaining only 142 yards.
"This offense is close, but there are obviously some things we have to
work on," said Bills Coach Mike Mularkey. "Their biggest problem right
now is inconsistency. They can move the ball but for some reason they can't
finish drives. It may be a dropped ball or a penalty. It's one thing if they're
not moving the ball because then we would really have a problem. But that's
not the case. Their struggles are easily correctable."
While scoring only 10 points in each of their games so far, the Bills have bested their opponents in first downs (30-26), average time of possession (32:06 to 27:54) and third-down percentage. Mularkey was optimistic after the Oakland game, "After looking at the film it's amazing how close this offense really is," he said. "Right now there are just little things that we need to work on. I haven't seen any problems in the film that we can't fix. It's just a matter of staying consistent."
Linebacker Roman Phifer gives the Bills' offense credit. "We know that they are good players and they are capable of being a good team," he said. "The couple of games they lost, they could have won. It could have gone either way, so we are not taking anything for granted."
Said Bledsoe, "It takes everybody (to make the offense work). You've got to have 11 guys doing their jobs very consistently and doing it every play. We've had breakdowns that have led to some third-and-long situations and that's been difficult for us to overcome."
Third-and-long is not where Bledsoe wants to be this week. The Patriots' pass rushers teed off on Arizona's Josh McCown in Week 2, and they're likely to get to Bledsoe a few times. No Patriots lineman has a sack yet this season, but that should change in Buffalo. Ty Warren has been getting penetration. Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour are due. And don't be surprised to see linebacker Rosevelt Colvin all over Bledsoe. This game is a good opportunity for the former Chicago Bears sack artist to regain his confidence. The Raiders sacked Bledsoe seven times.
The Bills would rather run the ball. They have gained only 162 yards rushing, but Henry is coming off a 1,356-yard campaign in '03 and could get untracked against the Patriots, who were torched by Edgerrin James and the Colts in Week 1. Look for the Bills to challenge Vincent Wilfork and Keith Traylor up the middle. If the Patriots' run defense holds, however, the Bills will be hard-pressed to score.
Should the Patriots tie the consecutive-win record against the Bills, they are almost certain to break it against the Dolphins Oct. 10. The Dolphins had plenty of problems in the offseason before star running back Ricky Williams announced his retirement and left the team without a running game. Now ESPN has Miami ranked second-to-last in its Power Rankings. ESPN's Len Pasquarelli reports that the Dolphins will reinsert Jay Fielder as the starting quarterback this week against the Jets. Their starting running back this week is Leonard Henry, who has 41 career rushing yards. Belichick will have his work cut out trying to get his team to respect the Dolphins.
Notes: Guard Ross Hochstein's days as a starter may be numbered. Stephen Neal
is seeing a lot of playing time and getting noticed for his powerful blocking.
Belichick last week praised Neal's style. "He's very aggressive and he's
fearless and he just goes in there and throws his body around recklessly."
The Patriots are on pace for 24 interceptions and 48 sacks. Last year, they
had 29 interceptions and 41 sacks.
Bledsoe is on pace for 16 TD passes.
Last year he totaled 11.
Corey Dillon's 244 rushing yards equals 38 percent
of Antowain Smith's 2003 regular season total. Dillon is on pace to easily exceed
the 2003 rush yardage of Smith, Kevin Faulk and Mike Cloud combined.
Patriots QB Tom Brady threw four interceptions in last year's season opener
Bledsoe has surpassed 4,000 yards passing in a season three
times. Brady's career best is 3,764 passing yards in '02.
John has agreed to become one of our regular contributors to the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: oldnslow
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