Patriots Insiders Perspective and Report Card

<p>The Patriots are 3-0 and winners of an NFL all-time high 18 straight games as they prepare to play host to the 0-4 Dolphins at Gillette Stadium this week with the chance to have sole ownership of the all-time consecutive wins streak. All is well in Foxborough ... sort of.</p> <p>Get Inside to read the rest of this story</p>

New England has yet to play a complete football game in its first three wins and that fact hasn't been lost on the players or head coach Bill Belichick. Part of the reason might be the quirky schedule that has prevented the team from working within its regular weekly routine. But whatever the reason, the Patriots understand that they cannot continue to make the mistakes they made in Buffalo Sunday and expect to reach their goals.

Their goal, incidentally, has nothing to do with breaking any winning streak records, but winning the next game, which has been their philosophy for all of the last 18 NFL game weeks.

"I'm just looking for four in a row," linebacker Ted Johnson said after the club's latest win. "You don't have time to worry about that stuff (winning streaks). We just have to prepare for Miami."

"This team focuses week to week," added quarterback Tom Brady. "We're 3-0 and looking forward, not back. We need to get better, and Miami has as tough a defense as we'll play all year."

Sunday's first half featured enough mistakes for Belichick to fill a team video session. From special teams breakdowns to big plays allowed to a fumble on the 1-yard line to a myriad of penalties, the Patriots didn't play with the focus that has become their staple since last October when the winning streak started.

"We made a lot of mistakes," Belichick said. "We had a bad day on special teams and we're glad to come away with a win. The players did a good job focusing in the second half, but the Bills had a good game plan that kept us off balance.

"We've won three games. That's it. There is a lot of football left to play and we need to play a lot better than we did (Sunday). When you give up a 100-yard kickoff return, a 50-yard fake punt, a 50-yard touchdown pass and fumble the ball at the 1, I don't think that's playing with a great field presence or great coaching. A lot of high school teams could do better than that."

So while the Patriots are undefeated and it's popular to say that good teams can win when they don't play their best, the Patriots will not keep winning for much longer unless they clean up their act.

"We made a lot of mental mistakes," safety Rodney Harrison said in reference to the Bills game. "We were fortunate to win."
If the mistakes continue, the Patriots won't remain so fortunate.



--It was turn back the clock day for Ted Johnson Sunday in Buffalo. The oft-injured linebacker has progressively earned more playing time this season in the team's 3-4 front and has made a major impact in a run defense that clearly missed big nose tackle Ted Washington.
Johnson finished with a modest five tackles against the Bills, but was a visible factor in slowing Buffalo running back Travis Henry, who finished the afternoon with a solid 24 runs for 98 yards. But many of his yards came when the Patriots switched to a 4-3 look and replaced Johnson with defensive lineman Jarvis Green.

"I feel like I have nine lives with this team," Johnson said. "I never doubt my ability. I just don't. If they give me an opportunity, I feel I'll get done whatever they're asking of me. I constantly have to prove myself. I missed so much time with injuries that it's a constant, 'where is Ted now?' For me, there is no time to relax. I have to be ready to go when I get my chance."

--New England's wide receiving corps looks like a MASH unit. Deion Branch is out for what looks like an extended period. Troy Brown's arm was in a sling after the Bills game. Bethel Johnson was hurt in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win and didn't return because of the undisclosed injury. Add tight end Benjamin Watson's season-ending knee injury to the list and the Patriots are suddenly thin at what may have been their deepest position.

David Patten, David Givens and rookie fifth-round pick P.K. Sam are the only healthy wide receivers, and tight end Daniel Graham, for all his big plays, still drops passes. With so few weapons in the passing game, the Patriots may become easier to defend in the coming weeks since the strength of their passing game is Tom Brady's ability to exploit coverages and throw to whichever receiver might be open. His options have suddenly been limited. Givens and Patten did combine to catch nine passes for 199 yards against the Bills.

--The Patriots allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown for the first time since Oct. 1, 2000 when Denver's Deltha O'Neal returned one 87 yards for a score. O'Neal's touchdown came following a free kick after the Patriots had taken an intentional safety. Terrence McGee did the damage this time when he raced 98 yards for the game-tying touchdown. It was the second longest return against the Patriots in history. The first also came against the Bills when Charlie Warner ran 102 yards for a touchdown against the Boston Patriots at Fenway Park on Nov. 7, 1965.

--DL Richard Seymour's 68-yard touchdown return in Buffalo was the first score of his career. He scooped up a Drew Bledsoe fumble forced by Tedy Bruschi and thundered untouched to the end zone. "Everybody just get out of my way and let me get on to the house," is what Seymour said he was thinking about as he rumbled to the end zone. It was the Patriots' first defensive touchdown of the season and first since Matt Chatham returned a fumble 38 yards for a score against the Giants on Oct. 12, 2003.

--TE Daniel Graham's fourth quarter touchdown reception marked the fourth straight game in which he has found the end zone dating back to last year's season finale vs. the Bills. With a touchdown catch against the Dolphins this week, Graham would tie the franchise record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception. The mark is held by Michael Timpson (12/26/93-9/18/94) and Jim Colclough (11/11/62-12/9/62).

--LB Tedy Bruschi recorded two sacks against the Bills for his third career multi-sack game and first since he had 1.5 sacks against the Vikings on Nov. 24, 2002. His second sack resulted in the fumble that Seymour returned for a game-clinching touchdown.

--RB Corey Dillon scored his first touchdown as a Patriot when he scored on a 15-yard run, but he also lost a fumble on the 1-yard line, his first official fumble in 229 touches dating back to Dec. 22, 2002. Two weeks ago in Arizona, he dropped a pitch that Arizona recovered, but because of the rules regarding such a play, the fumble was charged to quarterback Tom Brady. Dillon also lost a fumble in the preseason.

--CB Tyrone Poole returned punts in place of the injured Brown and Kevin Faulk. Without Brown and Faulk, punt returning has become an adventure for New England. Deion Branch muffed one against the Colts that resulted in a turnover and Sunday in Buffalo, Poole misplayed one that ended up rolling out of bounds at New England's 3-yard line.




-- The Patriots were excellent making plays in the passing game when they needed to against an aggressive Bills defense that blitzed quarterback Tom Brady on nearly every play. "It seemed like they were bringing everybody," Brady said afterward. Despite the blitzing and the resulting pressure, the Patriots front did a marvelous job giving the quarterback time to get the ball out against man-to-man coverage and the result was some critical throws and catches. Brady completed 17-of-30 passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and he wasn't sacked while compiling a 112.9 passer rating. Wideouts David Patten and David Givens stepped up to the tune of nine catches for 199 yards while Patten scored on a 30-yard pass. Brady completed eight passes of 17 or more yards, four for more than 30 yards and two longer than 40 yards.


-- the Patriots had efficient runs (4 yards, a first down or a touchdown) on 13 of 26 runs - a decent ratio. Corey Dillon finished with 19 carries for 79 tough yards against an aggressive front and scored on a 15-yard touchdown run. But he also lost a fumble at the 1-yard line with the Patriots looking to take a 17-10 second quarter lead. This was by far the toughest challenge of the season for the Patriots front five, and Bill Belichick scrapped the seven-man rotation system he used through two games and stuck with his five starters throughout. They certainly didn't win the battle against the Bills front in terms of creating running room, but they held their own and Dillon used his ability to find some room and got outside on the ends for some nice gains in the second half with the Bills crashing inside and blitzing Brady up the middle.


-- New England allowed a 55-yard pass completion on the Bills first play from scrimmage and allowed a 41-yard touchdown pass despite knowing full well that the only thing it couldn't do against the Bills was allow big plays. Tyrone Poole and Eugene Wilson were victimized on the plays. Bledsoe was well protected for nearly the entire game despite what the statistics say. The Patriots actually had seven sacks in the game, but three of the sacks game on a meaningless last-minute possession just after Richard Seymour's game-clinching touchdown. That play, however, was the result of a Tedy Bruschi sack and forced fumble on a fourth-and-three play that actually called for Bledsoe to run a bootleg. One of the other sacks came when Bledsoe tripped on the guard as he dropped back. Poole intercepted Bledsoe on a play in which the quarterback and receiver, Eric Moulds, weren't on the same page. Bledsoe threw to the outside while Moulds cut in. The defense allowed Bledsoe to complete 18-of-30 passes for 247 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Moulds led the way with 10 receptions for 126 yards and a score.


-- The Patriots were shifting between a 4-3 and 3-4 and were clearly more vulnerable against the run in their 4-3 front. Ted Johnson had nice afternoon slowing down Travis Henry, who had a solid day with 98 yards on 24 runs. But Henry fell down for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-two play with 3:24 to go in the game and the Bills trailing by 7. That led to the fourth-and-three on which Seymour scored. The Bills had 13 efficient runs in 26 attempts, but 34 of Buffalo's 138 rushing yards came from punter Brian Moorman after he dropped a snap and ran 34 yards untouched for a first down. The Patriots didn't get torched on the ground, but they clearly have some work to do.


-- This was the worst special teams day in the Bill Belichick era and has to rank among the worst ever. The lone bright spot was Bethel Johnson's 40-yard kickoff return that was close to going all the way. The Patriots allowed a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In the second quarter, punt returner Tyrone Poole chose not to block Bills coverage man Kevin Thomas as he raced to down a punt and did so at the Patriots 2. Since Poole didn't call for a fair catch on the play, he could have blocked Thomas and the ball would have bounced into the end zone. Instead, Thomas made a terrific play to catch the ball in the air and drop it back as his momentum carried him into the end zone. At the end of the half, the Patriots would have had the ball at their 43 with 56 seconds left and two timeouts remaining, but Dexter Reid was called for a facemask that resulted in a re-kick. On the re-kick, which bounced out of bounds at the Patriots 22, Tully Banta-Cain was called for a personal foul penalty and the Patriots took over at the 11. The stats say that is 20 yards in penalties, but it actually cost New England 32 yards and a chance at a last-minute field goal drive. That's not all. The Patriots were caught racing upfield to set up a punt return when Bills punter Brian Moorman dropped a snap. When Moorman picked up the ball, there wasn't a Patriot around, and the speedy punter sprinted 34 yards for a first down that set up a 41-yard touchdown pass on the next play. Poole later muffed a punt that eventually bounced out of bounds at the Patriots 3-yard line. It was a long day in this phase of the game.


-- The Patriots defensive game plan was to prevent big plays and when they did that, Buffalo could not move the ball consistently. The Bills scored 10 offensive points in the game. Seven came on a 41-yard touchdown pass and the other three were set up by a 55-yard pass. So when the plan was executed, it worked to perfection. Offensively, the Patriots were prepared for the Bills blitzes and handled them well. New England made excellent halftime adjustments in the running game and started working the ball outside the tackles on the ends for some nice gains. The Patriots had a nice play called on the fourth-and-three play late in the fourth quarter that resulted in Richard Seymour's touchdown. Tedy Bruschi came untouched up the middle and forced the fumble that essentially ended the game. New England took a chance with a challenge on Eric Mould's 41-yard touchdown catch because the ball popped out when Moulds hit the ground. New England didn't get a look at good replay and challenged it based on what Belichick saw live across the field. Moulds had established possession in the end zone and the play cost New England a timeout and a challenge, which they almost needed in the fourth quarter, but did not have had. The Patriots made too many mistakes early and didn't seem to maintain focus, but rallied in the second half, kept their poise and made the plays to win the game.

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