PHOTO: New England Patriots linebcker Tedy Bruschi, center, tries to break through Buffalo Bills' offensive guard Chris Villarrial (58) and offensive tackle Jonas Jennings (75) after Bruschi intercepted a Drew Bledsoe pass during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004. Looking on is Bills' guard Lawrence Smith (72). (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Patriots: Week 11 Midweek Perspective
Injuries have derailed many a promising season for NFL clubs, but the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots seem almost immune to that bug - their team concept making them bigger than any individual player.
Starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole go out? All the Patriots do is whack the pass happy Rams and the Drew Bledsoe-Eric Moulds-led Bills. But there are exceptions to this rule -- quarterback Tom Brady being the most obvious -- and now it's clear that running back Corey Dillon qualifies as well.
If there is a downside to acquiring Dillon, as miniscule as it might be, it is that the offense has become dependant on his production as opposed to the last three years when the difference between Antowain Smith and the backup was minimal. Dillon, fresh off a dominating 151-yard effort against the Bills, has given the Patriots one of the league's most feared rushing attacks with 900 yards in eight starts and 180 rushes for a 5.0-yard per carry average.
Dillon is solely responsible for the Patriots' 4.2-yards per carry average that has New England on pace to snap the NFL's longest streak without averaging at least 4 yards per rush. The last time the Patriots averaged 4 yards per carry was all the way back in 1985, Hall of Fame guard John Hannah's final season -- a span of 18 seasons.
"He is so talented. He is so big. He is fast," Brady offered after watching Dillon become the first back to crack the 100-yard mark against the Bills defense. "You give it to Corey and he keeps running the way he does, we are going to keep giving it to him."
Dillon has given the Patriots a dimension they have lacked since Curtis Martin left for the Jets in 1998, and even Martin never made the kind of impact Dillon has.
"When you add a running back like Corey Dillon, it only makes an already potent offense better," Bills safety Lawyer Milloy said. "I think the strength of the offense is the receivers and Tom getting it to them, but obviously with the talent they have bringing in Corey, now they can run the ball. Going into the game as a defense, you have to prepare for a lot. It's very tough."
Dillon's value is magnified by the one game he missed this season with a leg injury, which just so happens to be the Patriots' only loss of the season. Dillon sat out the Pittsburgh game and a team that has averaged 123.8 rushing yards per game with him in the lineup rushed for only 5 yards with him out. To be sure, the Steelers' dominant defense deserves much of the credit for that, but almost 120 yards worth of credit? That's doubtful.
The Bills defense entered Sunday ranked third in the NFL and was fourth against the run, yet Dillon sliced through it and ran over it.
"When you get 100 yards on them it is well deserved," Dillon said. "We just kept doing what we wanted to do. I'm having fun."
"He definitely makes a big difference in our offense," left tackle Matt Light said. "When you get the running game going and Tom's sitting back there and able to pick people apart, you're having fun. We hit them in the mouth and played physical football and that's what we need to do."
And they need Dillon in the lineup to do it.
Early on in Sunday's game it looked like Buffalo would do what the Rams couldn't do a week earlier, which is to attack the Patriots' fill-in starting corners - undrafted rookie Randall Gay and undrafted free agent Earthwind Moreland. Drew Bledsoe completed his first two passes to Eric Moulds, who is usually shadowed by Ty Law, for 23 yards. Buffalo's offense also crossed into Patriots territory on each of its first three possessions, but came away empty each time.
From there, the Patriots pass defense dominated even without Law, fellow starter Tyrone Poole and starting nickel back Asante Samuel.
"I think it was a good team effort defensively," Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Everybody did a good job. There are too many guys to single out."
Belichick isn't about to praise a couple of inexperienced corners who he knows could be burned at any moment the way Gay was in Pittsburgh two plays after Law went down with a broken foot when Plaxico Burress beat him for a 47-yard touchdown.
"The secondary did a good job," Belichick acknowledged, "but so did the other players. We didn't give up big plays, we got some pressure on the quarterback and we turned the ball over. It looked like we got a pretty solid performance out of the 15, 16 guys that played for us."
--As is typically the case, the Patriots offered little on the injury front. Samuel was listed as probable for the game and was among the 45 active players, but did not play in the game after injuring his shoulder against the Rams the week before. Asked about his status, Belichick said, "He could have played."
- Linebacker Mike Vrabel was added to the injury report last Friday with a
lower leg ailment, but assumed his regular role in the defense while special
teamer Matt Chatham sat out with a strained hamstring. Wide receiver Deion Branch, who had been upgraded to questionable this week, missed his seventh
straight game with a knee injury.
No update was given on wideout David Givens, the team's leading receiver who left the game in the fourth quarter with what the team termed, "getting the wind knocked out of him." In Patriots vernacular, that means anything from actually getting the wind knocked out of him to suffering a concussion.
- Linebacker Tedy Bruschi survived a scare late in the fourth quarter with
the Patriots leading 29-6. Bruschi had his leg pinned underneath him as he
rocked back making a tackle. He appeared to twist his knee and ankle, and
teammate Mike Vrabel immediately called for medical assistance. Amazingly,
Bruschi walked off and appeared to be OK after the game, although he certainly
wasn't going to share injury news.
"I was very lucky today," he said. "I had to sit there and take a little bit of inventory, but I'm all right. I was able to walk off the field and test it a little bit. The guys call me a bunch of things - the contortionist; they call me Gumby; they say I'm double jointed. I rolled with it a little bit and here I am talking to you."
- PK Adam Vinatieri had another big game, connecting on all five of his field
goal tries and is now an impressive 23-for-24 on the season. He needs just
seven points for his ninth straight 100-point season and he reached the 1,000-point
mark for his career. "It's one of those achievements that all the guys
in the league that have accumulated 1,000 points have been pretty successful
for a pretty decent period of time. It's a cool feeling," Vinatieri said.
- WR Troy Brown may not receive Deion Sanders-type hype for his two-way play
as a receiver and corner, but he should because what he is doing is much harder
than what Sanders or any other athletic cornerback has done in taking some
offensive snaps. Brown became the first player in Patriots history to record
a reception and an interception in the same game. Only two Patriots players
have recorded at least one reception and interception in their career and
both were, like Sanders, primarily defensive players. Defensive back Chuck
Shonta had one catch and one interception in 1961 and current linebacker Mike
Vrabel had one interception and one interception in 2002.
- TE Christian Fauria found the end zone for the first time since scoring
twice in Week 2 of last season. Fauria actually scored nine touchdowns in
his first 18 games as a Patriot, earning the nickname, Score-yay, but he was
shut out since, at least until hauling in a 5-yard TD pass Sunday night. "It's
been a long time. It was nice," Fauria said. "I've been waiting
for an opportunity. They called that play and I said, 'I gotta make this work.'"
- WR Bethel Johnson has just seven receptions on the season, but is averaging
19.8 yards with catches of 47 and 48 yards included. He hauled in a 47-yard
pass against Bills last week and his 48-yarder came back on Oct. 17 against
- S Eugene Wilson intercepted his team-high third pass of the season when he picked off Drew Bledsoe in the first quarter while providing deep help against Eric Moulds. Wilson made the leaping catch at the Patriots 3-yard line and now has seven career interceptions.
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