Patriots Defense Is A Real Concern
By Site Staff
Just about to a man, every member of the New England defense felt fortunate to come away from Sunday night's division battle with the Bills with the 21-16 victory.
And for good reason. Heading into this week's Monday night battle with the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots very easily could have lost what many expected to be a sort of tune-up game against Buffalo for the high-powered offense it will face against Indianapolis.
Coming off the bye week and getting the return of Pro Bowl linebacker Tedy Bruschi, the expectation heading into the first AFC East game of the season was that the Patriots defense would be a much sounder unit. But despite all the self scouting and tightening up that took place during the bye week, the defense against the Bills looked very similar to the one that struggled through the first six weeks of a tough opening schedule.
Buffalo ran the ball at will, completed big plays, converted over 50-percent of its third down, and, had it not been forced to settle for field-goal attempts or turned the ball over late, probably should have walked away with the win. Willis McGahee rushed for 136 yards on 31 carries, Kelly Holcomb completed 20-of-33 passes for 263 yards and Eric Moulds caught nine balls for 125 yards and a score.
Not surprisingly, that left the Patriots defenders searching for even more answers and improvement.
"It was real gut check," linebacker Willie McGinest said of the win. "We still didn't play as well as we wanted to defensively. There are things we can do better -- playing guys too close, penalties, teams running the ball. We can do a lot of things better. We are going to get it worked out. We are going to work hard. We have to. We have no choice. We have one of the best teams, if not the best team in football right now coming in here next week. We have our hands full. If we don't get better there are going to be some problems."
On the positive side, a few things did improve against Buffalo. The Patriots held the Bills to field-goal attempts in all three of their trips into the red zone, recorded their second interception of the season and just their fourth and fifth takeaways overall, and were able to get some pressure on Holcomb.
But getting just enough done against the Bills and playing well enough against the Colts in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game are two different things.
"It wasn't good enough. It just wasn't," McGinest said. "I am not going to sit here and say it was until we are winning the way we're supposed to and we are giving our offense opportunities to come on the field and score points, are getting off the field on third down, are getting those turnovers and we are not making all those dumb mistakes giving up big plays and penalties and things like that."
McGinest and the rest of the New England defenders know they are lucky to be heading into the meeting with the Colts on a winning note. And the test they face this Monday night will go a long way in showing just how improved this post-bye Patriots defense really is, because the results against the supposedly one-dimensional Bills were less than stunning.
The visiting Buffalo Bills dominated a bulk of the action at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but it was the back-to-back defending Super Bowl champs that made the plays when it counted for the 21-16 comeback win. The victory improved the inconsistent Patriots to 4-3 on the season and solidified the team's spot atop the AFC East, one game ahead of the 3-4 Dolphins.
Buffalo ran the ball consistently throughout the game, with running back Willis McGahee going for 136 yards on 31 carries (4.4 avg.). And quarterback Kelly Holcomb had his best game of the season, completing 20-of-33 passes for 263 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
However, despite dominating the time of possession (39:20 to 20:40) and moving the ball into the red zone three times, Buffalo led just 3-0 at halftime and only 16-7 midway through the fourth quarter. That's when New England took over. The Patriots scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns on Corey Dillon 1-yard runs and suddenly the Bills' work for three-plus quarters went for not.
Dillon finished the game with 18 carries for 72 yards (4.0 avg.), while Tom Brady had a relatively quiet night going 14-for-21 for 199 yards with one touchdown.
Defensively, New England saw the return of Tedy Bruschi, but the biggest play came from fellow linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. Colvin recorded a strip sack on Holcomb in the fourth quarter and recovered the fumble that set up the game-winning score just two plays later.
Following the game, the general feeling around the New England locker room was joy for the win but an understanding that the team hadn't played anything near its best football.
"A lot of things went in our favor," coach Bill Belichick said. "We made some big plays when we needed to. It's a good win for us. We played a little better in some different areas. We played better in the red area defensively. But it was kind of a sloppy game. There were a lot of mistakes out there on both sides. There are certainly a lot of things we need to clean up and do better, but the bottom line is it was a tough division game like it usually is against Buffalo or anybody in this division and it's a good win."
Richard Seymour missed his third straight game with a knee injury suffered playing
goal line fullback against the Chargers in Week 4. In Seymour's absence against
the Bills, Jarvis Green got the start on the New England 3-4 front, although Marquise Hill and Dan Klecko also saw action. The three replacements combined four five
tackles for the Patriots defense that allowed Buffalo's Willis McGahee to rush
for 136 yards on 31 carries.
--LB Tedy Bruschi made a successful return to the New England starting lineup against the Bills just one day after being activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list. Bruschi, who suffered a mild stroke last February, played nearly all New England's defensive snaps as well as some special teams and finished with seven tackles.
"I'll have to take a look at the film, but it seemed like he was in on a few plays so it was good to have him back out there," coach Bill Belichick said. "We were going to see how it went (in terms of playing time). He was out for a little bit there in the first half. We had a couple of long drives there in the first quarter. We kind of spotted him through there and he was holding up okay so we stuck with it. We didn't know it was going to go that way. We were prepared to play him a little bit less. But he is in good condition. He was doing fine on the sidelines. It didn't look like he was winded."
--LB Mike Vrabel made just his second career start at inside linebacker against the Bills, lining up alongside Tedy Bruschi in New England's 3-4 front. Vrabel finished with a game-high 14 tackles while recording one sack and one pass defensed.
--WR Deion Branch had just three catches against the Bills, but averaged 30.7 yards per reception and had one score. Branch caught a 33-yard touchdown from Tom Brady in the third quarter, beating Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements. In the fourth quarter Branch caught passes of 37 yards and 22 yards, each helping set up Corey Dillon 1-yard touchdown runs.
--RB Patrick Pass got off to a strong start in the early going against the Bills before injuring his left hamstring and fumbling on the same play in the second quarter. Pass, who left the game and did not return, finished with three rushes for 17 yards and one reception for 23 yards.
--LB Chad Brown was a healthy inactive against the Bills. Brown had started five of the previous six games of the season but will likely see his role diminish now that Tedy Bruschi has returned to action.
--CB Asante Samuel recorded his first interception of the season, the first for any New England defensive back. The Patriots' only other interception on the year was recorded by linebacker Mike Vrabel.
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