When breaking down the Patriots-Bills matchup last week, one area in which a clear advantage seemed apparent was in the trenches. Without Logan Mankins, the Patriots’ interior O-line of Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly had to face Bills DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
In addition to the interior, Patriots OTs Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer had the task of keeping Mario Williams and Mark Anderson at bay.
One unit had a pair of players that were backups last season, a second-year player at a key position and was missing its best player. The other unit had a couple Pro Bowlers, the highest-paid player in the league at his position and one of the best rookies from last season.
That’s why they play the games, as the Patriots’ O-line completely manhandled the Bills on Sunday, especially in the second half of a 52-28 win.
The Bills had a 21-7 lead in the third quarter — and that’s with a C.J. Spiller fumble before halftime near the endzone killing another Bills potential scoring drive. Suddenly, Buffalo looked the part of a team on the rise, a team meeting its expectations to end the league’s longest postseason drought.
Tom Brady and the Patriots, facing a deficit, decided that instead of testing a young secondary, they’d go after the Bills’ supposed strength and run it down their throats. And it worked, to perfection, and brings scrutiny to Dave Wannstedt’s unit.
On a drive that ended in a Danny Woodhead touchdown, undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden had back-to-back carries for 27 and 13 yards to get the Patriots in Bills territory. On New England’s next drive, Bolden had a 20-yard gain to help move the sticks, and Brady ended that with a touchdown scamper.
With a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter, New England continued to ground-and-pound. Bolden and Stevan Ridley combined for 42 rushing yards, culminating in a Ridley touchdown. The hammer came on the next drive, though, when Bolden absolutely trucked fellow rookie Stephon Gilmore on his way into the endzone.
In the second half, the Patriots rushed the ball 24 times for 159 yards, a 6.6-yard rushing average. Bolden made a name for himself by running through and around the Bills’ high-priced, big-name defensive line.
It wasn’t just the D-line, though, getting locked up by the Pats’ O-line at the point of attack. On these big runs, the Patriots got to the second level with ease, keeping linebackers from making plays. Missed tackles didn’t help Buffalo’s cause, from Gilmore to Mario Williams to Nick Barnett. Bolden and Ridley would hit their first hole and find more room to run, forcing the defensive backs to make tackles.
“We missed a lot of tackles yesterday, way more than we have had in games before,” Chan Gailey told reporters on Monday.
The Jets threw the ball with ease against the Bills in Week One, and the Patriots ran by them in Week Four. Wannstedt, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson were brought to town to get the Bills over the hump, and part of that is winning in the division. In two AFC East games, the Bills have been outscored 100-56, recorded one sack and given up 964 total yards of offense.
Certainly, the moves were made to keep the Bills’ defense up with the passing league, but it’s no secret that beating the Patriots is a top goal in Buffalo, and an improved defense could put them in position to do that. Thus far, though, when Wannstedt’s group has had the spotlight in the division, it has failed. Big plays early against the Jets, and big runs late against the Pats.
The two games in which the defense looked the part came against the Browns and Chiefs, teams with a combined record of 1-7.
Gailey defended Wannstedt on Monday, saying he has complete confidence in the coordinator. “We have our people in the right spots. We are sound. We just have to continue to get better,” he said. “We have to be able to stop the run — which we did for two games and we did not for two games.”
Gailey’s point is valid — the Bills did bottle up Trent Richardson and Jamaal Charles, but an 0-2 record in the division can spark panic when you consider the opponents. The Jets are 30th in the league in yards per carry and the passing game is a disaster — but it looked pretty darn good against the Bills. The Patriots’ run game had fallen off in Weeks Two and Three, and without their best run blocker and using an undrafted rookie in his first significant role, New England had no problem.
The margin of error is slim for the Bills, especially when Ryan Fitzpatrick is turning the ball over the way he has in the two losses. The organization went all in this season, and more performances like Sunday will keep the Bills out of the playoffs again and be a major indictment on Wannstedt, the front office and Super Mario, the highest-paid defensive player who has yet to look like it game in and game out.