originally uploaded by Gezlarge, on Flickr
It wasn't just the ability to create turnovers that helped the Patriots steamroll to a near-shutout victory yesterday over the Buffalo Bills -- it was also the ability to avoid turnovers of their own, and to capitalize (mostly early on in the game) on the turnovers committed by their opponents.
Here, the headline for most of the beat writers has been Tom Brady, his three touchdown passes, and his record-setting 319 attempts without an interception, not to mention his 26 touchdown passes without an INT since Oct. 17. There will also be plenty of talk around the ol' broadcast studio desk this week about Brady as a league MVP candidate.
It should also be acknowledged that the Patriots offensive line played yesterday, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies, like warrior-poets. Particularly the left side of the line, which featured unbelievable blocking by Logan Mankins, Matt Light, and especially Alge Crumpler, and it was that blocking which opened holes for Danny Woodhead and Benjarvus Green-Ellis on runs.
Brady protected the ball flawlessly and sealed off three series with touchdown passes, but it was the running game, particularly from the Law Firm, that once again served as the core engine for the Patriots offense. After another 100-yard game, Beni is on pace to become the first Patriot to rush for 1000+ yards in a season since 2004. And to come back to Brady again: calling the play-action effective yesterday would be a vast understatement.
(Woodhead didn't do quite as well in the blocking game as he would running the ball. At one point, Bills safety Jairus Byrd jumped clear OVER him to get at Brady -- a priceless image, though it might not have been so funny to me if the the play hadn't still worked out for the Patriots on the other side of the field.)
Looking at the bigger picture, there is the question of who, among the Patriots starters, will play, and for how long, next week vs. Miami, now that the Patriots have clinched top seed in the AFC. But I find that conversation stultifyingly boring.
Then there is the more interesting question of how the Patriots might fare in the playoffs, against teams with more discipline, where they probably won't be fortunate enough to capitalize on as many turnovers as they have vs. the Packers and Bills these last two weeks.
But I love how much this team is reminding me of the early days of the Bill Belichick era, particularly on defense. Pepper Johnson is still a defensive coach, and he's still throwing high-speed passes at the defensemen in practice. I have to think that this year's quality of coaching, which had even a special teams DB looking for an opportunity to recover a fumble on a kickoff in garbage time, had everything to do with a game like yesterday's.
It will be particularly interesting if the Patriots wind up making a playoff appearance against the Kansas City Chiefs, who also kicked ass today under the leadership of a number of former Patriots staffers, including Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Those with Patriots heritage out in Kansas City also include former backup QB Matt Cassel, who threw a career-long TD pass in today's victory as a starter for the Chiefs that was named the CBS Play of the Day.
But for right now, the weather outside is frightful, and most of New England is cozily snowed in (the team even stayed in Buffalo an extra day before flying back because of the storm), recovering from last week's rush of holiday activity. And thanks to what happened yesterday, we won't have to worry about playoff matchups, with the Chiefs or anyone else, until well into next month.