By Rick Anderson
Patriots Richard Seymour puts the heat on Drew Bledsoe and sacks him in second quarter action.
[AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli] |
All the hype leading up to the game was better than the game itself, at least for the Bills fans. While the fans were circling the wagons around Belichick and his Patriots all week, the Pats coach had game strategies circle in his head during that time. He devised a spectacular game plan again (just like he did in Super Bowl XXV when his Giants shutdown the Bills no huddle) and put a straight jacket around Bledsoe.
"There was a lot of hype for all of you guys [the media] on that," related Belichick. "But what's important for us is that we won the game. I'm glad that we played well against a division team; beat a division team on the road. That's what's important. I know everybody else wants to hype the rest of the story, but the important part of the story for us is that we beat Buffalo in Buffalo." Tom Brady took over Bledsoe's job as quarterback last year when Bledsoe went down with a serious chest injury. Brady then proceeded to take the Pats all the way to their fist Super Bowl title. That left the Patriots with a dilemma: they had two good quarterbacks and had salary cap room for only one. That's where the Bills took advantage of the situation and engineered a trade last April for Buffalo's first round draft choice in the college entry draft.
Bledsoe had Sunday's game circled on his calendar since the NFL schedule was released this year. He wanted to show his former team and Belichick specifically that they had traded the wrong quarterback. Bledsoe entered the game as the second rated quarterback in the league, averaging over 300 yards per game and leading the Bills to a 5-3 record. He wanted to make a statement to his former team. The way the game played out, it was Brady who made the statement.
Brady proceeded from the opening drive, to shove the ball down the Bills throats and led them on a touchdown drive to set the tempo of the game. He had a career day, connecting on 23 of 27 passes for 310 yards and four scores. The Bills seemed helpless in their attempts to stop Brady. Then never got any real pressure on him, and as a result, he sliced through their secondary like a surgeon.
"Your backs are up against the wall," said Brady about the Pats position in the AFC East. "You have two options: you can stay there and let the team stomp on you or you can try and fight your way out of it. Today, we fought our way out of it."
Brady fooled the Bills with his quick side-out screens and the used that "trick" over and over again. Brady completed 9 of his 10 screens that ripped the Bills for a total of 141 yards. The biggest of those screens was a 45-yard touchdown gallop that Kevin Faulk scored on after taking a screen to the left. He danced through a maze of would-be tacklers, untouched to the horror of not only the fans but Bills coach Gregg Williams who threw down his clipboard and started jawing with Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. Two other screens went to former Bill Antowain Smith, for 13 and 14 yard scores. One of the biggest targets Chris Watson, who didn't play the screens well at all and missed several of his tackle attempts.
"That was a good play for us," admitted Brady about the screen that froze the Bills defense time after time. "That is not something we have done a whole lot. I think they were blitzing on the other side and Kevin was unaccounted for in man coverage."
Smith had a field day against the Bills. The former Buffalo running back once again stuck it to his former teammates, running for 111 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"Antowain did a super job," lauded Belichick. "He runs hard and made a couple big plays in the passing game too on those screens. You just can't say enough about Antowain Smith. He's run hard all year. I'm sure it's good for him to do it here. He's a good back. I'm glad we got him."
Gray did not have the best coaching day of his life. In fact, on most teams, the lack of adjustments he made on defense would cost him his job. But this is Buffalo. In Buffalo, whether you're a coach of the Sabres or the Bills, your job is as secure as the Rock of Gibraltar.
The screen swing pass was used so often against the Bills, that it was incredible that the Bills could not find a defense against it.
"It comes down to one big fundamental – tackling," said Williams. "We had many opportunities to make the tackles in the open field and at each one of those situations there were numerous tackles missed."
There was so much hype about Bledsoe's big day that one had to almost sense the foreboding doom that awaited him. Belichick had a winning record against Bledsoe in previous head-to-head action. And after coaching him with the Pats, he knew his weaknesses. He took advantage of that by sending 4 players on a constant blitz of Bledsoe. The less than mobile Bledsoe was no match for the onslaught of biters and was sacked 4 times in the first half. While putting intense pressure on the Bills hurried quarterback, they fell back into a zone and kept the Bills great receiving corp from making killer plays.
Bledsoe threw 45 times and completed only 28 for 302 yards and one touchdown. That came near the end of the first half.
"They came in here and got themselves back on track a little bit," admitted Bledsoe. "We were hoping that we would not allow them to do that, but they did. They came out and played the style of football that won for them last year. Really what they played was a similar style of defense to what they played last year when they went on the run. They gave up some yards here and there, but they tightened up when we got into scoring territory."
In a day in which Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly received his HOF ring, and all the anticipation of Bledsoe's first game against his former team, the game turned out the opposite of what Bledsoe had hoped.
This game was probably won during the week leading up to the game. Belichick did his homework, devised schemes against both the Bills offense and defense and then his players employed the plan to perfection.
Meanwhile Williams and his coaching staff looked ill-prepared for this one from the start. Horrible coaching decisions and failure to make adjustments on both sides of the ball underlined the poor coaching job by Williams staff. One of the biggest gaffs was when the Bills had a 4th and 2 on the Patriots 32 near the beginning of the second half. Instead of either going for it or kicking a very maskable fieldgoal, Williams sent his punting unit out to the disbelief of the sellout crowd in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The punt was short and the Pats proceeded to ram the ball down the Bills throats again for another touchdown, making it 24-7.
"We thought the best opportunity was to punt it and try to play a field position game," defended Williams. "Again, we had the wind later on and struggled with kicking the ball. We didn't kick the ball well today either."
With the game out of reach and the clock winding down, Bledsoe was still on the field, marching the Bills downfield in an attempt to put some more points on the board. The problem with this was that it up Bledsoe at risk of being injured and he got racked up a couple times, including the final play of the game. Marv Levy would never think of leaving Kelly in the game on either side of a blowout.
All told, this was not a game that the coaching staff will put on their resume. With the game plans they are devising these days, they may need a very good resume come February.
Bledsoe was almost in a state of shock after the game. He didn't expect the Bills to be humiliated the way they were by the scheming, blitzing Patriots.
Former teammates and now adversaries, Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe exchange greetings after the Pats bombarded the Bills 38-7.|
[AP Photo/David Duprey] |
Belichick did what Bledsoe expected, mixing up the plays and trying to confuse the Bills offense.
"They mixed it up with a lot of different looks to try and confuse our protection," said Bledsoe. "Then when we had to change our approach a little bit and go on the attack a little bit more. They were able to try and confuse our protection a bit. Over all I thought our offensive line did a descent job of handling the different looks. Really what they played was a similar style of defense to what they played last year when they went on the run. They gave up some yards here and there but they tightened up when we got into scoring territory."
Belichick, who was tight-lipped all week in the Bledsoe media circus, finally had a chance to open up and give kudos where they were deserved. He started off talking about the great success they had offensively.
"It (the offensive game plan) was specific against the Bills," said Belichick. "We had a lot of trouble offensively against Buffalo last year. It was a real struggle. Offensively we were just able to execute well. We converted third downs. Antowain ran well. It was all geared towards the Bills. It wasn't about anything but trying to move the ball against a good football team."
Brady was asked about the media attention on Bledsoe.
"I don't think about that a whole lot," said Brady. "I think I'm more focused on their defense. In a sense, either consciously or subconsciously, maybe it does. I don't know. I know that when I make my reads and I make the throws on time, good things happen, and you don't throw the ball to the other team."
Bledsoe seems anxious to make up for this humbling game and get right back at the Pats when they invade Boston on December 8th.
"I am glad that we are getting another shot at these guys," Bledsoe said.
Copyright © 2002 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.
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