I love this picture of TE Benjamin Watson. In the pre-season, it was widely rumored that he was in the fight of his life for a job. Nicknamed "Stone Hands" and the potential victim of a team relegating TE's to blocking duties, it didn't look good for Mr. Watson. Then, things changed in our throwback opener against the Bills on Monday Night Football.
Full of controversy about "The Brady Rule", we were behind with a little over 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Tom Brady found TE Benjamin Watson who, in that moment, got rid of his "Stone Hands" monicker. The Bills fans in front of me at the game got very quiet. As we kicked off the Buffalo, Patriots fans were hoping for a miracle. And we got one. Leodis McKelvin, pulling down a Stephen Gostkowski boot into the end zone, decided to run the ball out instead of taking a knee for a touchback. As our special teams had practiced time and time again, McKelvin was stood up and the ball stripped from him in Bills territory. The Bills fans around me were now holding their heads. They knew that giving the Patriots the ball that close was not good. They were right. Brady hit Watson for another fantastic catch to win the game 25-24. What an opener for our Patriots and a disappointment for Buffalo. We've been on the other end of one of those this season (Indy anyone), so we're familiar with the feeling.
This has gone by fast, hasn't it? Suddenly we're 3 regular season games away from the end of the season and our Patriots, like last year, are in a race for the division crown. Unlike last year, we have a 1 game lead over the ever dangerous Miami Dolphins. If we win out, we're most certainly in the playoffs. If we don't, our destiny is not in our hands and we're at the mercy of a Dolphins opponent.
That's why this game is so important. That's why we need to take this one to the bank. That's why we can't lose focus. Playing on the road has been tough for us and this one just happens to be at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of a division rival. Have I mentioned this game is important? All division games are, but a win keeps us ahead of the rivals from FL.
The Buffalo Bills have seen some transition this season. With the firing of Head Coach Dick Jauron, the team has made it clear they want change. And while Trent Edwards nurses an injury, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick has garnered a respectable 4-4 up to this point with the most recent beating of Matt Cassel's Chiefs in a close 16-10 matchup. The brutal ground game of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson is something for Hoodie to keep track of. Lookout.
For me, the keys to winning this game lie not with shutting down Fitzpatrick. He's not burning up the field with his aerial assault; I feel like our somewhat struggling defensive backfield will do ok against him. No, the key to winning this game is run defense. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson are, individually, workhorse backs that can carry a running game which is something we've never had. But put them together and they can make up for the lack of an aerial assault to the tune of 216 yards between them against Kansas City. What? Yeah, 216 yards. Can you say 4-3? I knew you could.
Looking at the stats, we're about middle of the road in run defense, so this worries me. Buffalo is middle of the road for run offense, but the Lynch/Jackson duo worries me. I'm sure that's where Buffalo will attempt to gash our defense. Once we've been lulled into worrying about that, There's always Terrell Owens. For all the crap we heap on Owens, the locker room cancer, etc... he's a threat every time he suits up.
On the other side of the ball, Buffalo is 5th in passing defense while New England is 2nd in both total offense and passing offense. This is where the battle might take place. Or one may think. We're 14th in rushing offense, but Buffalo is dead last in rushing defense. Laurence Maroney seems to be having some success of late. He's finally learned to put his shoulder down and slice through those thin holes. He's also learned the difference between patience and dancing, waiting for blocks to develop. This is where I think the Patriots will concentrate.
It's no secret the Patriots are an aerial team. But with a suspect Buffalo run defense and a very strong pair of Bills running backs, I think both teams will keep to the ground more often than not. Either way, we need this one.