With a combination of injury and performance leading to a game of musical chairs, the New England Patriots offensive line struggled mightily over the first six weeks of the season. In Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills, however, there was none of that.
The group looked as good as it has all season, both in run blocking and especially pass protection, and played a major role in the Patriots’ 29-25 upset victory.
“Really just the offensive line’s play today is what really stood out to me. They made everything work — run game, passing game,” said quarterback Mac Jones after the game.
“The offensive line just gave me the time I needed today. And when I have time, I can read the offense how we’re supposed to, and I really appreciate those guys.”
Jones had been under constant pressure earlier in the season, which in turn contributed to his game deteriorating. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket, seemingly oftentimes getting spooked by the rush.
The Bills’ top-ranked pass rush was therefore a potentially devastating matchup for New England’s offense and its young quarterback. However, the blocking up front was quite solid with Jones getting taken down only one time all day — despite Buffalo entering the contest as the league-leaders in sacks with 24.
“We’ve been dealing with injuries,” explained Michael Onwenu. “All of us that were out there, we were healthy and had a great week of practice. So, it felt good being out there and being dominant.”
Onwenu in particular played a prominent role for the Patriots. The team’s nominal starting right guard, he lined up at right tackle against Buffalo in order to help address one of the weak spots along the line.
With Onwenu back in action and kicking outside, New England used rookie Sidy Sow at right guard. Together with left tackle Trent Brown, left guard Cole Strange — another returnee — and center David Andrews, they played some encouraging football in the face of a disruptive defensive front.
Onwenu in particular earned praise for his performance after the game.
“Mike’s a great football player,” said David Andrews. “I don’t think in his four years here he’s played one position. His rookie year he’s played jumbo tight end, then he was playing right tackle; second year he was playing left guard and then back out to right tackle; this year, right guard, right tackle. He has a lot of versatility, he can help our football team.”
With Onwenu holding down the fort at right tackle, the Patriots were able to get arguably their best five blockers onto the field. The results speak for themselves: not only did the group keep Mac Jones mostly clean, it also cleared some space in the running game and on catch-and-run opportunities.
One of those was the drive starter on the game-winning rally late in the fourth quarter. Jones threw a swing pass to running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who turned up the field quickly to see a convoy of blockers opening up lanes en route to a 34-yard gain.
“The O-line they played great today,” Stevenson said after the game. “They let me and [Ezekiel Elliott] get into the defense a little bit. That’s always a good thing. They did great on their double teams, things like that. That last play was just getting the running back some space so it was a swing pass to me. I had three guys blocking on the edge. They did a great job covering those guys up and I tried to make a play.”
Whether the Brown-Strange-Andrews-Sow-Onwenu lineup will be kept intact moving forward remains to be seen, but the win over Buffalo was a clear step in the right direction for the Patriots offensive line.