Patriots Preview - Will it be rough in the Buff?
Friday, September 28, 2012
An old friend once told me - "It's always rough in the Buff."
I assume, of course, he was referring to the city of Buffalo, home to the NFL's Bills. I had to ask, however...because it hasn't exactly been rough for the Patriots over the past eight seasons - 15-1 in the last 16 games against the Bills overall. In fact, it's been rougher for Buff, than in Buff...as the Bills have managed to win just four of their past 25 divisional games, while New England has won 18 of 24 in the AFC East.
See where we're going here?
As is often said in NFL circles, that was then - and this is now. And the 2012 version of the Buffalo Bills is new, if not improved, certainly on the defensive side of the ball. Knowing that to be King of the Hill in the AFC East once again, you've got to de-throne the current and reigning king...the Bills set out to do just that in the past off season by improving their defense and getting a pass rush that could put pressure on Tom Brady. And anybody else they happen to play, naturally.
Defensive ends Mark Anderson (plucked as a free agent from New England) and Mario Williams (signed away from Houston) are two outstanding additions that not only allow the Bills' defense to provide a better pass rush, but also play with more flexibility against an opponent's running game. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has the ability to not only stuff the run, but make an opposing offensive lineman's day particularly hard, with his ability to penetrate. Save for a season-opening whiplash against the New York Jets, the Bills have slowly improved with two straight wins.
And they have the confidence from knowing they finally beat the Patriots last year in Buffalo, coming from 21 points down at home to snap a 15-game losing streak to New England. In the rematch at Gillette Stadium, the Bills had a 21-0 lead themselves, only to allow the Pats to put up 49 unanswered points against them.
It could be interesting - if not rough - for the Patriots in The Buff.
Get The Jump
Take the emotion of the regular referees returning, the hometown fans remembering, and the Bills' players' confidence re-engaging by scoring quickly. The real key, however, will be for this Patriots team to learn how to put someone away...like they failed to do against Baltimore last week. Brady's stated goal is to find Rob Gronkowski more often. If he can't, some guy named Welker should be available, at the least...
No, this isn't a basketball term. The Patriots defense simply must figure out a way to rebound from getting pummeled for more than 500 yards of offense last week at the hands of the Ravens. The opportunity will be there, as Buffalo should be without running back C.J. Spiller (shoulder), and may only have regular running back Fred Jackson (knee) at less than 100%. These two are the best two offensive weapons the Bills possess. Both practiced to an extent this week, but without them, NE should be able to make defensive plays that limit the Bills' chances.
This is just the fourth time in the last decade that the Patriots have lost back-to-back games (to Arizona and Baltimore). They also haven't lost three in a row since 2002. So it's rare to find themselves in this position, and it comes against a team they've had a fair amount of success against over the same time frame. But Buffalo isn't the same old Bills, either. New England needs to rely on themselves, and their ability to produce points on offense, while letting the defense get back on track after the missteps against Baltimore last week. And don't let the loss to the Ravens beat them again this week, either.