The New England Patriots came into this afternoon’s contest with the Buffalo Bills desperately seeking an identity.
They found one, but it’s not what anyone was expecting.
Rookie free agent Running Back Brandon Bolden ran for 137 yards and a score and Stevan Ridley chipped in with 106 yards and two scores as the Patriots came from 14 points down in the 3rd quarter to blow out the Buffalo Bills 52-28.
For the second consecutive game, Tom Brady stayed relatively clean, being sacked just once as he completed 22 of 36 passes for 340 yards and two scores, underscoring a masterful job by New England’s offensive line that was missing Pro Bowl Guard Logan Mankins.
They didn’t miss a beat.
Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker each had over 100 yards recieving, making the Patriots only the second team in NFL history to have two rushers and two receivers go over the century mark in the same game. But Gronkowski’s contribution in the running game was even more impressive.
Lining up as an H Back, Gronkowski took on Buffalo’s prize free agent, defensive end Mario Williams, blowing him off the line and opening huge holes for Bolden and Ridley.
Leading 7-0 after an opening drive that ate up 90 yards on 7 plays, The Patriots offense became stagnant, letting drives stall. When Rob Gronkowski fumbled deep in Patriots’ territory, it took the Bills one play to tie the score and make it a brand new game. A missed field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski on the next Patriots drive seemed to deflate the defense, as Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick drove the Bills right down the field, connecting with Tight End Scott Chandler for a 20 yard score, putting the hometown Bills up 14-7.
When New England got the ball back, they immediately turned it over to Buffalo on a Wes Welker fumble, again deep in Patriots territory. Four plays later, with the Bills poised to take a 2 touchdown lead with the clock ticking down to halftime, Brandon Spikes took it upon himself to deny the Bills, forcing running back C.J. Spiller to fumble at the 2 yard line and Vince Wilfork recovering.
Dodging that bullet, the Patriots couldn’t dodge the next one.
After stopping the Patriots on their first possession of the second half, the Bills struck quickly, Fitzgerald finding receiver Donald Jones, who weaved his way through the New England secondary for 68 yards and a 21-7 Buffalo lead.
Then, as the sun managed to burn through the overcast sky above Ralph Wilson Stadium, the mythical person managing the switch that turns on the Patriots offense woke up, and New England went on a tear reminiscent of late last season, scoring touchdowns on six consecutive drives, none of which took more than 8 plays as the Patriots moved the ball at will, relying on a potent power running game while mixing in timely throws.
So, for this day anyway, the Patriots are a running team. They are a passing team. They hit hard on defense and they played stellar special teams.
But their new-found identity is the same identity that they’ve had for the past dozen years. They are a winning team, and their balance on offense should be an ominous sign to future New England opponents.