The New England Patriots are back on track after a 45-point second-half vaulted them over the Buffalo Bills after previously trailing 14-7 at the half. It’s a lot easier writing these pieces after a Pats win, and we learned some interesting things yesterday.
1. Brandon Bolden is better than most of us thought
I hate to react too much after one game, but man was that a game from Brandon Bolden. The rookie UDFA helped the Patriots have two 100-yard rushers in a game since 1982, and he did it in the first game in which he received at least ten carries. Bolden led the Pats rushing attack with 137 yards on just 16 carries, and he is like BenJarvus Green-Ellis in that he compensates for a lack in overall talent with his work ethic and physical play.
Stevan Ridley was also great, and the emergence of Bolden is especially notable considering the strength of the Bills run defense with guys like Kyle Williams, Arthur Moats, and the ever-imposing Nick Barnett.
2. Big Uglies
This was one of the best offensive line performances I have seen all year, and it came from a Patriots line that was going up against one of the top defensive lines in the league. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus combined for a sack and did some damage on the inside (mostly Williams), but everyone else was held in check. Sebastian Vollmer continues to put in great work on the right side and has been the best player on the line.
Donald Thomas was also impressive, and I have no further worries about either guard spot if Logan Mankins or Dan Connolly are out again in the future. He played very well against Buffalo, and the whole line did an excellent job in paving the way for 247 rushing yards, four TDs, and an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Credit should also be given to Michael Hoomanawanui for showing why he is one of the best blocking TEs in the league.
3. D-Mac is Back
Well, we all knew that Devin McCourty was back to his rookie form after playing great in 2 3/4 games to start the season, but the two dropped picks against the Baltimore Ravens were of concern. Not because they lost the game or highlighted a weakness in McCourty; far from it. Instead, I feared that the errors would be engraved in McCourty’s mind and cause him to revert somewhat to last year’s form after being great for the first three quarters of the Baltimore game.
Not so, as McCourty shut down his third straight possession receiver matchup by holding down Stevie Johnson to just two catches for 23 yards. Not only that, but he also had two interceptions and is officially back after bouncing back mentally.
4. Wes Welker does it again
Trade him? Forget it. Wes Welker is the most consistent receiver on the New England Patriots, and he’s probably the most important receiver that the team has. That’s high praise, given the greatness of Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski. Welker is the prototypical slot receiver and a player who has revolutionized the value of the slot receiver in the same why that Gronk and Herny have revolutionized the tight end position. Welker had his second straight 100-yard day and is always Tom Brady’s top target when on the field. He took full advantage of a very favorable matchup against Justin Rogers in the slot.
Chandler Jones has been one of the best 4-3 ends this year, and he is clearly at the top of the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. Jones added two quarterback hits against top rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn, and he passed a tough test with flying colors. He finished with a sack and two tackles for loss for a total of five tackles. Fellow rookie Tavon Wilson is also deserving of some more love, as he continues to blanket slot corners and tight ends. Throw in his second pick of the year, and you get a rookie who is one of the most underrated in the NFL.
Despite all the great performance on defense, one man stood out above the rest. That man is middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, whose big hits and voracious play make him the catalyst and nucleus emitting raw energy for this Patriots defense. It was he who forced two crucial fumbles on running backs C.J. Spiller, and it was he who had seven tackles in a great run-stopping performance to slow down two top backs (even if they were injured). Spikes has always been suspect in coverage, but he wasn’t yesterday and added a pass deflection to his incredible display.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.