It wasn't until practically the second quarter that the Patriots
offense really got a chance to drive down the field yesterday. The
first quarter was mostly chewed up by a lengthy Bills drive, and in the
final minutes of that first period the Patriots offense made only a
brief appearance, long enough to see Brady throw an interception to
pain-in-the-ass Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny. It was the first full
quarter in recent memory in which Brady did not complete a pass.
No, these are not the Pats of yesteryear. This year has found them
beating the teams they should beat (sometimes just barely), but not
able to hang with the class of the league. They've also shown a disconcerting tendency not to really play the latter half of the game, or at least not play it as strongly as the first. This game, hardly the
dominant effort the Patriots have often put in against the Bills during
this decade, followed both those themes, but was still passable enough, especially for being on the
I was especially impressed with the way the defensive front coped
with the absence of both Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. Mike Wright
stepped in nicely in a 3-4 scheme; Ron Brace was clearly overmatched by
the Bills' offensive line in places, but the defense surrendered just
10 points for the second week, an encouraging sign after debacles like
this year's game against the Saints.
What was especially impressive to me is that there seemed to be an
entirely new game plan up front for the defense, one somewhat
remeniscent of their strategy in Super Bowl XXXVI, where Patriots
defenders didn't set their positions before the snap. Instead, they
milled around, switched places, and gave the Bills offense no look at
all before the play started*. This yielded a key stop after that first
drive which held the Bills to a field goal, as well as back-to-back
sacks in the second quarter. I appreciate the coaching intelligence and obviously tremendous amount of work on the part of the players that went into that.
The offense also seemed on slightly better footing than last week,
and Randy Moss made a 100 percent improvement, if not more. Whatever
sulking impostor replaced him last week against Carolina was gone, replaced with the Moss we've come to know over the last two years.
This version of Moss announced his return with an incredible touchdown catch on a Patriots' second-quarter drive
which put them ahead for good. Brady, under pressure as always, aimed
and fired a bullet into the back right side of the end zone, which
coursed over Moss's shoulder and into those sticky hands of his. The
ball was speeding along like a cannon shot, but when it connected with
Moss's fingers, it stopped dead; he had full control as he dragged both
feet on the turf a split second before his momentum carried him out of
There's been lots of debate about what exactly Moss's problem was
since the Carolina game. Teammates, Belichick, and some commentators
have made voluminous excuses for his performance last week. Obviously
as fans we don't have all the facts on what was going on with him, but
when a guy regularly makes catches like that, it only makes his pouting
last week stand out in more contrast. Especially seeing him bounce back
into form in just a week like that has me even more dubious that any
kind of injury--or really anything other than psychology--is to blame
for last week.
That said, it really doesn't matter to me whether we ever get to the bottom of the problem out here in viewerland, as long as the Patriots have, and as long as they can make sure that last week was the last we'll see of Moss's evil twin.
* For any purists in my audience, I am aware that the Super Bowl XXXVI strategy revolved mainly around "an angry sea of linebackers" and yesterday's game the swirling players were mainly defensive linemen.