Much-maligned defense delivers for New England win
New England Patriots' Brandon Lloyd (85) celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown with Tom Brady (12) during their 52-28 victory over the Buffalo Bills in an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert) Purchase photo reprints »
Buffalo Bills' Fred Jackson (22) fumbles during the second half against the New England Patriots' during an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
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FOXBOROUGH — As explosive as New England’s offense was during its second-half surge against Buffalo on Sunday, the Patriots defense might have been the ringleader for the quick turnaround.
While quarterback Tom Brady was busy orchestrating another patented comeback, leading the offense to 580 total yards of offense and 45 second-half points, New England’s defense actually ignited the charge, forcing six turnovers in the Patriots’ 52-28 victory.
New England entered the game with just five turnovers through three games.
“We emphasize it every week. We’ve got our hands on some balls this year — some we’ve turned over, some we haven’t. And we’ve forced a few fumbles — sometimes we’ve recovered them, sometimes we haven’t. But those things kind of went right for us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “I think if you just keep pressuring the ball, hopefully sooner or later, you’ll get it out and hopefully sooner or later, some of those will come to you.”
They arrived in bunches Sunday. As did the yards and touchdowns.
But that’s expected from a Brady-led attack that perennially ranks among the league’s most dynamic and dangerous, and is constantly setting new standards. The Patriots on Sunday became just the second team ever to have two players eclipse 100 yards rushing and two surpass 100 yards receiving. Running backs Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley racked up 137 and 106 yards, respectively, while receiver Wes Welker totaled 129 and tight end Rob Gronkowski 104.
The 580 yards were the fourth-most in team history, while 45 points in the second half was a franchise best total and the fourth highest in NFL history.
Six turnovers for the defense, though? That was a shocker. Special teamer Matthew Slater, in fact, couldn’t recall the last time the Patriots defense bombarded an opponent so fiercely.
“Those guys did a great job of taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves — getting balls out and then when they were out, they got on them,” Slater said. “Everybody was making plays yesterday.”
Slater cited the balance between veteran leadership and burgeoning youth as the primary reason for the drastically different performance.
“They’re playing lights out. They’ve played well for us all year,” he said. “With Vince (Wilfork) and Jerod (Mayo) holding down the fort and bringing those young guys on board, I think the future is very bright.”
Right in the middle of that group is third-year cornerback Devin McCourty, who intercepted two passes Sunday and keyed a unit that recorded three sacks in helping the Patriots avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
“It helped us win the game,” McCourty said. “So, I think that’s important for us, something that we’re trying to do. And to get it done is good for us.”
Third-year linebacker Brandon Spikes played a pivotal part, too, forcing two fumbles, including a game-changer late in the second quarter near the Patriots’ own goal line. Following a fumble by Welker deep in Patriots’ territory, Buffalo was on the cusp of entering the locker room with a comfortable 21-7 lead before Spikes delivered a crushing blow on running back C.J. Spiller, jarring the ball loose for Wilfork to pounce on at the New England 4.
“It’s just big plays,” McCourty said. “Defensively, we have to make big plays.”
The Bills scored on their first possession of the second half when Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Donald Jones for a slicing 68-yard touchdown. But that wrapped it up for the Bills’ offense. It didn’t score again.
Brady, who finished 22 of 36 for 340 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, engineered six straight touchdown drives, including one that ended with his first rushing touchdown of the season. Meanwhile, the defense clamped down, forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter while allowing the Bills to advance the ball past the 50 on just one of their final seven possessions.
“They’re giving us the ball in great field position. That’s huge for us,” Slater said. “Playing good complementary football yesterday and doing that, it really was a great team effort for us.”
Duplicating that monumental effort against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos next Sunday will be an even taller task.
“He’s one of those guys that you have to put a little extra time in to be able to just hold your own, let alone play well,” McCourty said. “You really got to put the time in.”
It all started Monday.