The Patriots are suddenly a dynamic offense again.
When the Tom Brady was struggling to find rhythm Sunday in the first half, it was the run game that turned up the heat in Buffalo, grinding out 130 yards on the ground.
Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis each broke off career-high runs in the 23-3 win over the Bills. But far more than just the numbers, the true threat of a run game gives the Patriots quarterback the comfort of not having to do everything with his arm.
In back-to-back weeks, the Patriots have rushed for more than 190 yards, posting a season-high 196 over the Dolphins and 191 on Sunday in Buffalo. Burkhead’s 31-yard run set up a third-quarter touchdown while Lewis raced down the right sideline for 44 yards in the first half, featuring a great stiff arm of Bills safety Jordan Poyer. Lewis finished with 92 yards on 15 carries while Burkhead had 78 yards on 12 carries. The two backs combined for an eye-popping average of 6.3 yards per carry.
On Monday, Bill Belichick wouldn’t guarantee that the run game would be this productive every week, as game plans tend to change.
“I think the run blocking – or, really, you could look at any part of any aspect of any of our games – just relates to that particular game,” Belichick said in a conference call. “So, how it went last week and how it will go this week or next week could be two very different things. We’ll have a big challenge this week against Miami playing down there, and running the ball against that front, which is a very, very good front and very talented group, is hard. So, the things that we’re able to do in one game, sometimes that’s because of other circumstances or the way a team’s playing us, the way we feel like we can – plays we want to run against them – but each week’s its own challenge.
“So, we had a couple explosive plays (Sunday). That made a big difference in the yardage when you can hit a couple of 30 yarders in there. That adds up in a hurry. But, whether that will be able to happen again, we’ll have to go out and do it again. So, it was efficient yesterday. We’ll have to see if that happens in the future, or maybe we don’t run the ball as much. Maybe we throw it in another game. I don’t really know.”
The Patriots took advantage of Buffalo’s nickel defense to defend Brady’s vertical passing game by using tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen in the run-blocking scheme. It certainly worked. Allen has become one of Belichick’s favorite players on offense because of the silent but effective role he has played.
“Dwayne’s had a very solid role for us all year long,” Belichick said. “He’s played a lot of football, and I’m sure he’ll continue to play a lot of football for us. Dwayne works hard. He does what we ask him to do. He tries his best to do it the way that we ask him to do it. Some things are different than the way he was taught to do them in the past, but he’s been very open and receptive to trying to do what the team needs him to do on any particular play or situation or technique or whatever it happens to be. So, he’s been a great guy to have on the team. He’s got a great attitude, he’s willing to do anything that we’ve asked him to do to help the football team, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”
As for the need for the coaching staff to have clarity on Rob Gronkowski’s availability sooner rather than later on any possible suspension from Sunday’s elbow to the head of Tre’Davious White, Belichick said he’s just going to wait and see.
“I’d say on anything that is out of our control, such as injuries that could go down to pregame workouts and so forth, things that are out of our control are out of our control,” Belichick said. “We’ll address the things that we can address.”
In the last two weeks, Gronkowski and Brady expressed frustration at how officials are making calls (or not making calls) concerning Gronkowski. Belichick was asked Monday if he has had discussions with the league office about how Gronkowski might be able to avoid penalties.
“I’m not going to talk about any of the personal calls I’ve had with league officials, whether it’s Al [Riveron], or Dean [Blandino], or Mike [Pereira], or Carl [Johnson] or whoever it’s been through the years,” Belichick said. “I mean, Rob’s been in the league for seven years and Brady has been in the league a lot longer than that.”
Any additional thoughts on Gronkowski’s late hit after reviewing it on tape?
“No, I think Rob addressed it. I don’t have anything else to add,” Belichick said.
It’s taken only two games in a Patriots uniform for defensive end Eric Lee to make an impact. The defensive end had a key red-zone interception on the first drive of the game, 1.5 sacks, a tipped pass and four tackles against the Bills.
“Well, he’s done the things that we’ve asked him to do and he’s done them at a pretty good level,” Belichick said. “I mean, he’s only been here a couple weeks, so there’s still a lot of things for him to learn and there are finer points on various plays that, when he seems them again, he’ll recognize them quicker or react a little bit differently. But, overall, he’s done a solid job for us in the things that he’s been asked to do.
“He was asked to do a little more (Sunday) than he was last week against Miami, so maybe that role will increase, maybe it will stay the same, maybe it will decrease a little bit depending on the game plan and so forth. We’ll just have to see how that goes, but the last two weeks, the opportunities he’s had, he’s given us some good plays and I’m glad we have him.”