Yesterday’s AFC East showdown between the Patriots and Bills read much like a Mark Twain novel.
In the first half, the Patriots looked sloppy, unorganized and downright awful.
Safeties Pat Chung and Steve Gregory made Scott Chandler look like Gronk 2.0 and the offense couldn’t capitalize on two Buffalo turnovers.
Seeing Ryan Fitpatrick sling the ball around like it was 7-on-7 conjured up bad memories of the Patriots’ second-half meltdown last season.
And then the second half came.
Something or someone managed to light a serious fire under this team’s ass and the Patriots thoroughly exterminated the Bills in the game’s final 30 minutes.
Thanks to the rough-running tandem of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden and an opportunistic defense, the Patriots dropped 45 points on the Bills in a span of 22 minutes.
While the pass defense certainly had its typical ups and downs, the Pats showed tremendous resiliency in battling back on the road after being down 21-7 at one point.
Let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.
1. Stevan Ridley/Brandon Bolden: With Shane Vereen active for the first time all season, many experts expected the former second-round pick to get some serious action. Boy were they wrong. Vereen earned just eight snaps, as Bolden, an undrafted free agent, carried the ball 16 times for 137 yards and a back-breaking touchdown. The former Ole Miss Rebel displayed excellent power, a solid burst and patience in his breakout performance. Meanwhile, Ridley continued to show why he will be a future Pro Bowler with his slashing style of play. Last year’s third-round pick carried the rock 22 times for 108 yards and two scores, as the Pats racked up 247 yards and four rushing touchdowns in the blowout.
2. 2010 Draft Class: Bill Belichick’s draft record definitely took a hit between 2006-2009, but the fruits of his labor in 2010 were on full display in the 52-28 victory. Devin McCourty rebounded from an inconsistent Week 3 performance to pick off two passes and provide great run defense from his corner spot. Rob Gronkowski shook off some early cobwebs to finish with 104 receiving yards and a touchdown. The team’s other two second-round picks, former Florida Gators Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham made impact on plays on defense. Spikes forced two bone-jarring fumbles while Cunningham provided a solid interior rush in sub-packages. To top it off, Zoltan Mesko nailed all three of his punts inside the 20-yard line.
3. 2012 Draft Class: Once again, the Patriots’ most recent draft picks came up with game-changing plays. Chandler Jones finished with five tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He looks like the real deal already. Dont’a Hightower wasn’t able to finish the game after suffering a hamstring injury, but the former Alabama star recorded his first career sack. Tavon Wilson, who was deemed a reach by draft experts, recorded his second interception of his young career. These are the kind of results that give me optimism that this defense can be elite.
4. Offensive Line: This list usually only goes three-deep, but I have to give some love to the Big Uglies. Facing what is supposed to be the league’s best defensive line, New England’s front five allowed one measly sack and three quarterback hits. Sebastian Vollmer made Mario Williams and his $100 million contract look like a bad investment, and Donald Thomas filled in admirably for Logan Mankins at left guard. After drawing heavy criticism through three games, this unit stepped up against a tough test and earned flying colors.
1. Stephen Gostowski: What happened to our Pro Bowl kicker? Gostowski missed two field goals just two weeks after missing what should have been the game-winner against Arizona. Although he’s still great on kickoffs, you have to wonder about his job security. He just hasn’t been the same since ’08.
2. Pat Chung & Steve Gregory: I’ve always maintained that Pat Chung has a bigger name than game and Sunday proved that. The team’s top pick in ’09 failed to make impact plays and was generally responsible for Scott Chandler’s big day. He’s too late reacting to the ball, and I seriously doubt he’ll earn a big contract from the Pats this offseason. Gregory also struggled in pass coverage, taking poor angles. I’d like to see Tavon Wilson in the lineup sooner than later.