Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley and Rob Gronkowski all received
their fair share of time celebrating in the end zone in Buffalo on Sunday, but
it was the guys up front who really deserve the credit for the Patriots
New England's offense erupted for 45 second half points against
the Bills, the single most productive half of football in the NFL in more than
40 years. Yet, none of the guys primarily responsible for the success ever saw
the end zone.
Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell
and even Donald Thomas, who was filling in an injured Logan Mankins, weren't
mentioned inside the box score as the Patriots piled up 580 total yards of
offense during the 52-28 win. But the relentless work of the offensive line was
as important to the Patriots success as any on Sunday.
The line, which was under heavy scrutiny entering the 2012
season, consistently opened up holes in the ground game and kept the Bills
talented pass rush from reaching Brady all afternoon. The result was a
monstrous second half, which saw the Patriots score six touchdowns and allow
Brady to reestablish his elite passing game.
Brady praised the line for their incredible effort during an
interview on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan
Morning Show on Monday morning.
"It was a great effort from offensive line that played
great yesterday against a defensive front that really improved itself over the
offseason," Brady said. "Our offensive line really met the
But the big bruisers up front did more than just meet the
challenge, rather they were able to help the Patriots establish something that
has been missing from this offense for quite some time: a running game.
Only one running back – BenJarvus Green-Ellis — topped the
100-yard plateau for the Patriots during the entire 2011 season, and he's since
relocated to Cincinnati. But on Sunday, New England watched as a pair of
running backs achieved the feat.
Ridley, who already had one 100-yard performance earlier
this season, and rookie Brandon Bolden combined for 243 of the Patriots 247
yards on the ground as well as a trio of touchdowns on Sunday. The performance
marks the first time that two Patriots backs have rushed for more than 100
yards in a game since all the way back in 1980. But while the achievement might
look good on a resume, the result of the effort could provide the Patriots with
the running game they have long desired.
If Ridley and Bolden are able to maintain anything close to
the production they found on Sunday, the duo would not only make for a
dangerous backfield but could add just another element to an already potent
Brady is likely licking his chops in thinking what sort of
impact a legitimate ground game could have on the passing attack, but he also
knows where much of the credit for Sunday's effort belongs.
"You give [the offensive line] all the credit in the
world, to create holes for the running backs," Brady said. "We've
been running the ball and I thought those guys really answered the call."
Bill Belichick was quick to hand out some much-deserved
praise to the guys up front as well, explaining how important they are to the
development of the running game.
"Our line, our
tight ends, our backs; they all did a good job," Belichick said. "We
were a little disappointed in our running production the last couple games, and
we really made that a big emphasis this game. We worked hard on it in practice
and we were able to have some good results today. You can't say enough about
the offensive line, though. These guys [the Bills] have a good front and we
were able to block them."
The offensive line has earned their kudos and obviously the
results paid off in a big way on Sunday. But the key remains to see if this
sort of production going forward, a process that Mankins' return should only
help to bolster.
The Patriots need the offensive line to keep Brady safe in
the pocket, but the development of a running game is also vital to any hopes at
postseason success. They've got the
pieces to accomplish that goal, but can the line live up to the challenge?