FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Earlier this season, New England Patriots defensive lineman Mike Wright might have had a difficult time shouldering the significant load he was levied on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Wright used to get too worked up on game days, pressuring himself to perform at the highest of levels, but he has since settled down. Sunday?s game was a prime example, as the Patriots went to Buffalo without defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, who have been two of their best defensive players over the last decade.
Wright, Jarvis Green, Ron Brace and Titus Adams were expected to do their part in filling the massive void left by the Patriots? anchors on the defensive line. As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on Monday, Wright played ?about as good as a defensive lineman can play.?
The 2005 undrafted free agent was second on the Patriots with six total tackles and five solo stops against the Bills. He also had one sack, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hit, which are very impressive numbers for a defensive lineman in the Patriots? 3-4 system. Wright compiled those statistics while moving across the line, too, playing inside, outside and other roles in sub formations.
After excelling with the hefty workload, Wright was more than pleased to hear Belichick?s praises, but he?s not the type of guy who will get fat and happy due to a little holiday cheer.
?I really appreciate that coming from Coach,? Wright said. ?I work hard just like everybody else in here. To get that kind of comment from him means a lot. It doesn?t change anything going ahead. I?ve got to work just as hard as I did last week going into Jacksonville, and this is a big game for us.?
While the Patriots? reintroduction of an old scheme — a formation that only utilized linebackers and defensive backs, most of whom were standing around the line of scrimmage to disguise their pressure points and coverage plans — was the highlight of their defensive performance against the Bills, it wouldn?t have been as effective without the Patriots? play on first and second down.
The Bills dominated the line of scrimmage during the game?s opening possession, gaining 74 yards on 13 plays (5.7 yards per play) on their way to a field goal. Buffalo rushed nine times for 48 yards (5.3 yards per carry) during that drive, as their offensive line punished the Patriots? defensive line.
But the Patriots reversed the order after that possession, when Buffalo gained 167 yards over their next 43 offensive plays (3.9 yards per play), including just 57 rushing yards on 14 carries (4.1 yards per carry). Wright credited the turnaround to the Patriots? improvement in their technique, as they made smarter reads and utilized better hand placement to fight off blocks. Of course, Wright?s ferocity at the line helped a bit, too.
?I think everybody was just playing with good fundamentals [as the game progressed], and that?s what Coach preaches all the time — good fundamentals and consistency in that area,? Wright said. ?If you don?t have good fundamentals, you can?t get to third down. [The offense is] just going to keep moving it down the field. That?s what happened in that first drive. Our fundamentals were off, and we weren?t technically sound.?
It was also a matter of settling down, which has made Wright more comfortable on the field during game days. Earlier in the season, he said he was struggling to translate good practices into good games, but that?s not a problem anymore.
?I?m moved past it,? Wright said. ?I?ve moved past the practice thing. If I practice well, I?m going to play well. That?s what I?ve tried to stay consistent with this year. The weeks I?ve had bad practices are the weeks I didn?t do as well. I think last week, I had a decent week of practice, and kind of knew and understood what they were trying to do. I think that helped us going forward, and I think that helped me in the game. That?s for sure.?
Wilfork (foot) and Warren (ankle) are still uncertain for Sunday?s game against the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. Last week, it sounds like, the Patriots knew early on they wouldn?t have Wilfork or Warren on the field against Buffalo. If that is the case again this week, Belichick will need another ?tremendous? game from Wright.
?It?s always hard not to see those two guys out there,? Wright said. ?They?re a presence in every way. Us as a D-line knew that we needed to step up and fill their shoes because they?re always the wall. They?re always making a stop, and Jarvis is usually in there. I think we did a good job of backing them up when they were down.?