Perhaps, we craved it so much that we started to believe it, almost like a football mirage.
The New England Patriots actually had a real foe in the AFC East, a team that needed to be beaten, one that wouldn’t repeatedly trip over its own cleats — the 3-2, ready-for-prime-time, newly-purchased Buffalo Bills.
How could we all be that gullible?
Forget what we all had hoped for, I’ll refer to my old roots in Algebra 1 to sort out the truth in this one:
Kyle Orton (36-36 in his career) + Doug Marrone (9-13) = Loser. Works every time.
To the credit of your New England Patriots, Bill Belichick had his club’s arms wide open Sunday in the Pats’ 37-22 victory at Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
Ready to catch or swat away Kyle Orton’s wayward ducks, pounce on the Bills’ two fumbles and yes, accept the free penalty yards — all 107 of them.
An AFC East contender? Not in this Millennium. And at the 3/8s pole of the season, it’s safe to say that the 1-5 Jets (coming to Gillette Thursday night) and Miami (now 2-3 after gift-wrapping one to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers yesterday) aren’t anywhere closer to the Pats than we thought back in August, which is not on the same continent.
“Coming in, understanding up front, we had to handle our business,” said Vince Wilfork, who played his best game since shredding his Achilles last season. “We knew how good they were. We knew what we had to do and this game said a lot. It’s a great team win. We really put it together on the road ... for the lead in the division.”
Trust me, Vince. This is the last time you will be playing for the division lead.
Even with the Patriots playing like a team that might be the fifth or sixth best team in the conference, the division is an absolute lock.
But instead of taking the rest of this space to focus on the clunker thrown at us by Marrone and Orton.
Let’s focus on the positives from the Patriots and their steps forward.
The turmoil and tumult surrounding the makeshift offensive line seems to have subsided. This is not the O-line of 2004 or even 2007. But they block well enough most of the time to halt or at least slow down a four-man rush.
Buffalo got Tom Brady twice Sunday, but he dropped back 45 times (including penalties), and that’s expected. Most other downs Brady had time to throw or beat the rush with a quick release.
There was little room to run, but that doesn’t matter. This is a passing league (when you’re QB is named Brady and not Orton).
Brady moved the chains 13 times via the pass, plus five more on penalties. When you’re that efficient and the opponent is handing first downs away like candy canes off Santa’s float, the run game hardly matters.
Defensively, Matt Patricia delivered his second straight superb game plan.
One is a fluke, two is the foundation for a streak.
Patricia finally has realized that he has Darrelle Revis and let the veteran handle his side of the field on his own. With that luxury, he rolled up 7-and-8 man fronts, forcing Buffalo to win through the air not on the ground.
Predictably, it took three quarters for Marrone and his offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to realize the Patriots had stuffed the box with eight guys and the repeated first down runs up the gut weren’t going anywhere, even with Deontae Skinner playing the “Mike.”
By the time they realized there was salad down the field, just ready to be plucked, Brady had already delivered the kill shot.
Do you laugh at Buffalo for running the ball 23 times when they averaged 3.0 yards a rush? Of course you do.
And speaking of Brady, the old man, for the second straight week, proved there’s still a bit of life in those old, rattlin’ limbs.
He hit 27 of 37 for 361 yards and four TDs against a Buffalo secondary that shied away from contact with Gronk (7 catches, 94 yards), chose to let Julian Edelman (9-91) free release off the line and still hasn’t found Brandon LaFell (4-97). Try the airport.
All in all, the Pats moved forward. You can’t fault them for playing the schedule with five or six “gimmes” from the AFC East.
Most importantly, the Bills and the rest of the AFC East took the predictable giant leap back.