Running game gives Patriots edge, but they still need a great quarterback


FOXBORO -- One way to describe the kind of the day the Patriots offense put together against the Bills? 

A fullback's dream.

"The more snaps I can play, I love that feeling," James Develin said following his team's 24-12 win over the Bills. He tied a personal season-high with 36 snaps.

"You get more into the flow of the game. You're kind of vibing with how guys are playing. I just think it was a really fun day, especially if you're a fullback. You're always kind of gearing up for that."

The Patriots ran for 273 yards on 47 carries for an average of 5.8 yards per attempt. It was their best output as a franchise in over a decade (277 yards against the Raiders in 2008) and their most rushing yardage at home since 1985.

Sony Michel chewed up 116 yards on 18 carries, while Cordarrelle Patterson checked in with four edge runs that allowed him to pick up 66 yards. James White had 41 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, and Rex Burkhead picked up 39 yards.

Patterson had three jet motion end-around runs (for 12, 15 and 27 yards) and Phillip Dorsett had one for 17 yards -- all four taking advantage of over-aggressive Bills edge defenders. After running that type of play twice, the Patriots were able to pull the rug out from under the Bills when they looked for it. 

They ran Patterson in motion in the second quarter, faked it to him, and handed up the middle to White when Buffalo widened in anticipation of Patterson dashing around the outside. The result was a 27-yard touchdown.

"Today we were able to get the ball outside to the edge a few times," Bill Belichick said. "Then when they took that away, James hit it up inside on the touchdown run there on third down. Sometimes those things are taken away and you do something else. 

"We don’t try to go into the game and say this is how many times we’re going to run the ball, this is how many times we’re going to throw it to this player, this is how many times we’re going to throw it to that player. We call our plays, we see what happens and we try to adjust as the game goes along to do what we think is best."

Though the Patriots had their issues getting their running game going the previous few weeks, though the Bills were a top-10 run defense coming in, grinding out yardage on the ground was what was best for them on Sunday. The fact that they were able to play from ahead and cut back on their penalties (three called on the offense) also helped. 

David Andrews said he wasn't expecting any kind shot of confidence to the Patriots offensive line down the stretch because of its performance against Buffalo. He made it seem like the group's confidence never wavered. They just didn't have the opportunities they needed to prove they could run consistently. 

"It's tough sometimes," he said. "There's so many circumstances that go into it. You can't play the game at second-and-18 and run the ball. You can't be down 14 points and run the ball. 

"When you're able to stay ahead, stay ahead on down-and-distance, you're able to run the ball. We were able to do that today for the most part. We were the tougher, more physical team out there today, which is always good. We'll just try to keep doing that moving forward."

The psychological advantage a team gets from being able to run the football when it wants isn't limited to the offensive line. Being tougher and more physical up front can have an impact that permeates an entire team -- just as the opposite can happen when it doesn't. 

"Any time you see your backs run as they were, the offensive line moving the pile, it just does something for the whole team," Duron Harmon said. "We talk all the time about how we want to be a tough, physical team, and that's really the way to set the tone on being physical. Running the ball and stopping the run."

The Patriots ran so well that they didn't need to throw. 

But it wasn't as though they didn't try. 

On their first drive, the drive every offense hopes to nail all week in their preparations leading up to the game, they went three-and-out. Pass. Pass. Pass.

"We didn’t have our best game in the pass game, but we won," Tom Brady said. "So, I think everyone’s feeling pretty good about winning."

Is that formula a sustainable one in the 2018 NFL, though? Even if just for a three-game stretch in January and February, when grind-it-out yards seem to be as valuable as ever? 

If the Patriots passing offense is what it's been the last two weeks -- with Josh Gordon not contributing (one catch, Week 15) and Rob Gronkowski not himself -- then probably not.

After Brady's 13-for-24 outing Sunday, with 126 yards passing, a touchdown and two interceptions, he is now 38-for-60 in his last two games for 405 yards, two scores and three picks. 

That's good for a completion percentage of 63.3, 6.75 yards per attempt, an interception percentage of 5.0 and a 73.3 rating.

The only Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the last decade whose playoff run featured numbers that were arguably worse than those was Peyton Manning in 2015. His yards per attempt were a minuscule 5.9 -- every other championship-winning quarterback had a YPA that at least hovered near 7.0, several were at 8.0 or more (see below) -- and his rating was 75.4. 

But Manning was carried to a championship by one of the best defenses in recent memory that ranked first in yards allowed per pass attempt and yards allowed per run play that year. The Patriots defense is eighth and 31st in those categories, respectively, this season.

The running game is certainly useful when it works the way it did Sunday for Brady and the Patriots. It'll undoubtedly keep the running backs, offensive line and fullback happy if it can continue to produce. And it may open up things in the passing game down the line. 

But the reality is the same as it was back in August when Brady said, "This team needs a great quarterback."

At the very least it's going to need a passing game that's better than it's been the last two weeks. 

* 72.6 percent
* 9.2 YPA
* 115.7 rating
* INT%: 0.9


* 65.5 percent
* 8.0 YPA
* 97.7 rating
* INT%: 2.1


* 55.5 percent
* 5.9 YPA
* 75.4 rating
* INT%: 1.1


* 68.9 percent
* 6.8 YPA
* 100.3 rating
* INT%: 3.0


* 63.2 percent
* 7.7 YPA
* 101.6 rating
* INT%: 0.0


* 57.9 percent
* 9.0 YPA
* 117.2 rating
* INT%: 0.0


* 65 percent
* 7.5 YPA
* 103.3 rating
* INT%: 0.6


* 68.2 percent
* 8.3 YPA
* 109.8 rating
* INT%: 1.5


* 70.6 percent
* 7.2 YPA
* 117.0 rating
* INT%: 0.0


* 60.7 percent
* 7.8 YPA
* 91.6 rating
* INT%: 1.1

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