The Patriots welcomed back three important players on offense against the Jets last Sunday when David Givens, Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk returned to the field. Givens certainly helps the Patriots passing attack but the return of Dillon and Faulk is vital for a running game that's struggled to get going all season long.
While their stats weren't eye-popping, Dillon and Faulk combined for 100 yards on 26 carries. The two were able to help eat up the clock in the fourth quarter, as both backs appeared to get stronger as the game wore on. They combined for eight first downs and a touchdown and Dillon racked up 50 of his 65 yards in the second half. It was a sight for sore eyes to see the Patriots run the football; even it was against the NFL's 30th ranked rushing defense.
"I think we did some things better in the running game," Bill Belichick said after the Patriots 16-3 victory. "Running the ball was our emphasis this week and what I think our team needs to do going forward."
Dillon returned to the lineup after missing four of the Patriots last six games with ankle and calf injuries. He didn't break any big runs against the Jets but he gutted out some tough yards between the tackles that allowed the offense the luxury of not being in third-and-long all day. Something the team has struggled with in recent weeks.
Faulk's impact was primarily on third downs where three of his receptions moved the chains to keep drives alive. All three drives ended up with the Patriots scoring. It was Faulk's first game since week three in Pittsburgh but he looked as quick and elusive as he was before he broke a bone in his foot. Faulk's contributions as a change-of-pace back and receiver out of the backfield can't be underscored because no other player on the roster can do what he does for the team.
"Kevin is a smart football player," Belichick said. "His football instincts and intelligence as a player allows him to adjust to different roles…He has good vision and he can see the whole field. He has great hands and catches the ball well for a running back. Anyone who can get open and catch the ball has a place in the passing game at any level."
Belichick went on to say that he never knows how much he will use Faulk until they actually get into the flow of a game.
"Kevin is kind of like a relief pitcher," he said. "He never really knows when his call is coming but he's always ready when it does."
Patrick Pass and Heath Evans did an admirable job filling in at the running back position but now both of them are injured themselves and neither player brings the experience or overall ability to the position that Dillon and Faulk do. No matter which running back is in the game, the Patriots offense needs to do a better job as a group if the team wants to continue to run the ball well in the future.
"It's good to have those guys back," Belichick said. "But it comes down to how the whole team operates. It's not about one guy. It's about how the team performs as a unit."
Winter has arrived in New England and the weather is turning cold and windy. All the Patriots remaining games take place in the northeast so it's imperative the team run the ball well over the last month of the season. Tom Brady is averaging 35 pass attempts per game up to this point in the season. The Patriots are hoping a recharged running game can take some of that pressure off Brady and roll into the playoffs on a high note.
Losman brings a new lookThe first time the two teams met back in late October, Kelly Holcomb was quarterbacking the Bills and he had a good game against the Patriots, throwing for 263 yards and a touchdown pass. Holcomb was injured the next week against the Chiefs and second-year quarterbackJ.P. Losman has been the Bills starter ever since.
While Holcomb is a pure pocket passer, Losman is more athletic so the Bills like to get him outside the pocket more. They use Losman in bootlegs and rollouts similar to what the Broncos do with Jake Plummer and the Jets with Brooks Bollinger.
Losman started the first four games of the season but was benched in favor of Holcomb because he was ineffective. Holcomb played well as a starter but the Bills now appear to be committed to Losman for the rest of the year. Losman is only 1-6 as a starter but Belichick told the media at his Wednesday press conference the young quarterback looks different in his second stint as the Bills starter.
"He looks like he has a little more experience, a little more confidence," Belichick said. "I think he's seeing the field better and doing a better job of protecting the football."
Belichick also said that even though Losman is the starter, the Patriots will prepare for both of the Bills quarterbacks this Sunday.
NotesThe Patriots rushing offense and rushing defense both turned in season-best performances last week against the Jets. The Patriots rushed for a season high 146 yards and gave up a season low 46 yards on the ground. The Jets 46 yards rushing is the lowest total against the Patriots since Week 2 of the 2002 season when the Pats held the Jets to 32 yards…Brady is a perfect 18-0 as a starting quarterback when the temperature is below 40 degrees…Josh Miller leads the NFL with a punting average of 46.7 yards.