Foxborough, Mass. - The Patriots offense is proving a lot can happen in two minutes. Through eight games, the Patriots two-minute offense has been a successful venture this season, a mostly unnoticed factor in the team's franchise-best 7-1 start.
The Patriots have scored on their final possession of the first half in six of eight games this season, scoring 34 of their 74 second quarter points within the last two minutes of the half.
"Our two-minute offense is really improved throughout the course of the year," head coach Bill Belichick said. "It's been productive for us, hopefully we can keep it that way. It's always a boost to go into halftime with some points. It's something that we work on it quite a bit during the week. We work on it maybe more than we have in the past. It's been great."
It's no surprise then the Patriots parlayed their two-minute offense into another scoring drive in the 40-22 win over St. Louis. Leading 16-14 with 1:02 to play in the first half, the Patriots got the ball back on their own 28-yard line. Although Tom Brady completed just two of his eight attempts, they moved 54 yards in nine plays - thanks largely to two St. Louis penalties - capping the drive with a 36-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
The Patriots production in the two-minute offense - four touchdowns and two field goals - represents almost half (46 percent) of all their second quarter points and nearly the amount they've scored in other quarters. The Patriots have scored 208 points, with 49 coming in the first quarter, 41 in the third and 44 points in the fourth quarter.
Belichick sees the two-minute offense - which is practiced almost every day - as a byproduct of confidence and execution in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' aggressive play calling.
"If you are confident in your two-minute offense and you are executing it well, and that starts on the practice field, that you go into the game feeling good about pushing the envelope a little bit and going a little further," Belichick said. "And [if] that is successful, then it certainly gives you the confidence to continue to do that. Hopefully our two-minute offense can be productive. I think it has helped us in some previous games."
Tackling The Options
Injuries to starting offensive tackle Tom Ashworth and top reserve Adrian Klemm initiated the ascension of Brandon Gorin into the starting lineup, but the domino effect has left the Patriots with little depth at tackle. With Gorin in the starting lineup the last two weeks, the Patriots have carried two reserves into each game - Russ Hochstein and Gene Mruczkowski - who are mainly interior players, leaving many to wonder who would play tackle if another injury situation occurs.
"We have enough offensive linemen that we will have seven at the game and those spots will be backed up one way or another," Belichick said. "We will see how it goes this week in practice and what ends up being the best combination for us. I wouldn't commit to anything right now."
Against Pittsburgh, starting right guard Stephen Neal slid to tackle - with Gorin moving to the left side - when starter Matt Light left the game with an injury during the fourth quarter. The Patriots took steps to address the depth situation Wednesday, signing free agent offensive tackle Lance Nimmo to their practice squad. Nimmo, who takes the practice squad spot vacated by cornerback Earthwind Moreland when he was signed to the active roster Saturday, was a fourth round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. The 25-year-old started all 10 games for the Cologne Centurions during the 2004 NFL Europe season and was released by the New York Jets at the end of training camp.
"Are we under-manned? I don't know," Belichick said. "Would I like to have Tom Ashworth and Adrian Klemm not be on injured reserve? Yes. Absolutely. So, from that aspect, yes. We also added Nimmo to the practice squad. I think that addresses that."
Injury Update: Branch Near?
Wide receiver Deion Branch was upgraded to questionable for Sunday's game against Buffalo when the Patriots released their initial injury report of the week today. Branch, 25, has not returned to the field since he suffered a knee injury on the final play of the first half against Arizona on Sept. 19. This is the first time since the injury that Branch, who had seven receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown in the season opener, has been listed as better than "doubtful."
For the second consecutive week, cornerbacks Ty Law (foot) and Tyrone Poole (knee) are out. Linebacker Matt Chatham (hamstring), who played last week, joins Branch as "questionable." All of the above players missed portions of team practice.
Cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder), linebacker Larry Izzo (knee), and quarterbacks Brady (shoulder) and Jim Miller (shoulder) are listed as probable.
Belichick said the Patriots will again have to be prepared for the blitz from Buffalo's defense. The Bills blitzed on 42 of 56 plays when the teams met in Week 4. " We have to be prepared for it. I think we are going to have to be ready for what they do and, again, they do it pretty well. They do it as well as anybody in the league. If they decide to blitz us, then we better be able to block it. If they don't, then we better be able to deal with the other coverages that they play. You can't control that. I don't know whether they are going to blitz or not, but we better be ready for it. They have shown that they are not afraid to call it." ... Brady expects another solid game from former Patriot Lawyer Milloy, who missed the first match up this season with a broken arm. Milloy, who spent his first seven NFL seasons in New England, had 14 tackles and a sack in the series in 2003. "You definitely have to be aware of him. He knows our personnel and he knows our play calling better than just about anybody. He is going to have his input in what they are going to try to do. He had a great game against us last year when we played them there. Whenever there is a good player on the other side of the ball, you always have to account for them. You always have to make sure exactly where he is at. He seems to always find his way into the mix." ... Buffalo running back Willis McGahee, a teammate of Patriots rookie Vince Wilfork at Miami for three seasons, was asked to describe Wilfork's personality. "A teddy bear," said McGahee, who also wouldn't share any Wilfork stories. " I can't give out any of his dirt. That is my boy. I can't give out his dirt."