Marshawn Lynch dives into the end zone after a 79-yard TD run against the Cardinals (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — As some of the questions finally turned back to football strategy Friday, one of the first subjects addressed to Vince Wilfork is what the Patriots plan to do with Marshawn Lynch.
Wilfork made it perfectly clear that he thinks Lynch is the best running back in the game and the toughest ground game challenge the Patriots defense will face this season.
What comes to mind when Wilfork thinks of Lynch?
“Beast,” Wilfork said in a one-word answer that doubles as the first half of the running back’s “Beastmode” nickname. “I mean, he is an old-school running back that can do everything. There’s not one thing he cannot do. He is very, very, very tough. I remember playing him when he was in Buffalo as a rookie, and I went up to him at the end of the game and I said, ‘You have something special. You’re a hell of a ball player.’ I said, ‘I have to give my hats off to you,’ and he kind of smiled and was like, ‘Thank you.’ It seems like he’s been getting better and better.”
Lynch was drafted by Buffalo in the first round in 2007 out of Cal and promptly ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, to go with 15 touchdowns. But after his second season, things started to go south in Buffalo. Following his guilty plea on misdemeanor weapons charges, Lynch met with Commissioner Roger Goodell for a disciplinary hearing. Lynch had been arrested in Culver City, Calif., for having a gun in his backpack in the trunk of a car he was in.
The NFL announced that Lynch would be suspended for the Bills’ first three games for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Lynch appealed the league’s suspension on May 14 in an attempt to have it reduced or nullified, only to have it upheld by Goodell later on August 3. When interviewed on the topic, Lynch has said that he was not surprised when the suspension was upheld, and that he loves playing too much and will try to keep himself out of situations in which there is a risk of being suspended.
He suffered a sprained ankle in 2010 and was traded in October to Seattle, where’s he’s been in “Beastmode” ever since. He has rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of his last four seasons in Seattle, including 1,306 yards with a career high 13 touchdowns this season. His season was defined by a spectacular 79-yard touchdown run on Dec. 21 against the Cardinals, on the same field he’ll be playing the Patriots on Feb. 1.
“The more and more you play in the game, it seems like he kicks it to another gear, and that’s a sign of a great football player,” Wilfork said. “He’s hands down the best back in the game because he can hurt you any time he has the ball in his hands. I think it’s going to be so important for us to have more than one defender tackling him because he’s shown over the years what he [can] do. He’ll make some defenses and he’ll make some players look stupid on the football field. I don’t want that feeling, I’ll tell you that. It’s going to be a lot of running for us trying to get to him because he demands that. He’s just a great back.”
How does Lynch help Wilson?
“Well, I think any best friend of the quarterback is the run game and with the backs they have and with Russell Wilson being able to run the ball at will, it makes their offense so dynamic,” Wilfork said. “It’s amazing watching film. They don’t do a lot of exotic stuff. Basically, they go out and they do what they do and they make plays and they execute at a high level, and they’ve been doing it for a couple years now. Obviously saw last year when they went to the [Super] Bowl and they played well together as a team, not just as an offense. Their special teams [is] good, they have a great defense and the offense is very explosive.
“It’s going to be a challenge all around for us. It’s not just going to be just defensive line or just the defense. It’s going to be all three phases of the ballgame. We have to be able to play well. If we play well, we’ll set ourselves up well in the game, but if we don’t we’ll have problems. That’s the last thing we want, especially against a team like this, to have problems in the game where it can get ugly quick. Most of the times when you see teams scoring a lot of points like that, it’s big plays after big plays and they’re capable of doing that. But at the same time it’s amazing to see them hand the ball off and they can go 70 yards at will if you’re not playing good football. So, we understand that.”