Randy Moss didn’t want to leave any doubt.
The wide receiver didn’t take any questions in the wake of Sunday’s 17-10 win over the Bills in Buffalo. (Click here for the complete game recap.) Instead, he simply made a statement and left.
“Y’all had all two weeks to do all y’all’s talking. Let me do mine,” said Moss, one week after he was pilloried by critics for his performance against Carolina.
“I’d like to really thank. ... It’s been really a tough couple of weeks, but you move on. That’s the nature of the game. So I’m happy that we got this victory. I appreciate all the support from my true fans, the players, the coaches, my family and loved ones.
“I’ve been in this league 12 years, man, and I’ve been through a lot. And these shoulders that I have on my body, you can put the earth on it. So just to let you know, I bounce back. I appreciate it.”
And that was it, the final word on a stormy week for the wide receiver. In the wake of his one-catch (and one-fumble) afternoon against the Panthers, Moss rebounded nicely, finishing with five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Bills. While Moss wasn’t in the mood to expand on his afternoon’s work, his teammates were more than happy to sing the praises of the wide receiver.
“He is a competitor, and he wasn’t happy with his performance the week before and he came out there and showed why he is one of the best to play the game,” teammate Wes Welker told reporters. “There was no doubt in my mind he was going to bounce back from last week and have a great game this week.”
The receiver was part of the offense early — quarterback Tom Brady went to him twice on deep balls in the first half. Both long passes were off the mark, but Moss was able to draw a pass interference call on one of them to set up the Patriots' first touchdown of the afternoon, a 13-yard pass from Brady to Moss that gave New England a 7-3 lead.
“He’s a big player in this offense,” said Brady, who finished 11-for-23 for a season-worst 115 yards. “There was so much said about him last week, and he came out and kind of showed the kind of character that he has. I love having him out there.”
In all, Moss was targeted seven times, and was used in a variety of ways. He lined up in the slot as well as outside, catching passes on underneath routes as well as outside. He took some hits and he went deep. Brady intimated the Patriots moved Moss around in an attempt to present some different looks for the Buffalo defense.
“We’re always trying to find different ways to get him the ball and play him in different spots,” Brady said. “It’s hard when you just put him outside the numbers all day and expect him to get open vs. a lot of double coverage.
“So we put him on some different routes and he did a great job — [he] made some great catches today.”
Here are nine other things we learned on Sunday:
EVEN IN DECEMBER, THE PATRIOTS AREN’T ABOVE ADDING A DEFENSIVE WRINKLE
The Patriots rolled out a unique defensive look that incorporated no down linemen, multiple defensive backs (as many as six at a time) and extra linebackers. The look was done for many reasons, not the least of which was necessity — New England entered the game without defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Myron Pryor. The presence of a handful of linebackers simply wandering around on the other side of the football can be extremely disconcerting — it disrupts blocking assignments and is a general pain.
It was a scheme the Patriots had flashed before — in fact, they had shown it against the Bills in Buffalo: On Nov. 3, 2002, at Ralph Wilson Stadium, New England employed that look several times against Drew Bledsoe and the Bills offense, and the scheme was a key factor in the 38-7 shellacking of Buffalo.
After that game, Bledsoe told reporters he wasn’t shocked by the move — it was something he saw plenty of times when then-Pats defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was the defensive coordinator in Cleveland. He would see it again in the 2003 regular-season finale, a game at Gillette Stadium that the Patriots won 31-0.
“We’ve used it before,” Belichick said on Sunday. “We actually used it against Buffalo here … I don’t know. We’ve used it from time to time.”
Called “organized chaos” by outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, Buffalo appeared completely unprepared to deal with the unique defensive front, and was unable to do much of anything until late in the game. The Patriots notched a season-high six sacks (the Pats hadn’t gotten more than four sacks in any other game this year; that came in Week 1, also against the Bills), with Tully Banta-Cain accounting for three of those.
“Basically, we bring in an extra guy who has a little bit more speed on the front, so it kind of gives us a chance to use our athleticism against the bigger, non-athletic guys on their [offensive] line,” Banta-Cain said after the game.
“It creates more mismatches if they do actually pass the ball. ... You’re lighter against the run. But you know they’re going to pass the ball, and you want more guys out there that can get to the quarterback.”
THERE’S NO DISPUTING THE WORTH OF VINCE WILFORK TO THIS TEAM
The Pro Bowl nose tackle, dogged by a foot injury in the wake of the win over the Panthers, was inactive for the game — the first time he has missed a starting assignment since the end of the 2006 regular season. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t answer the bell — fellow defensive lineman Ty Warren also wasn’t able to go, nor was rookie big man Myron Pryor.
That left the Patriots’ defensive line in the hands of Mike Wright (who finished with one sack) and Jarvis Green, as well as rookies Ron Brace and Titus Adams, a painfully thin group. Without Wilfork and Warren, they did as well as could be expected, but struggled early to blunt the Buffalo running game. The Bills churned out an impressive 14-play, 69-yard opening drive, with 46 of those yards coming on the ground. Fred Jackson, who finished with 80 yards, was solid early.
Buffalo ended up settling for a field goal on its first drive, and eventually abandoned the run when it fell behind late in the first half and the start of the second half. (The Bills had just 21 rushing yards in the second half.) But the Patriots defensive front really missed the presence of Wilfork and Warren.
“I know the guys out there today gave everything we had, and I know we were short guys. We had to stop the run, we knew they had two good rushers [Jackson and Lynch] coming and we had to stop them,” Wright told reporters after the game.
“I think when you have guys like that out it’s huge for guys like myself and [Ron] Brace to come in and play well. We’ve got Jarvis [Green] in there all the time, and for us all to come together on this day and give it everything we got and come out with a win on the road is just huge.”
AARON SCHOBEL REMAINS A BEAST
The Buffalo defensive end — who has more sacks against Brady than any active player — didn’t get a sack on Sunday, but was still more than a handful for the New England offensive line. He was able to bust through on a couple of occasions, including one time where he hurdled running back Kevin Faulk, who was attempting to block him.
On that play, he came crashing into Brady’s knee. The quarterback got up and spoke to referee Tony Corrente at the end of the play.
“He made a good play — he’s a really athletic guy,” Brady said of Schobel. “And to jump over Kevin like he did, I had to look up on the Jumbotron. ‘What the hell happened there, you know?’ But he’s a great player. He’s always been a great player.”
The Bills were able to get to Brady, but the quarterback made sure to note in his postgame press conference that the offensive line — missing two starters in right tackle Nick Kaczur and right guard Stephen Neal — did not allow a sack for the third consecutive game.
“That’s another positive to take out of the game,” Brady said.
LAURENCE MARONEY IS DEVELOPING CONSISTENCY
For the second consecutive week, Maroney had an impressive outing, finishing with a season-high 23 carries for 81 yards. He was at his best in the first quarter, when he posted a 13-yard gain on the ground on his first touch, and then added a seven-yard pickup on his second chance.
The 13-yard carry was his longest of the day, but it was representative of his overall effort — he slipped out of a Terrence McGee tackle and got extra yards. He didn’t go down after the first hit, and managed to stay on his feet and keep the chains moving.
Sunday marked the latest solid effort for Maroney, who is now averaging 73 yards per game over the last five weeks (he has 364 rushing yards total in that stretch). Against the Bills, he was running hard, piling up meaningful yardage and looking oftentimes like the back some believed he could be.
“I think we did a good job of playing 60 minutes. Another thing we wanted to do was establish the run,” Maroney told reporters. “The line blocked tremendously well, the tight ends blocked and Sammy Morris came in and did his thing and overall the run game had a productive day.”
“The running game was big today. They were the 32nd-ranked run defense in the league, and I think that was a big part of our plan, to come in here and run it good, and we did. We certainly did it early,” Brady said. “We didn’t do it well enough in the second half. But we did when we needed to. Laurence had a nice game.”
THE MOST PUZZLING OF HOME/ROAD SPLITS CONTINUE TO DOG THE PATRIOTS
New England cannot score in the second half away from home. On Sunday against the Bills, the Patriots struggled offensively in the latter stages of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. They had just three points in the second half, and could only manage one first down in the fourth quarter as Buffalo closed the gap to a one-score game late, and almost managed to get closer.
In their five road losses, the Patriots have been outscored 83-24 in the second half. Overall — including Sunday’s win — in road games, New England has been outscored 89-41 combined in the third and fourth quarters.
On Sunday, there were two late plays that could have cost the Patriots: First, a Buffalo onside kick attempt that the Bills recovered was offside. (On the re-kick, Buffalo booted it deep to Welker, who brought it out to the New England 28-yard line.) Second, the Patriots had to convert a third down to really make sure the deal was done. Only when Brady found Welker on a third-and-6 for an eight-yard pass play was the game truly over.
“It’s frustrating,” Brady said after the game. “That’s the best word to use.”
TULLY BANTA-CAIN COULD BE THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE 2009 SEASON
At the start of the year, no one could have believed Banta-Cain would have made much of an impact on the New England defense. He was a veteran who had been around and was familiar with the Patriots’ scheme and style, but there wasn’t any real feeling that he could make a serious mark. The New England braintrust apparently didn’t think so either — it went out and gave up third- and fifth-round draft picks to Oakland for Derrick Burgess.
But now, 13 games into the regular season, it’s clear that Banta-Cain is the player who has benefited the most from the Mike Vrabel trade. He had three of the six sacks on Sunday, and now has 8.5 for the season, a new career high.
Banta-Cain and the rest of the defense were able to take a stomach punch from the Bills with their first drive — a 14-play, 69-yard drive that took 9:24 — but fixed the early problems and played very nicely the rest of the way.
“I think we just made some adjustments on the front,” Banta-Cain said. “A couple of guys that were — including myself — just out of place on the plays. And I think we looked at that drive and said, ‘OK, that wasn’t so much them, but us.’ I think we made the adjustments that we needed to make and we were able to pretty much neutralize them after that.”
AT LEAST BUFFALO IS CONSISTENT
Prior to Sunday, the highest number of penalties a New England opponent took this season was nine (that happened three times, with the last time against the Panthers a week ago). On Sunday, Buffalo was flagged for a whopping 11 penalties and 124 yards. There were false starts and pass interference and offsides penalties. It was an all-around poor performance.
As they have done so often during New Engand’s 13-game winning streak against Buffalo, the Bills spent most of the afternoon shooting themselves in the foot, starting with their opening drive. They looked to be a lock to put seven on the board on their first drive, which took almost 10 minutes and had them down on the New England 2-yard line. But a false start penalty and an incomplete pass forced them to settle for three.
That opened the door for the Patriots, who took the lead with their first drive of the second quarter — one where 48 of the 75 yards on the New England scoring drive came as a direct result of Buffalo penalties. The flags were flying the rest of the afternoon, and it ended up costing the Bills, who will now miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
“It’s tough to beat a good football team like New England,” said Perry Fewell, who’s record as Bills interim coach dropped to 2-3. “But when you kill yourselves with those kind of mistakes, then you lessen the chance of your probability to win.”
Buffalo’s also getting a bit peevish about their losing skid to the Patriots.
“I’m very sick of it,” Buffalo defensive back Donte Whitner told reporters. “They have a little swagger about themselves after they’ve beaten us so many times. We just have to go out there and beat them to take the smiles off their faces.”
WINNING AWAY FROM FOXBORO HAS RARELY BEEN SO SWEET
Divisional wins are always nice. Divisional wins in December are especially nice. But Sunday’s victory meant a little bit more to the Patriots, who entered Sunday’s game with only one road win, a neutral site victory over the Buccaneers in London.
The players were well-aware of their poor road record, as well as the fact that the last time they had won a regular-season game away from Gillette Stadium was Dec. 28, 2008, against these same Bills in Buffalo.
“It’s huge for the team, especially as the season goes on,” Wright told reporters. “If we make it to the playoffs, I don’t think many of our games are going to be at home. We’ve got to start winning on the road, and I think we played as a team today. That was huge as we progress through the season.”
“Not too often this team has had to go into December to get a road win, but we did today,” Brady said. “I didn’t think it was certainly our best performance out there, but we won the game, and that’s what’s most important.”
THE PATRIOTS ARE A STEP CLOSER TO CLOSING OUT THE DIVISION
They still aren’t out of the woods yet — remarkably, two consecutive losses and two Miami wins can still give the Dolphins the AFC East — but the Patriots took an awfully big step toward a division crown with Sunday’s victory. The Patriots’ win, combined with losses by Miami and New York, leaves them with a 9-5 record and a two-game lead on the Dolphins and Jets, and on the cusp of the division title, a crown they can seize next week with a win over Jacksonville.
“That’s great. That’s awesome. That helps us out,” Banta-Cain said when he was told of the losses suffered by Miami and New York. “And we can use all the help we can get. That makes this game, this win, that much bigger, so, I’m glad we got it.”
“That was great news. To win the game and come in the locker room and watch Tennessee kick that field goal, that was great,” Brady said. “Big game for us coming up this week.”