The New England Patriots have returned from the dead, after a disappointing 1-2 start. Surprisingly, after a 52-28 demolition of the Bills in Buffalo, Tom Brady is not responsible for the team's resurrection.
The Patriots got back on track Sunday by recommitting to the ground game. Young running backs Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden deserve their fair share of the credit.
Although Buffalo entered the weekend with a much more established backfield, consisting of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Ridley and Bolden stole the show. Stevan Ridley returned to the form he showed against Tennessee in Week 1, posting 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Those sorts of numbers should have solidified Ridley as the Patriots feature back, had undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden not picked up 137 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own on fewer carries.
Bolden's 8.6 yards-per-carry in Buffalo will undoubtedly earn the Mississippi alum more touches in the future. His bruising second-half touchdown run carried most of the Bills defense across the goal line with him.
Ridley, on the other hand, has proven himself once again. Consistency now becomes his No. 1 goal. Ridley's tremendous opening day display against the Titans seemed a distant memory after the second-year man saw a reduced role in losses to Arizona and Baltimore.
His second 100-yard rushing effort has hopefully shown Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels the error of his ways.
Following tight end Aaron Hernandez's Week 1 injury, the Patriots shied away from their powerful two tight end formation. This in turn led to an excessively pass-happy attack. Out went Ridley and on came the smaller but more sure-handed Danny Woodhead, with disastrous results.
On Sunday, despite Hernandez's continued absence the Patriots relied on Daniel Fells, whom they acquired via free agency, to play with two tight ends. The Bills defense, perpetually intimidated by Tom Brady and his plethora of receiving talent could not afford sufficient resources to halt the Patriots running attack.
New England ran the ball 40 times, with Tom Brady attempting just 36 passes. The Patriots ran more than they threw for the first time since Week 1, their only other victory. Seeing the way Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden shredded the Bills defense on Sunday, it is no coincidence that the Patriots are 2-0 when they commit to running the ball.
When operating as a run-first offense the Patriots have averaged 204.5 yards per game on the ground and 43 points per game. Granted the sample size is just two games and the competition has been questionable, but numbers like that cannot be ignored. The Patriots must continue establishing the ground game to rack up wins.
It is no secret that a healthy running game can make Tom Brady's job much easier. Sunday's dominant rushing performance allowed Brady to throw for three touchdowns and over 300 yards.
The play-action potential developed by Ridley and Bolden could allow Brady to put up unprecedented numbers throwing downfield to Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. Running the football forces defenses to stay honest, instead of broadcasting that Brady will throw on every down.
Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden may not be elite running backs in this league, but their ability allows the New England Patriots to expand their repertoire. An established running game has been the missing piece of the already dominant Patriots offense for much of the Belichick-era.
That piece is ready to be plugged in, and it may be just what the Patriots need to contend for a fourth Super Bowl.
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