Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Mike Lowe firstname.lastname@example.org
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - It would be hard to characterize the New England Patriots' offense of the recent past as being physical.
Stevan Ridley, left, already has two 100-yard rushing games this season, and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden also rushed for more than 100 yards Sunday against Buffalo.
The Associated Press
With Tom Brady at the controls, the Patriots have shredded opposing defenses through the air.
Brady is one of only two quarterbacks in NFL history with two seasons of at least 39 touchdown passes, and his 5,235 passing yards last year were second-best all-time. He's thrown a touchdown pass in 36 consecutive games.
The running game?
Nonexistent at times. Inconsistent at best. Only twice in the Bill Belichick/Brady era have the Patriots rushed for over 2,000 yards in a season: 2004, when Corey Dillon gained 1,635 yards and the Patriots won their third Super Bowl championship, and 2008, when Brady shredded his knee in the first game of the season and was replaced by Matt Cassel.
This year might be different.
While the Patriots still don't have what anyone would consider a No. 1 running back, they have some hard-running backs who will take pressure off Brady.
Second-year back Stevan Ridley and rookie Brandon Bolden put on quite a show last week in a 52-28 victory over Buffalo. Bolden, an undrafted free agent, gained 137 yards with one touchdown, while Ridley rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
That was the first time in 32 years the Patriots had two backs run for over 100 yards. The last time? Don Calhoun ran for 106 and Vegas Ferguson 100 in a 37-21 win over Baltimore on Nov. 23, 1980.
One game does not a season make. But it may signal a shift in offensive attitude. That's not to say Brady won't get his numbers. In throwing for 340 yards last week, he helped the Patriots become only the second team in NFL history to have two backs go over 100 yards rushing and two receivers surpass 100 receiving yards (Wes Welker with 129 and Rob Gronkowski with 104).
But the Patriots, with this renewed swagger, might be willing to run the ball more.
"I mean, we talk about playing as a physical team," said Brady. "That's a big part of what we talk about on a weekly basis. And a lot of that's the running game. It's running the ball effectively and stopping the run. If you can't do that, you're not going to be a very physical team.
"So controlling the line of scrimmage and the offensive line and the play of the defensive line, and certainly when the running backs are running hard and making yards after contact ... that's what leads to controlling the tempo of the game and obviously scoring more points."
Brady especially liked the way Ridley and Bolden ran over people. On Bolden's 7-yard touchdown run, he was met at the 5 by a defensive back and simply bulled him over.
"That ability to push the pile and so forth in the game and gain yards, that's where you make those critical yards," said Brady. "If you're hit at the 5 and stopped at the 5, then you're throwing the ball on second down. But it (ended) up being a touchdown."
Ridley, leads the Patriots with 339 rushing yards (4.6 yards per carry), wasn't seen in the locker room Wednesday. And Bolden, who is second with 152 yards (6.6 yards per carry), said he couldn't talk until Friday.
For now, their actions are speaking for them.
Denver Coach John Fox, whose team visits Gillette Stadium on Sunday, certainly noticed. He said the first thing that jumped out at him was "how efficiently they ran the ball last week. Having been a defensive coach most of my career, I understand that people can take away something, but they open up something else (by running the ball). I thought that was impressive."
Belichick said he doesn't care how the Patriots move the ball.
"Whether we throw for 20 or run it for 20, I think when we move the ball and score some points, it invigorates everybody," he said.
But he knows what a strong, physical running game can mean. He was an assistant coach for two New York Giants teams that won the Super Bowl with a smash-mouth offense.
"I think that's the way we want to play," said Belichick. "We want to be a physical team. It's a contact sport. Being a physical team, being able to win those physical matchups when they happen, that's important."
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: