FOXBOROUGH — Vince Wilfork left no uncertainty as to how many people it will take to stop Buffalo’s rushing attack when the Patriots host the Bills Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“You’re talking about all 11 guys,’’ said the Patriots nose tackle. “You just can’t sit and say that the front seven just stopped the run, because sometimes we have safeties and corners coming down for support.’’
The front seven will likely require the same support it got from the secondary in a 52-28 victory at Buffalo in Week 4. In that game, the defense held the Bills to 98 rushing yards on 27 carries (3.6-yard average).
New England’s rushing defense, tied for seventh in the league at 88.6 yards per game, managed to keep C.J. Spiller in check, holding the speedster to 33 yards on eight carries.
“He’s so quick and explosive that he could be one way, then one cut and he’s back going the other direction, then he’s at full speed,’’ said Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty. “For us, it’s getting as many guys to the ball and try to bottle him in.’’
For the season, Spiller has averaged 7.2 yards per carry in rushing for 562 yards and 4 touchdowns (including a long of 56 yards) while splitting time with Fred Jackson, who has started the last five games after being inactive for the previous two.
The Bills’ rushing attack ranks sixth in the league at 141.3 yards per game.
“This offense is a very explosive offense,’’ Wilfork said. “They can up put up points in a hurry on the ground and in the air. We’ve seen it and we’ve been on both sides where we came back and where we didn’t come back. So we understand how important it is for us, defensively, to start fast and make sure we don’t give up these big long plays.’’
The Patriots have allowed 13 gains of more than 10 yards and two of more than 20 yards. But only one of those 20-yarders was by a running back (St. Louis’s Daryl Richardson ). Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson owns the longest rush against the Patriots, a 26-yarder.
“We always talk about the run, and I feel we are better at it this year,’’ Wilfork said. “Every year, you want to talk about making a team one-dimensional — and we have, for the most part, this year.”
There probably wasn’t anyone happier in the Patriots locker room this week than Aaron Hernandez, who celebrated his 23d birthday Tuesday by welcoming the birth of his child, a daughter.
“That’s crazy,” Hernandez said. “Best birthday gift you could have, having a daughter on your birthday and especially daddy’s little girl. It’s an honor and I couldn’t ask for my life to be better at this point. My life is pretty good and thank God for that and it’s a blessing and I still feel blessed daily.
“It definitely changed my life and I’m going to look at things differently. I’m engaged now, I have a baby, and it’s just going to make me think of life a lot differently and doing things the right way. I can’t just be ‘young and reckless Aaron’ no more.”
Out of this world
Near the end of the open locker room session, team owner Robert Kraft, punter Zoltan Mesko, and tight end Rob Gronkowski took part in a long-distance phone conversation.
How long? They spoke for a few minutes with Needham astronaut (and Patriots fan) Sunita Williams, who has been living on the International Space Station since July. Williams could see and hear the Patriots on an iPad the players were using, but Kraft, Mesko, and Gronkowski could only hear her during the call.
“That was pretty cool,” said Kraft, handing the phone to Mesko.
Williams, 47, a captain in the US Navy and a 1983 graduate of Needham High School, flew to space this summer from Kazakhstan and is scheduled to return to Earth this month. It’s her second stint on the International Space Station.
Gronkowski, the last member of the Patriots to speak with Williams, couldn’t wait to ask her a question: “Are you floating right now?”
The Patriots again held practice inside the Dana-Farber Field House, where strong winds rattled the facility’s walls and roof. The same three players who were absent from Wednesday’s practice were also absent from Thursday’s workout in sweats and shells: RB Brandon Bolden (knee), LB Tracy White (foot), and DE Trevor Scott (hamstring).
The Patriots listed 14 players as limited. The Bills were missing four players from Thursday’s practice, all of whom were absent for the second day in a row: DE Mark Anderson (knee), CB Terrence McGee (knee), T Erik Pears (hip), and CB Aaron Williams (knee). In addition, defensive end Chris Kelsay hurt his neck early in practice and had to leave the workout. Coach Chan Gailey said Kelsay would undergo tests.
Among the six players who were limited were two who returned after missing Wednesday: WR Stevie Johnson (thigh) and DT Kyle Williams (ankle).