FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady knows that the offense’s pedestrian performance in Sunday’s 17-16 win against the Jets isn’t what they expect of themselves on any game day, and even more so as the playoffs approach.
The Bengals’ victory against the Broncos Monday night ensured the Patriots will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills is rendered meaningless in the standings.
But for Brady & Co., Sunday presents an opportunity to get the offense back on track after gaining just 231 yards and escaping the Meadowlands with a narrow victory.
“We’ve still got one really important game left for us,” Brady said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
“We’re going to go out there and try to play really hard against a team that is a good team. They’ve played a lot of good football this year. We’d obviously like to end on a high note, try and play a real good game for 60 minutes. That’d be great for our offense to do.
“With the week off, we realize we’re going to have time to rest up, so we want to go out and play well, see if we can string together as many good plays as possible.”
Of course, the Patriots face another stiff challenge against a Bills defense that ranks fifth in the NFL, allowing just 18.7 points per game.
In back-to-back weeks, the Bills humbled quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. Although they lost to the Broncos, Manning passed for just 173 yards, threw two interceptions, and had zero touchdowns.
It was even uglier for Rodgers and Green Bay, as the Bills stunned the Packers with a 21-13 victory as Rodgers passed for just 185 yards, with two interceptions and zero touchdowns.
The Bills lost last week to the lowly Raiders, but this is a team that leads the league with 50 sacks, to go along with 19 interceptions and 14 fumbles.
“This defense challenges you,” Brady said. “They have a good front. One of the best defenses in the league. One of the best defenses we’ve faced all year. We’ve played a lot of good defenses this year and this one doesn’t really take a back seat to anybody. Between the turnovers and the punts, you just don’t score many points.
“It starts with practice today, see if we can do a better job with our communication, with our overall understanding of one another and what we’re trying to accomplish on every play. If you don’t do it consistently, it’s hard to score points.”
Simply, it’s hard for the Patriots to score points when they don’t have the ball, like when they ran just 54 plays in their 26-21 loss to the Packers.
They needed 64 plays to grind out Sunday’s victory, which is still low considering the Patriots averaged 74 plays in wins against Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, and Detroit, and Brady said he would like to see more against the Bills.
“It’s a lot of complementary football when you think about play counts,” Brady said. “Everybody has to do a job.
“We’ve got to do a good job on third down to stay on the field, to get our number of runs up, to keep our defense off the field. When you’re in the 50s, it’s usually not very good. You’re always going to find a balance in there somewhere. The more plays the better. That means you’re able to dictate the game.”
A tall order
The last time the Patriots played the Bills, tight end Scott Chandler torched the defense, hauling in six catches for 105 yards in New England’s 37-22 victory Oct. 12, his most memorable a one-handed catch with Tavon Wilson draped all over him.
Sure, the 6-foot-7-inch Chandler towers over Wilson, but it was still a terrific catch as he plucked the ball out of the air with his left arm.
“He’s a big guy, has a big catch radius and those guys that are real big, they’re never covered,” Wilson said. “Once the ball is in their area he’s probably going to come down with it. Obviously, you’ve got to be aware of him. We’ve got to make sure he’s accounted for. They line him up anywhere and he runs a big route tree, so it doesn’t matter where he is.”
Chandler’s 105 yards against the Patriots are the most he’s had in a game all season. So what can the Patriots do this time around?
“Try to make sure he doesn’t have a good game,” Devin McCourty joked.
“He’s huge. He’s a big guy. He’s a big target; he catches really everything thrown in his vicinity. In Game 1, Tavon had him covered pretty well and he reached out and caught the ball with one hand. I think Chandler is a guy who can get vertical. He runs some underneath routes. They throw to him a bunch in the red area and two-minute situations.”
McCourty is hardly impressed with the play of Vince Wilfork this season. That might be because he’s grown to expect nothing less than stellar play from the big defensive lineman.
Nearly 15 months removed from surgery on a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, Wilfork had his most productive game of the season against the Jets.
The 6-2, 325-pounder finished tied for second on the team with nine tackles, his highest individual effort since Dec. 4, 2011, against Indianapolis when he tallied 10.
“I was with him a little bit in the offseason,” McCourty said. “I saw the work he was putting in. Just talking to him, I knew he was ready to come back and play at a high level. It’s no surprise.”
Wilfork’s most important contribution Sunday came on special teams, his fingertips spoiling a 52-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk late in regulation that could have given New York the lead, an individual effort that earned him the playful nickname “Air Vince.”
“Since I’ve been here he’s always been one of our most consistent players, so for me there was no reason to think otherwise,” McCourty said. “I think he’s come back and shown he’s still pretty dominant for us out there.”
All hands on deck
The Patriots had perfect attendance as they practiced in sweats and shells Tuesday, including Julian Edelman (concussion) and Dan Connolly (neck), who were both inactive Sunday. The team announced that defensive back Daxton Swanson was cut from the practice squad and replaced by defensive lineman Cameron Henderson.