By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
The Patriots travel to Buffalo having won now an amazing fourteen consecutive games against the Bills. They have every reason to be fired up, if they win they’ll clinch both the AFC East and the #1 seed and home playoff games throughout the playoffs. In other words, its yet another “hat and t-shirt game.” Back during the midst of the Patriots glory days, Tedy Bruschi said “We don’t lose hat and t-shirt games.” This Patriots team is a lot different than the Super Bowl winners of several years ago. Its younger and much of the cast of characters have changed. Do they still not lose hat and t-shirt games? We’ll find out Sunday. For what its worth, Buffalo has played a lot better of late. Early in the year they lost a remarkable number of close games. They played the Patriots decently in losing 38-30 in Foxboro in September. They’re 4-2 in their last 6 games. They should provide a good test. But with so much at stake, one would expect the Patriots to come out very motivated and put together one of their better efforts of the year. We’ll find out how much they may be like those championship Patriot teams starting Sunday
Ryan Fitzpatrick (#14), Quarterback: When we last saw the pride of the Harvard Crimson football program, things were a lot more uncertain for Fitzpatrick. He was making his first start of the year versus the Patriots. His career, to that point, had been mediocre at best. And, yet, this year it all seems to have come together for him. He started with a rather good game versus the Patriots in September and has continued along with generally good showings all year. For the year, Fitzpatrick has completed almost 59 percent of his passes, he’s tossed 23 touchdowns versus only 12 interceptions and has a respectable 85.9 quarterback rating. Its far and away the best season thus far for the 28 year old. Fitzpatrick’s strengths are a good arm, solid weapons and an improving ability to avoid the rush. He still throws the occasional dumb pass and he’ll likely give the Patriots an opportunity for a few Sunday. But he’s in a good offense for his skills and his head coach, Chan Gailey, has found a comfort level in calling plays that don’t put him in difficult situations. The Patriots have won fourteen games in a row. But perhaps Fitzpatrick is at the best place right now of any quarterback they’ve faced during that time. And that alone may give Buffalo the best chance its had in quite a number of years versus New England.
Steve Johnson (#13), Wide Receiver: Similar to Fitzpatrick, Johnson was sort of meandering along in his career when he and the Bills visited Foxboro in September of this year. He came into that game with 23 career catches in two plus seasons. But since then, he’s become the Bills go to receiver. He had a touchdown that day versus the season and he now stands on the cusp of a 1,000 yard season with 943 with two games to go. He’s scored 10 touchdowns on the season, which places him among the league leaders for a wide receiver. Johnson has good speed, he can catch the short routes, he’s big and physical and he can occasionally get deep by usually relying on his strength to outfight defenders for the ball. A former 7th round choice, Johnson has become a great steal from the 2008 draft for the Bills. Also, just not to be confused, for whatever reason since he’s begun playing well its become common to hear him called “Stevie Johsnon” rather than the former mundane “Steve Johsnon” when he was just another player.
Arthur Moats (#52), Linebacker: A rookie 6th round choice out of James Madison, Moats has really come on in recent weeks. Loyal readers of Patriots Daily will recall our interview with Moats prior to the NFL draft last season. Back then, he noted in the interview the Bills were interested in using him as an inside linebacker. They did initially, but in recent weeks they’ve switched him to outside linebacker which could be a good move for him where he’ll be able to utilize his 4.64/40 speed. Moats will likely forever be remembered as the guy who ended Brett Favre’s consecutive start streak as his hit knocked Favre out for a week for Minnesota. The last two weeks, Moats has had 2.5 sacks so he is definitely a threat to Tom Brady in the backfield. The Patriots spent some time with Moats last spring, so they were clearly interested in him, but ultimately it looks like Moats is a late-round keeper who will go down as a Buffalo draft find.
Leodis McKelvin (#28), Cornerback: McKelvin is a very inconsistent player. Supremely talented, at times he costs the Bills with untimely penalties or lapses in coverage. On special teams, he can be explosive as a returner, but also prone to fumbling. The Patriots found this out last year when he cost the Bills the 2009 opener with a late fumble. Watching McKelvin, it almost seems he loses concentration at times. While he has the ability to make excellent plays, the Patriots undoubtedly will find times they can beat him Sunday too for big plays. In the end, despite his talent and stretches of solid play, McKelvin is now in his 3rd season and has to be considered a disappointment as a first round pick if he can’t begin to play more consistent football.
Brian Moorman (#8), Punter: The weather report for Buffalo, as one can expect this time of year, is looking treacherous for Sunday. Moorman, who is arguably the best punter in the NFL, could prove a major factor. Games in Buffalo this time of year often prove to be field position battles in the rocky weather. Win that, you can many times win the game. Moorman who excels in both distance and hang time could prove a major weapon in helping the Bills win the field position battle if the Buffalo defense can slow down the Patriots offense and get some stops. Moorman, now in his 10th season, may have lost a bit off his leg slightly at age 34 but is still an excellent punter who knows how to deal with the Buffalo weather. He could be a major factor Sunday.