Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Bills and offers some of his fourth-quarter observations:
1. Patriots safety Patrick Chung’s end-zone interception to start the fourth quarter was set up when OLB Jermaine Cunningham met blocking RB C.J. Spiller in the backfield with a blow to the chest, pushing Spiller aside and hitting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as he threw. The pass sailed well over his intended receiver and was snagged out of the air by Chung.
2. LG Dan Connolly had a few negative plays in the game, despite an overall solid performance filling for Logan Mankins the first three weeks of the season. On the second play of the fourth quarter, RB Sammy Morris was stopped when LT Matt Light pulled off a combo block with Connolly in order to get to the nearest linebacker. Connolly lost his leverage on NT Kyle Williams, who tackled Morris on a play that otherwise featured sound blocking. A few plays later, Williams was able to break into the backfield on the snap after Connolly and center Dan Koppen both released him in an apparent miscommunication; the Morris run still went for 9 yards as Williams was unable to chase down the play from behind.
3. The Patriots’ running game was in focus for almost the entirety of their 13-play fourth quarter touchdown drive. The blocking was inconsistent, with TE Alge Crumpler the culprit on a Morris run stopped in the backfield, but the Patriots converted first downs when they needed to. The biggest gain came on a 15-yard Danny Woodhead run to set up BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 7-yard touchdown run. Taking over Kevin Faulk’s role as the running back in the three-receiver set, Woodhead lined up next to QB Tom Brady in the shotgun, taking the draw on third down and even showing more lateral speed than Faulk to shoot through the hole before nearly breaking free from CB Terrence McGee close to the goal line.
4. One of the best tackles of the day came on a first-down run in the fourth quarter by Bills RB Marshawn Lynch. On the play, Lynch was able to break outside after OLB Rob Ninkovich was driven nearly 10 yards downfield by pulling LG Andy Levitre. However, LCB Devin McCourty worked around a block by WR Roscoe Parrish, reading Lynch’s outside run and wrapping him up by his ankles for no gain.
5. McCourty, however, did not follow up his big stop with solid coverage. On the ensuing third-and-6, he misread a crossing route by WR Steve Johnson and was beaten for a 14-yard gain. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick ran a play-action before rolling out, drawing a big bite from CB Jonathan Wilhite, who turned all the way around before Fitzpatrick found his receiver, Parrish, about 10 yards deep near the sideline. Meanwhile, McCourty had already cleared out of that area, and was beaten deep by Johnson towards the near corner of the end zone. Chung could not come over the top quickly enough from his deep zone to make a play, and Johnson was able to make the catch and turn around to walk in for a touchdown.