Patriots

Running with purpose: Why the Patriots offense has reason to be encouraged

Running with purpose: Why the Patriots offense has reason to be encouraged

When Buffalo's defense held the Chiefs to 2.9 yards per rush attempt in Week 12 it meant one of two things: 1) The Bills had solved the running-game issues they exhibited when they allowed over 600 yards rushing combined in their previous three games, or 2) it was kind of flukey. 

What happened on Sunday in Orchard Park was an indication that it seemed to be more of the latter. 

The Patriots ran for 191 yards on 35 carries for a 5.5 yards-per-carry average in their 23-3 win over the Bills. It was the second consecutive week the Patriots cracked the 190-yard mark and the 5.0 yards-per-carry threshold. 

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For the third straight week, it was primarily the Dion Lewis Show, Featuring Rex Burkhead. With both multi-purpose backs running so well -- and with James White and Brandon Bolden also healthy and game-day regulars -- Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch for the fourth week in a row. 

Lewis ran 15 times for 92 yards, including a career-long 44-yard run that featured a hellacious stiff arm and multiple broken tackles. He averaged 4.4 yards after contact per attempt in the game, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Burkhead, meanwhile, carried 12 times for 78 yards and continues to be the team's choice on the goal line, running in both of New England's scores in the third quarter. He averaged 2.0 yards after contact per attempt and forced four missed tackless on his carries, per PFF. 

Perhaps the only issue surrounding the Patriots running game -- which was given a spark in Week 6 by Lewis and picked up continued momentum with a dominant four-minute drive to close out a win in Week 7 -- is that the Patriots didn't turn its way sooner. 

Lewis came into the game averaging 5.4 yards per carry on first down since the Week 9 bye. That helped keep the Patriots out of third-and-long spots and "on schedule." Yet on first down from the Bills 31-yard line on New England's first drive, Tom Brady dropped back to pass and was sacked. They threw again on third-and-11 two plays later and eventually had to kick a field goal. 

Credit the Bills defense for snuffing out first-down runs at the ends of two different first-half drives that led to field goals, but the Patriots emerged from halftime having run for 125 yards on 16 carries and hearts set on running the football more in the second half. 

Using their athleticism up front -- pulling guard Shaq Mason, leading runs with tight ends Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski -- the Patriots offense continued to churn. The running game set up play-action throws to Gronkowski, and when they got close, they weren't afraid to keep it on the ground. 

Brady finished the day without a touchdown pass for the first time since the season-opener. He got into a very public disagreement with his offensive coordinator and good friend Josh McDaniels. It wasn't necessarily his day. 

But with a running game performing the way it is, the Patriots didn't need Brady's best. That's why this offense may be as imposing now as it's been all year. 

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Ryan Shazier at Heinz Field for Patriots-Steelers, crowd goes berserk

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Ryan Shazier at Heinz Field for Patriots-Steelers, crowd goes berserk

When the Steelers defense took the field on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, they got a little help from their injured teammate Ryan Shazier. 

The Steelers linebacker suffered a season-ending back injury against the Bengals in Week 13 and has been on the minds of his co-workers since being carted off the field against the Bengals. After undergoing back surgery a week-and-a-half ago, Shazier was well enough by the time the Patriots came to town to attend the game. 

According to CBS, many teammates didn't know he would be in attendance. Neither did the crowd. But when he was shown on the stadium's video board before New England's first offensive series, they went crazy to show their support. 

The Steelers defense proceeded to allow a six-play touchdown drive, but it will be interesting to hear if Shazier's presence provded them any sort of emotional boost.