If you had any doubt whether the 2018 Patriots had grown to rely on a potent ground game and, in particular, Sony Michel, then the offensive output against the Bills should douse it.
The Patriots ran 26 times for 76 yards and nearly one-third of those came on a 22-yard burst by Cordarelle Patterson in the fourth quarter.
It was a key run, to be sure, as the Patriots scored their lone offensive touchdown of the night on that drive but, again, it was a wide receiver running it. From the running back spot. And it wasn’t a novelty act.
Patterson led the team with 10 carries while running backs James White and Kenjon Barner combined for 10 carries and 19 yards.
WHAT WE SAID BEFORE THE GAME
Michel’s absence and the lack of a play-action passing game that the Bills had to take seriously doesn’t explain wholly explain the Patriots offensive struggles.
The Bills defense when the Patriots got deep was as difficult to maneuver against as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady advertised all week.
Seven of the Patriots first nine drives crossed midfield. They stalled at the Buffalo 7, 22, 20, 32, 46 and 7. They punched it in on the seventh one on a James White run.
“They made us grind it out, grind out every yard,” said Belichick.
"They made it tough on us," said Brady, who finished with 324 passing yards on 29-for-45 passing but no touchdowns, the first time since Week 3 in 2005 that he passed for 320 or more yards with no TDs. "We’ll take the win however we can get it. They don’t give up any big plays. We'd get in the red area but couldn’t get in the end zone. If we scored those touchdowns we’d feel a lot better but they’ve been playing good all year."
MORE HARD TRUTHS
Despite his lack of punch as a runner, White once again was the most effective part of the offense. He finished with 10 catches on 13 targets for 79 yards. The game’s key play was made by White -- as it so often has been this season. On a third-and-8 from the Patriots 47 with 12:03 left and the Patriots ahead by the still-meager margin of 12-6, Brady hit White in the left flat and he gave a shimmy that left linebacker Julian Stanford grasping at air. After that came the Patterson 22-yarder and a back-shoulder throw to Chris Hogan down to the Bills 1. White went in from there.
White now leads the AFC with 55 catches (he’s sixth in the NFL). His six touchdown receptions are tied for fourth.
This was Julian Edelman’s best game as well. He went over 100 yards receiving (10 catches for 104) and had a big 26-yard gain earlier in the Patriots touchdown drive. Edelman also carried twice for 13 yards.
The Patriots are now pointed toward a Sunday Night Football showdown with the Packers. Green Bay will score. The Patriots – who put up 38, 38, 43 and 24 on offense in their past four games will need a bigger output than the 18 they put up Monday night.
With Marcus Cannon missing another game at right tackle, Shaq Mason being driven from the game with a calf injury and Michel dealing with his knee injury, the Patriots offense won’t be working at full strength on the ground again against the Packers.
Green Bay has its own issues to deal with after a demoralizing loss to the Rams and some anonymous locker room finger-pointing after the loss.
But the Patriots will need to get more on the ground. Since Michel went down, they’ve managed 154 yards on 49 carries (3.14 average) and 35 offensive points in the last seven quarters.
Even if this prompts a trade deadline move at the running back position, whoever they sign would have to fly into Foxboro and get on a moving train during a short week.
In short, they miss their running back.
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