Touted opponent simply not up for the challenge
FOXBOROUGH -- The Wise Guys said this one might be a challenge, but this time the Wise Guys were wrong. What the sellout crowd at Gillette Stadium and the ESPN audience saw last night was a Big Brother/ Little Brother mismatch.
The Patriots didn't annihilate the Buffalo Bills last night, but it's not their style to annihilate anyone. But they assumed immediate and complete control of the game en route to a by-the-numbers 29-6 triumph, so much so that when it was 3-0 on the obligatory Adam Vinatieri first field goal, you felt the same way you did in Game 4 of the World Series when Johnny Damon led off the top of the first with a home run and Derek Lowe set the Cardinals down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. You just knew it was over, even though there were eight innings to play.
This one was similarly devoid of suspense. The Bills offense could only generate a pathetic 125 yards and never really threatened to score. (The Buffalo points came via special teams.)
"We didn't let 'em score," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "That's the bottom line. We look at the scoreboard and see how many points we allow."
We had been told that Drew Bledsoe, who had been sacked only once in his two previous games, was playing a bit closer to his old self. We had been told that Willis McGahee had brought a new, exciting dimension to the Buffalo attack. We had been told that the Bills, whose defense is an acknowledged entity, had a whole new look and feel. All this might have been true when they played such teams as the Dolphins, Cardinals, and Jets, but none of this mattered last night against the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The Patriots didn't need any funky stuff or trickeration last night. Well, not much, anyway. Oh, sure, the estimable Troy Brown had his first interception since picking off a final-play "Hail Mary" aerial to preserve a Division 1-AA national championship for Marshall 11 years ago, but until Troy Brown starts taking snaps as Tom Brady's backup, nothing he does in a Patriot uniform should surprise anyone.
Anyway, the Patriots just went out and beat Buffalo by running the ball (208 yards), throwing the ball, and, of course, by salvaging stalled drives with Vinatieri kicking field goals of 27, 24, 20, 45, and 37 yards. They also did it by stifling the Buffalo offense, with a 70-yard punt return by Georgia Tech rookie Jonathan Smith providing the Bills with their only sign of life.
Speaking of big brothers and little brothers, once upon a time a top-of-the-line quarterback named Drew Bledsoe was a mentor to an eager young pup named Tom Brady. But that, of course, was one Mo Lewis pop, numerous magazine covers, and two Super Bowl championships ago. We all realize both the professional stature and celebrity status flip-flops that have transformed their relationship, but the widening gap between the two was never more in evidence than a look at the numbers jumping off the stat sheet at the end of the third quarter demonstrated.
Respective quarterback ratings: Brady, 102.7; Bledsoe, 7.7.
You really had to feel sorry for Bledsoe, what with the dropped passes and his own bouncers. And, really, how about the incredible sight of Brown picking off one of Drew's fourth-quarter passes and returning it 17 yards? Once upon a time (Dec. 21, 1996, to be precise), Bledsoe told the world that he would "throw to Troy Brown anytime."
I doubt this is what Drew had in mind.
Bledsoe was lifted in favor of J.P. Losman when the Bills started a possession with 4:36 remaining. His numbers -- 8 of 19 for 76 yards and three interceptions -- were abysmal. It is difficult to imagine him ever winning another game in Foxborough.
Now there was a great running back on display last night, but his name wasn't Willis McGahee. Corey Dillon reminded everyone just how fortunate the team is to have him in a Patriots' uniform. Dillon punished the Bills for 151 yards, with an 89/62 first-half/second-half split. He was out of the game for a while with what was described as a "leg injury," and his return was said to be "questionable." He came back, all right, with runs of 11, 13, and 17 yards while in that "questionable" mode.
"Corey ran hard," coach Bill Belichick said. "He made a lot of yards on his own. It's good when you're able to run well and set up those play-action passes."
"Obviously, it's not one person involved," said tackle Matt Light. "But Corey's just a special guy."
Agreed center Dan Koppen, "He's not bad, not bad. One of these games I'm not going to block at all, and I'll be curious to see how many yards he will get on his own, anyway."
Dillon has some key admirers on the other side of the ball, too.
"Corey's my best friend," said Tedy Bruschi. "He can pound the ball and eat up the clock. He's been incredible for us."
This one almost evolved into a something-for-everybody night. Tully Banta-Cain, for example, had two sacks and an interception.
The coach would never admit it. The players would never admit it. But while you could win by heftier margins, you could not win with less stress and more overall dominance than the Patriots did last night.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.