Patriots coach Bill Belichick won’t admit as much, but with all the injuries that have plagued his team this season, he has had to alter his coaching philosophy a little bit. Known for not usually playing rookies, Belichick has relied on numerous first-year players to start in place of all the veterans who have gone down. And so far, the results are better than he could have hoped.The Patriots have gotten Pro Bowl-type play out of first-round pick Jerod Mayo at middle linebacker and unexpected production from free-agent linebacker Gary Guyton. They’ve also gotten contributions in the depleted secondary from second-round pick Terrence Wheatley and fourth-round pick Jonathan Wilhite.But it all culminated in the performance of BenJarvus Green-Ellis on Sunday.
With the Patriots again limited to three running backs, Green-Ellis stepped up and ran for 105 yards on 26 carries and the game-sealing touchdown.“Whether it’s pass plays, blocking plays or running plays, I just try to do whatever I can to help the team,” said Green-Ellis. “I just take it one day at a time and go out there and work hard every day.”A player nobody had heard of a month ago now has 243 rushing yards for 3.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns this season.
Green-Ellis has been a godsend for a team decimated by injuries at running back. He has come a long way being undrafted as a free agent out of Mississippi in May and cut when the roster was set at 53 at the end of the preseason. He was placed on the practice squad and put on the active roster for the first time on Oct. 11.“He and Gary Guyton were both undrafted guys, and obviously they should have been drafted,” said Belichick. “They obviously had things going for them. … We give our scouts and organization credit for having a group of guys there, and fortunately those two have come through for us.”
The Patriots will have to hope that Guyton can continue to come through. His role will likely be expanded with the news that outside linebacker Adalius Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a broken arm.
Linebacker might be New England’s deepest position, and Mayo continues to be the team’s most consistent defensive player. He leads the Patriots with 65 tackles (50 solo), including six on Sunday, and has already established himself as one of the top middle linebackers in the conference.“Jerod is a good football player,” said Belichick. “He has made a lot of plays, a lot of tackles for us … I know he puts a lot into it, and that’s the kind of kid you are happy to see have success.”
Under the radar
Many have noticed Matt Cassel's improvement on a week-by-week basis, but the Patriots' defense has been getting better each game as well. After allowing 30 points to the Chargers, New England has allowed an average of just 12.8 points per game over the last four contests.
The Patriots attribute their recent success to a more physical style of play
"Whether it was in the running game or in the passing game, we were a very physical team, a very physical defense," said safety James Sanders after the win over the Bills. "We beat up the receivers and for the most part stopped the running game."
The Patriots have also done a great job of cutting down on the big plays that victimized them early in the season. They completely stymied Buffalo wide receiver Lee Evans, who came into the game sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (19.4 yards per catch).
For the longest time
The Patriots have been dominating the time of possession battle all season, but never was that more evident than in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
New England tied the longest drive in team history in terms of number of plays with a 19-play, 92-yard march in the fourth quarter over a 9:08 span, capped by Green-Ellis' 1-yard scoring plunge.
"If we can control the ball and keep their offense off the field, then they can't score points," said Cassel. "As long as we can stay on the field and continue to put together long drives and take time off the clock, that's great for us. It keeps our defense fresh and our offense moving down the field."
The Patriots are fourth in the NFL in time of possession, averaging 32:59 per game. ... Cassel's 13-yard TD run in the first quarter was New England's longest rush for a score this season.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports