The Patriots Dec. 6 Monday Night Football win at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. featured what could be called typical conditions for December on the banks of Lake Erie. If the Autumn wind is a pirate, the December wind is a Bill – no not Bill Belichick – the Buffalo variety. In a region that can be blanketed by seven feet of lake effect snow in a single storm, one learns to expect terrible conditions this time of year regardless of any forecasted predictions.
A post-Halloween trip to Buffalo forces visiting coaches to draw up multiple plans to account for almost any conditions. Belichick confirmed in his postgame press conference late Monday night that his team didn’t know what to expect and didn’t necessarily design a game plan that featured 46 running plays and a franchise-record-low three pass attempts. If that’s true, then he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels huddled up Monday morning to assess and devise a plan that harkened back to the days of Walter Camp and Amos Alonzo Stagg. It was power football.
The conditions? 27-30 miles per hour winds with gusts up to 40 and a 33-degree temperature with the wind chill at 24. That’s not football weather; that’s miserable weather.
It’s also weather the Patriots embraced. Led by a jumbo package of offensive linemen, a physical fullback and wide receiver and downhill running, New England controlled the line of scrimmage on a night when winning it in the running game determined the outcome in a 14-10 victory. Rushing for 222 yards when the opposition knows your running and loads the box with nine or even 10 defenders? Impressive to say the least. It prompted Belichick to tell his team afterward, “That’s why we practice in this [expletive deleted].”
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones set a franchise record for fewest passing attempts in a game with three. The previous low came in snowy, windy Foxborough conditions back on Dec. 12, 1982, in a game infamous for the Snowplow field goal when Steve Grogan completed 2-of-5 passes for 13 yards in a 3-0 win over Miami. It was 22 degrees that day with winds blowing 10-15 mph and gusts up to 30.
The Patriots defense played well enough Monday night to allow the offense to keep the ball on the ground without any need to throw to come from behind. Damien Harris’ 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave the Pats a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. There was a stretch during which the Patriots ran 32 consecutive times. The three pass attempts were the fewest in an NFL game since 1974 when the Bills Joe Ferguson threw it only twice – both incomplete – in a 16-10 win over the Jets.
“We played the way we thought we needed to play to win,” Belichick said after the game. “It was a lot of situational football that I thought, for the most part, we handled well.”
It also was not the first time in the Belichick era that his Patriots threw fewer than 10 passes in Orchard Park. Back on December 28, 2008, New England – with backup Matt Cassell under center – threw it eight times in a 13-0 over the Bills. The conditions for that 1 p.m. kickoff? Winds blowing 30-40 mph with gusts up to 55 while the temperature dropped during the game from 39 degrees at kickoff to the low 30s with the wind chill temperature at 26.
Asked to compare Monday night with that 2008 visit to upstate New York, Belichick said, “ was way worse.”
Stephen Gostkowski had a field goal attempt delayed in that game so the field crew could straighten the wind-blown goal posts. He missed it from 26 yards. Bills kicker Rian Lindell missed a 47-yard attempt that appeared to take a 90-degree wind-aided turn to blow well right of the goal posts.
Cassell completed 6-of-8 passes in the win while New England ran it 47 times for 168 yards. Buffalo didn’t even attempt a first quarter pass with most of its attempts coming late when trailing by two scores. The Patriots had a touchdown march that featured nine straight running plays, a 12-yard pass on fourth-and-five, and another run for a TD. Those 11 plays consumed 6:00 and covered only 43 yards. That night, the running game relied on Sammy Morris (85 yards) and Lamont Jordan (64 yards).
Monday night, Harris led the way with 111 yards while Rhamondre Stevenson added 78 tough yards.
Patriots elder statesman and unequivocal leader Matthew Slater summed up Monday night’s win in the postgame locker room “awwwww yeahhhh” celebration when he said, “Tonight is one of those nights, fellas, that you’ll remember 10, 15, 20 years from now. You won’t remember the cold; you’ll remember the way we responded. It ain’t gonna come to us easy fellas. We’re going to have to fight and claw and scrap…”
That’s exactly what they did to earn their seventh straight win.