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Halftime analysis: Patriots 17, Bills 16

09.26.10 at 2:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots hold a 17-16 lead on the Bills after two quarters here at Gillette Stadium. Here are a few quick notes on a first half that had five lead changes:

New England’s defense has struggled mightily in the first half trying to contain a Buffalo offense that had just 17 total points over the first two games of the season. While the Patriots were able to hold them to three field goals (two 39-yarders and a 34-yarder from Rian Lindell), Buffalo did reach the end zone once — on a five-yard scoring strike from Ryan Fitzpatrick to C.J. Spiller in the second quarter — and punted just once in the first half. Overall, Fitzpatrick is 11-for-16 for 105 yards and a touchdown, while Marshawn Lynch has nine carries for 52 yards.

The Patriots made some major personnel changes to their defense — on their opening drive, they started rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham in place of veteran Tully Banta-Cain, while Kyle Arrington got the start at corner in place of second-year defensive back Darius Butler. Banta-Cain was on the field on the first series in New England’s third-down defense and was out there with the starters on the second defensive play from scrimmage. Meanwhile, Butler wasn’t out there — other than special teams — until there were just under 10 minutes left in the first half. After a couple of plays, he was quickly yanked.

Defensively, the Patriots appear to be bringing extra bodies on a consistent basis. The extra pressure paid dividends on the second defensive series of the afternoon when Gary Guyton busted into the backfield unabated and made Fitzpatrick hurry his throw on a third down play, forcing a punt. Jerod Mayo also got to Guyton on Buffalo’s third offensive series of the day, forcing a seven-yard sack, his first of the season.

Offensively, Brady is 10-for-12 for 129 yards and one touchdown, while Aaron Hernandez has three catches for 52 yards. The biggest question for the Patriots was who would take over Kevin Faulk’s role. In the passing game, it appears that Hernandez will take up some of the slack — on New England’s first drive, he accounted for 52 of the 75 yards, with 39 yards receiving and 13 on the ground. In addition, newly acquired Danny Woodhead saw limited action — either split wide or lined up next to Brady in the shotgun — and wide receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman were also utilized in the short passing game.

New England cashed in at the end of their first drive, an efficient eight-play, 75-yard sequence that ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Randy Moss (the latter of whom did not start for the first time in his Patriots’ career). The Patriots got their second touchdown of the day — which gave them a 14-13 lead with just under three minutes left in the first half — on a 22-yard rush from Woodhead. It was a play that was right out of Kevin Faulk’s playbook — a handoff from Brady, he had an excellent cutback and simply outraced everyone to the end zone.  The New England offense also showed a good look in their two-minute set as Brady guided a three-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal from 43 yards out to finish the first-half scoring.

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