By Danny Picard
Expectations are for the positions on the field, not for the players who man those positions.
Year in and year out, Bill Belichick proves that theory to be true. As players get hurt, traded, or straight up released, others step in and thrive, even if you've never heard of them before.
Undrafted free agents BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead are perhaps the best examples of that. The pair of running backs combined for 197 rushing yards and 232 total yards in Sunday's 34-3 win over the Buffalo Bills, a win that saw the Patriots clinch the division, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"If you're an outside linebacker on this team, you're expected to play like Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady after the game. "If you're a running back, you're expected to play like Corey Dillon, and Antwan Smith, and Kevin Faulk. That's just the way it is."
All the players that Brady mentioned in won Super Bowls with New England. Green-Ellis and Woodhead aren't there just yet, but if they continue to produce on the ground like they have been all season long, it will continue to open up Brady's ever-so-dangerous passing game, a passing game that saw three touchdowns on Sunday, but only a total of 140 yards in the air.
Brady set the NFL record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception in the win, but Green-Ellis' 104 rushing yards on 19 carries, and Woodhead's 93 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries set the tone in Sunday's division clincher.
"I think we talked earlier in the week, one thing they've been struggling with is against the run," said Brady. "Buffalo was 32nd against the run, and we knew coming in that we needed to establish it, get things going on the ground, and possess the ball, and we sure did. And I think that takes a lot of pressure off the pass game, when you can hand it off all the times we did, and gain those yards."
Woodhead gave the Patriots their first lead of the afternoon, busting a 29-yard run through the middle, and then cutting outside to the left and into the end zone.
New England led 7-3 after the extra point, and they never looked back.
It marked Woodhead's fifth rushing touchdown of the season. And even though Green-Ellis didn't get into the end zone Sunday, he's now just 72 yards away from having a 1,000-yard rushing season.
"Good blocking, good running, good play-calling," said Belichick. "The players, they're the ones that gain the yards, they're the ones that blocked, they're the ones that ran. Our receivers have been doing a good job in the running game, they've helped us. Our backs run well, they run hard and take care of the ball."
"It goes week to week," said guard Logan Mankins. "We've come into games we thought we'd kill em in the running game and we run for 60 yards. It's all execution and tonight we executed for the most part."
Tom E. Curran contributed to this story.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.