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Four Yards and a Cloud of Dust

The Patriots' play-selection chart from Monday night is pornography for running-game fans

December 07, 2021

The run game is dead. A relic. A mummy to be exhumed from some forgotten football tomb centuries from now. Spread offenses are the norm. Shotgun formations the status quo. If you see a quarterback line up under center and politely hand it to his back, they’re either inside the five, have the lead deep in the fourth quarter, or are concussed and need to come out of the game. Even the "rushing teams" these days really aren’t really rushing teams. They’re running RPOs, pop passes, screens, and elaborate counter schemes. Four yards and a cloud of dust was left in the dust a long time ago. All of which makes what you’re about to see so damn mind-blowing.

That’s the Patriots play selection chart from Monday night’s frigid, windswept victory over the Buffalo Bills. It was a throwback game that didn’t just peel back the years, but the decades, and Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels rolled in it like a dog on a dead fish. This is the game Belichick has been longing to call since Adam Vinatieri scuffed one through the uprights in a blizzard to take down the Raiders 20 years ago this January, and it was glorious.

Just look at that. Two for three for 19 yards. It’s a Christmas miracle. The Patriots called runs on 94% of their offensive plays, the highest mark this century, and still walked out of there with the win. That takes more grit than a sandpaper factory.

In fact, only one other team since 1981 managed the sort of yardage distribution the Patriots did on Monday, and that was the 2000 Cincinnati Bengals. If you’re wondering what sort of cosmic aberration led to that, it was Corey Dillon’s 278-yard game, which at the time set a new NFL single-game rushing record. Corey Dillon, it should be noted, hasn’t played for the Patriots in over 15 years.

All in all, a wild evening and a big, big win for the one guy out there still rocking a Ron Dayne jersey. Also, of course, for the New England Patriots, who have pounded it straight up the gut to the top of the AFC. Stop us if you’ve heard that one before.