by Scott Benson
In the first twenty-three minutes of play yesterday, the Patriots:
*Took a turnover on their opponent’s first possession to a 1st and Goal, yet came away with only three points;
*Gave up a seven minute, 80 yard touchdown drive – and the lead – to a rookie quarterback seeing his first NFL action;
*Scored no points after being stuffed on a fourth down try near their opponent’s 20;
*Lost another score when their Super Bowl MVP quarterback fumbled inches from the opposing goal line;
*Lost two instant replay challenges, and two timeouts.
Then they woke up.
And in the end, those early cobwebs proved insignificant as the Patriots rolled to another impressive win, 38-7, over the undermanned and overmatched Buffalo Bills yesterday at Foxboro.
Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns, Randy Moss continued his remarkable start with two more scores, Laurence Maroney ran for 100 yards and the defense held the Bills to under 200 in total offense while forcing two turnovers, as New England ran their record to 3-0 for the first time since 2004.
I’m sure the Patriots were trying, but they were horribly sloppy in the first quarter and a half, which resulted in Buffalo having a surprising early lead despite losing starting quarterback JP Losman on their first possession to a questionable low hit by nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
It shouldn’t have been surprising – after two emotionally taxing weeks, the Patriots were facing a winless opponent that had suffered nothing but indignity and grievous injury since the season’s opening kickoff.
Those injuries only continued for Buffalo when Losman went down after Wilfork dove at his knees on a short completion on the first play of the game. Wilfork was undoubtedly shoved towards Losman on the play, but its hard to feel good about the elbow Wilfork threw at Losman’s knees after the ball had cleared.
To Buffalo’s credit, they overcame the loss to quickly take the lead behind a rookie quarterback who was taking his first NFL snaps.
To New England’s credit, their reeling defense quickly gathered themselves to shut down Trent Edwards – who hit his first four passes as a pro to drive the Bills the length of the field and into the New England end zone – giving Brady and company the chance to take over the game, then put it out of reach.
It was Wes Welker who snapped the Pats out of it.
After the Brady fumble at the Buffalo goal line, the slot receiver (who also had 6 catches for 69 yards, including a 26 yard catch and run that ended with an ill advised lateral to Moss) had consecutive darting punt returns of 29 and 26 yards to twice set the Patriots offense up with short fields, which led to two New England touchdowns and a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Pats rumbled on in the second half, scoring three times while not allowing the Buffalo offense to cross midfield.
Brady finished with a remarkable 23/29/311 line, as he scales new statistical heights in his eighth year. Moss became the first NFL player in history to have 100 yards receiving in each of his first three games with a new team.
Who keeps track of things like that? Do they know if the Pats set a team record for most consecutive weeks scoring 38 points?
Anyway, after Ben Watson got the first Pats score (after deftly finding a soft spot in Buffalo coverage at the goal line), Moss extended New England’s lead to two touchdowns when he muscled his way open on a short slant pattern in front of Jabari Greer, who was left alone to defend the indefensible. He had no chance when Brady threaded the needle with the throw.
Later, he streaked past Greer to gather in a perfectly thrown 45 yarder from the Pats qb for the score that sent most New England veterans – including Brady – to the bench for the rest of the afternoon.
As I said last week, there are no words to describe Moss’s impact on Brady and the Patriots offense. He already has five touchdowns, and again, his very presence makes the game look easy for his teammates. Brady completed passes to eight different receivers, including Jabar Gaffney (a third quarter TD), Donte Stallworth (a 28 yarder for a first down), Kyle Brady (a 20 yard over the head grab to the Buffalo 2) and Dave Thomas (an early third down conversion).
The Patriots offensive line kept Brady clean (just one sack) against a line it has often struggled with, while guards Russ Hochstein and Logan Mankins and center Dan Koppen opened holes for Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Heath Evans, who combined for 177 yards rushing.
The tandem of Maroney and Morris accounted for 149 of those, as Maroney slithered for nearly 5.5 yards a carry while counterpoint Morris pounded away for a respectable 3.8 clip and a short touchdown.
Buffalo linebacker Paul Posluszny was badly hurt (forearm) in the first half while trying to slow down that Patriots running game. Losman hung in after Wilfork’s low hit, but just long enough to be stripped two plays later by a blitzing Ellis Hobbs, who hacked the ball away from an unaware Losman. Soon after, he was limping to the Bills locker room, and Edwards was driving Buffalo to a score.
Just one, as the Patriots veteran defense adjusted to the rookie and kept him miles away from replicating his maiden voyage. Given their inexperienced and undermanned competition, though, there was nothing overtly impressive about the Patriots defense yesterday.
Yet, maybe that’s impressive in and of itself. After two weeks that will go down as two of the most emotionally wringing in team history, the Patriots on Sunday faced an less threatening opponent, one they should beat easily. In other words, the protypical trap game. One they could just as easily lose, if a hangover persisted and they chose to sleep it off.
They might have been tempted to pull the covers over their heads for a few minutes yesterday, but in the end, the Patriots dragged themselves out of bed, and went to work.
A lesser team may not have woken up at all.