Friday, November 2, 2007

Patriots 52, Washington 7 (10/28/2007)

That subject is not, I repeat *not*, a misprint. Your New England Patriots are rolling through the NFL like a road grader, mashing every opponent under their wheels as they plow toward this Sunday's "date with destiny" against the Indianapolis Colts. (Note: there just isn't any pretty way to describe what the Pats did to Washington. In fact, I thought of five other descriptions, none of which are printable in a semi-family email.) 52-7 was one of the Pats largest margins of victory ever, and it helped them keep pace atop the NFL and maintain their 4.5. game lead in the AFC East. The loss... well, it dropped Washington a lot further than one more game behind. They've got a *lot* of work to do over there, especially on offense.

The Patriots O-line performed very well again, allowing few pressures and only one QB sack (that resulted in a fumble). The team rushed for 152 yards and a 4.3 yard average, with Laurence Maroney obviously on the mend (14 carries for 75 yards) and Kevin Faulk pitching in (5 for 32 yards) while the game was still in doubt. Some of the holes were just huge, and Maroney hit them well -- no tippy-toeing or dancing, he just took the handoff and went right to work. In fact, the running game was so successful, Tom Brady got into the act with two touchdown runs (and even backup QB Matt Cassel had a running TD).

The passing game totally kicked butt again. Brady went 29 of 38 (76%) for 306 yards and a measly 3 touchdowns (and no interceptions -- that's 30 TDs and 2 INTs on the year). This week's attack was was less of the long-bomb passing and more of the precision short game we're more accustomed to, with Wes Welker (9 catches for 89 yards) and Kevin Faulk (5 for 32 yards, and some nice first-down conversions) doing most of the damage. Combine the excellent O-line play and Brady's pinpoint accuracy with a Washington team intent on not getting beaten deep, and it was pitch-and-catch all day underneath. Even deep threats Donte Stallworth (4 for 44 yards), Jabar Gaffney (4 for 39 yards), and Randy Moss (3 for 47 yards and a nice push-off touchdown) played well in the short game. Overall, the most efficient and balanced offense I've seen all year.

On defense, everyone played at a high level, but Mike Vrabel stood above them all. 13 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles (one of which was returned for a touchdown by Rosevelt Colvin). He was just a monster, playing perhaps his best game in a year and consistently breaking down the right side of the offensive line. Aside from Vrabel, there just wasn't much to distinguish the rest of the defense. It wasn't the front three or the front seven this week; it was the entire front 11. The line made sure there was no running game and no timing for passes, the linebackers made sure the short gains stayed short, and the secondary had some nice passes defensed (and Asante Samuel got his fourth INT of the year). But most of all, the defense played cohesively to break down the timing and rhythm of the offense. And they played well enough to take a shutout into the fourth quarter (Washington finally scored with 3:07 left in the game).

Special teams were fine and dandy. Stephen Gostkowski hit his one field goal (and seven extra points) and had two more kickoff touchbacks. And Mike Vrabel (there's that name again) recovered Washington's desperation onsides kick. But overall, the special teams did a nice job of kick coverage and didn't break anything on kick returns. A good effort, but nothing special.

So where does that leave us? At Indy, of course. It's 8-0 vs. 7-0 for the first time in NFL history. The Colts present problems, to be sure, and I'll be interested to see how the Patriots additional talent and obvious chip on their shoulder (from last year's playoff loss) play out. Marvin Harrison has seen very limited action for the past four weeks, and the Colts have had a tough schedule recently (which the Patriots have not). The Dallas game was supposed to measure how good the Patriots were, but this game will measure which of these two titans is the best at mid-season. It's in Indy, which makes it tougher; but let's just say I hope to avoid putting a number 1 to my "PS." this week. Enjoy the game!

Statistical Oddity of the Week #1: Mike Vrabel might be the first NFL player in decades to record three forced fumbles and a touchdown reception in the same game. That probably hasn't happened since they switched to having different players on offense and defense.

Statistical Oddity of the Week #2: The Patriots have now played 32 quarters of football this season, and they have scored in 30 of them (94%).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Which do you think we'll see more of on Sunday: Patriots points or Peyton Manning commercials?"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 8-0!

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