The Football Clinic
Another Sunday, another precision display from the Patriots. Credit their play-calling, their execution and their sheer will
Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2007 9:36AM; Updated: Tuesday November 20, 2007 9:36AM
Heath Evans recalls one other time when his football team scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions. "When I was four," Evans, the Patriots fullback, said following his team's 56-10 throttling of the Bills on Sunday night, a game that looked more like schoolyard recess than a meeting of division rivals.
This is what life is like for the New England offense, the neighborhood bully whom everyone can see coming and no one can stop. The Patriots work out of the shotgun, the I formation and three-receiver sets. They pound defensive lines, cross up linebackers and frustrate defensive backs.
Then the second quarter begins.
They did it again for three hours in chilly Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday, flawlessly executing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels's play sheet, a mix of 29 runs, 41 throws and endless Buffalo confusion. Tom Brady fell into a quick rhythm, spreading the football to seven receivers before Matt Cassel relieved him with 10:57 remaining. "We have incredible coaching," said Brady, who finished the game 31 of 39 for 373 yards and five touchdowns, four of them to Randy Moss. "Josh, for a young guy, is as good as anybody I've seen."
The 31-year-old McDaniels, who took over as New England's offensive coordinator in January 2006, could soon go the way of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Charlie Weis, former Bill Belichick assistants now running their own teams. It's easy to see why. The Patriots have scored a franchise-record 54 touchdowns -- after just 10 games -- and are only 16 TDs behind the NFL mark of 70, set by Dan Marino's 1984 Miami Dolphins.
Belichick put his players through a taxing week of physical and mental reps leading up to the Bills game, letting the team know it hasn't accomplished its goals. "He tore our heads off Monday, he tore our heads off Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday," Moss said. "He put that humble pie casserole on us. I commend him for his tunnel vision."
The motivation manifested itself in backbreaking drives that highlighted New England's ability to exploit the slightest mistake. Case in point: Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, the Pats took over at their own 37. After Brady hit Wes Welker for a seven-yard gain, Donte' Stallworth dropped a ball down the left sideline that might have ended in a score. But on third-and-three Brady found tight end Ben Watson down the middle for 15 yards. When Laurence Maroney lost two yards and Moss dropped a pass on second down, New England faced a third-and-12 from the Buffalo 43. Here's where things got interesting. The Bills rushed two defenders and dropped nine into zone coverage. Brady, bobbing behind his sturdy line, shifted his eyes around the field. "When they play zone coverage you try to space the field and pick the guy you think is most open," Brady said. "Like playing point guard." Buffalo safety George Wilson caught a glimpse of the quarterback as Welker and Moss appeared in front of him. "I saw Brady rolling," Wilson said later. "I had Welker inside of me on a seam, and I had Moss outside of me. I jumped the inside one. Broke the Number 1 DB rule, which is [never] to stop moving your feet."
As Moss headed toward the end zone, Brady threw a pass just inside the front right pylon. Wilson looked up, and the ball was coming toward him. "I thought I had a shot at it because it was pretty low," he said. "But as I went back, I jumped and the ball was over my head."
Moss caught it over Wilson's hands, backpedaled into the end zone, and the rout was on.
"They just kept coming at us," Wilson said. "Kept coming at us, coming at us."
And they won't be stopping anytime soon.