Sports

Feasting when it comes to the spread

LONDON — Staring a 3-4 record and an embarrassing home loss to the injury-ravaged Jets in the face, the Patriots put their season in the hands in which it should always be, those of quarterback Tom Brady.

The Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels must have liked what they saw, because they came out the same way against the Rams. And, boy, did it work in a 45-7 thrashing at Wembley Stadium Sunday.

The final total against the Jets and Rams: eight consecutive scoring drives that yielded 44 points, back-to-back victories to head into the bye week, and a sense that the offense is ready to hit another gear.

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“We blocked well. We threw the ball well. We gained some yards in the running game. Scored in the red zone. Didn’t turn the ball over. So, it’s good execution offensively,” coach Bill Belichick said. “A lot of good things there.”

Look, it’s not as if the Patriots were really struggling in the sense that most teams do. They set the NFL record — owned by the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams of 1999-2000 — for most consecutive regular-season games with at least 350 total yards (17). The Patriots are on pace for 464 first downs, which would set another league record. And they are on pace for a franchise record for net yards.

But the Patriots have just been a little bit off, sometimes when it has counted most in the fourth quarter.

Not against the Rams. Maybe they’re ready to put it all together.

If that’s the case, the rest of the league should look out.

What we saw against the Rams was McDaniels finding the perfect blend of old-school Tom Brady (23 of 35, 304 yards, four touchdowns), and power running that McDaniels wants to implement for the bigger games down the road (149 yards on 22 carries for Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen).

And the Patriots didn’t have to do anything exotic — fake jet screens, throwbacks to Brady, or put two extra linemen on the field — to do it.

“I think we’re at our best when we do that and not overanalyze stuff or anything, and we’re able to get it and really go,” receiver Wes Welker said.

Amen.

At the end against the Jets, the Patriots spread out the Jets and let Brady survey the field from the shotgun to take the matchup he wanted. He delivered two drives that resulted in field goals that delivered the Patriots a 29-26 overtime victory.

Yes, the game situation dictated the first drive. The Patriots had only one timeout with 1:32 remaining, and needed to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime.

But in the extra session, the Patriots and McDaniels could have picked any approach to drive the ball.

But they went back to Brady in the shotgun, and spread out the defense.

The Patriots took the same approach against the Rams.

“It’s in [No.] 12’s hands, look at it that way,” Ridley said. “He’s the best quarterback in the game. With Tom back there and guys like he has, it’s built [for success].”

After the game, in the tunnels of Wembley, Brady downplayed his effect on the game.

“I think that whatever we call we’ve got to execute, so it doesn’t matter if I’m under center, in the gun, play-action, screen, draw . . . when we execute well, we have a lot of good players. When we don’t, it’s pretty easy to stop us,” Brady said. “We played well in the first half, got a few pass-interference calls, which we haven’t gotten all season, and it led to some of those touchdowns.”

When the Patriots spread the field, it gives Brady a better chance to survey.

The Rams seemed dead set on keeping their linebackers on the field despite the formation. Whomever had a linebacker on them between Rob Gronkowski (eight catches in 13 targets), Welker (six in nine), and Danny Woodhead (five in seven) was going to get the ball.

“It kind of helps us in seeing some different matches and trying to take advantage of any matchups and really kind of spreading the defense out and seeing if they’re in man or zone and trying to execute from there,” Welker said. “When we’re moving the ball and able to make some plays and kind of get going, it can definitely be an advantage for us.”

Brady said the guys around him did a good job making the plays that were presented.

“This team that we played, they didn’t have 9,000 things to prepare for, although they did a lot of things that we didn’t prepare for that we had to talk about on the sideline, how to figure out the different fronts, the different blitzes,” Brady said. “But this is a playmaking team that we played. I thought our guys made a lot of plays against them. We didn’t have any real big chunk plays. We had some good play-action passes, good runs, some really important second-and-10 runs that we ran for first downs, and guys made the plays in the end zone. Gronk made two and Brandon [Lloyd] made two. That was huge.”

The Rams were left wondering what had hit them.

“Everything happened so fast out there,” said linebacker James Laurinaitis. “I think when you combine missed assignments on our side with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady, this is what happens.

“We didn’t get off the field on third down, ever, it felt like. We knew we needed to make plays on defense to win this game and nothing went right.”

Belichick predictably downplayed the significance of the offensive approach after the game because, yes, they have the talent to take any approach with their game plans.

“We take a look at who we play each week and what we feel like is the best way to attack that team,” he said. “I don’t think we worry too much about how we played somebody else, didn’t play somebody else. It’s a new team.”

Maybe the Patriots should rein in the variety a little bit. They stripped it down against the Rams and it worked to near perfection.

The Patriots may have a ton of talent at every position — and they didn’t even have tight end Aaron Hernandez.

But they do have Brady. Whatever makes him comfortable should be the focus. It works better that way. Ask the Jets and Rams.

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