Patriots put on exhibition
Led by Brady and Dillon, first team does a number on bumbling Packers
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If last night's game against the Packers was an open window into what is to come for the Patriots, the weather outside is fair to middling.
Perhaps a little hazy, and maybe a sprinkle or two in the distance, but there is definitely some sun shining through.
A far from perfect forecast, yes, but some NFL teams could look outside and face a heat advisory amid a rainstorm. The Green Bay Packers might be one such team.
Coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots have a long way to go, but the performance of the front-line players against the Packers proved potential for dominance.
Approaching the exhibition as if it were a regular-season contest, with the starters playing into the third quarter, the Patriots crushed the Packers, 27-3, before a dispirited gathering of 69,501 at Lambeau Field.
By the time the rain came, as the reserves took over late in the third quarter, the Patriots had built a highlight reel that was significantly better than what they mustered in their first two preseason games combined. That is particularly important because top players may get little action in the preseason finale Thursday against the Giants.
''I thought overall we had a better effort than we had in the first two games," Belichick said. ''The emphasis is on improving and that's the emphasis every week, but our execution was a little bit better, we were better on third down, better overall running the ball and on run defense, and our coverage units were a little bit better."
Positives were plentiful, with quarterback Tom Brady completing 12 of 21 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, tailback Corey Dillon rambling through the Packers for 70 yards on 14 attempts and a pair of touchdowns, and tight end Benjamin Watson hauling in six passes for 49 yards to keep the chains moving.
The defense played its best game of the exhibition season in holding Brett Favre and Co. to 112 yards (51 rushing) in the first half. The Packers inched their way to a measly 34 yards in the third quarter with backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers in charge.
Favre, who entered the game with a passer rating that would have been a career-best in the preseason, completed just 9 of 21 passes for 69 yards and threw two interceptions. Running back Ahman Green managed just 24 yards on nine carries.
With the starting defensive front of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork intact for the first time, the Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage, forced four turnovers, and surrendered only 12 first downs.
''New England is a good team, definitely," Favre said. ''They've got good players and a good scheme. We made our share of mistakes, though. That's something we can't afford to do."
Special teams made a contribution, beginning with rookie Ellis Hobbs, who continued to impress on kickoffs, starting the game with a 43-yard return.
The secondary shuffle produced more highlights than miscues, topped by cornerback Asante Samuel, who snared his second interception of the exhibition, with a first-quarter gift from Favre. Samuel had another pick erased because of a holding penalty against Don Davis in the second quarter. Packers receiver Antonio Chatman sprained his neck on the play when he was hit by Rodney Harrison on Samuel's return. Corner Randall Gay, playing for the first time this preseason, picked off a Favre toss to set up a field goal later in the period.
''The guys are always on me for not catching interceptions, so all I could think about was I really didn't want to drop that one," Gay said. ''It felt good to get in there and contribute after being at home the first two games."
The Patriots got on the board first with a brisk four-play, 41-yard drive set up by Hobbs's return.
Dillon was responsible for 28 yards on three carries, including a nifty 12-yard burst off the left side for the score.
New England worked its way deep into Packer territory on its next possession, but the Packers forced a field goal thanks to back-to-back plays by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
Gbaja-Biamila beat Tom Ashworth, who started at left tackle for the injured Matt Light, stopping Dillon for a loss, then sacking Brady for an 8-yard loss.
On came Adam Vinatieri, who was good on a 44-yard field goal to put the Patriots up, 10-0, with 4:57 remaining in the quarter.
Gbaja-Biamila was one of the few Packers defenders to do damage.
''They've got a pretty good offense," he said. ''I see why they're the Super Bowl champs. We have to know our stuff, communicate, and execute better to stop a team like this."
Green Bay's only score came when a punt hit Tyrone Poole in the back and was recovered by Chris Johnson at the Patriots' 8. Poole, who was blocking Johnson, the left-side gunner for the Packers, lost sight of the ball in flight.
Not much came of it, however, as Chad Brown dropped Ahman Green for a 3-yard loss on second down, and Favre failed to connect with Robert Ferguson on a fade against Chad Scott on third down.
New England responded on its next possession, with Brady and backup Doug Flutie sharing quarterback duties in a 12-play, 80-yard march.
Flutie was in for the first five plays, while Brady played catch with wideout Deion Branch on the sideline. No explanation was given for Brady's brief departure, but he returned and didn't appear to have been injured.
Later in the drive, Packers safety Nick Collins dropped a pass in the end zone, but Brady responded by zipping a throw to David Givens just in front of the goal post for a 12-yard TD.
Givens, who made a nice leaping grab, had the wind knocked out of him he landed on the football.
Linebacker Willie McGinest recovered a Green fumble on first play from scrimmage of third quarter to set up another touchdown.
Dillon did the honors, pounding his way in from 3 yards to give the Patriots a 27-3 lead.
''We still have a lot to work on and lot of things we can improve on," Watson said. ''It's definitely good to get a win, but we still have a ways to go to get ready for the first [regular-season] game."