Season is a moving story so far
FOXBOROUGH - Two weeks in, how is everyone supposed to feel about the Patriots? They won again, but we expect that. Worrying about wins is for the people in, you know, Cincinnati, or somewhere.
Get in line if you want to praise the offense. Tom Brady didn’t exactly tumble off the pedestal he had mounted last Monday evening in Miami. The guy couldn’t deliver a second consecutive 500-yard game, but 423 yards should meet your standards. After two weeks he has thrown for 940 yards and seven touchdowns. I think we all agree he’s a keeper.
The Patriots also moved the ball efficiently on the ground. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 70 yards, capping his performance with a 16-yard run for the clinching touchdown in a 35-21 win over a Chargers team that, while talented, may very well be fatally flawed. Danny Woodhead ran for a 2-point conversion made necessary by an injury to punter and holder Zoltan Mesko.
Your boys never trailed. They made some very big plays on defense, forcing four San Diego turnovers and turning in a superb goal-line stand when it was a 10-7 game. There was a lot to like.
But here comes the “but.’’ But for the second week in a row the opponent didn’t have any significant trouble moving the football up and down the field. The Chargers racked up 470 yards in total offense. They had 29 first downs. They were 10 for 12 in third-down efficiency, with Philip Rivers at one point completing successive third-down passes of 23, 36, and 28 yards.
So the question is, “Can the Patriots continue to live like this?’’
Predictably, the coach wouldn’t bite when asked about the overall state of the D.
“We’re 2-0,’’ Bill Belichick pointed out. “We did some good things. We’ve got to do better. We’ve beaten two good football teams, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.’’
True enough, and you can bet that no one on this earth is more acutely aware of just how precariously the Patriots have been living on defense than Mr. Bill Belichick.
But first, let us continue to slobber over the offense.
Have I mentioned that the Patriots took the occasion of San Diego’s visit to Gillette Stadium to establish a franchise record for first downs in a game? They had 28, 23 of which came through the air. As usual, Brady was decidedly non-discriminatory, completing passes to seven receivers, one of whom was Chad Ochocinco, whose two grabs were good for 15 and 30 yards, respectively.
“I was excited for him,’’ said Deion Branch, who himself had eight receptions for 129 yards. “And I’m just excited to see what this entire offense is going to look like once we get everything together. We may look good now, but I’m telling you the truth.’’
Most people who have played on an offensive unit in the National Football League will retire without ever having participated in a 99-yard touchdown drive. But members of the Patriots’ offensive unit now can say they have taken part in two, one last week and another yesterday.
Each drive followed a goal-line stand. Last week Miami couldn’t convert on a fade pattern on fourth and goal at the 1, and yesterday the Patriots stuffed a Rivers scramble on third and goal at the 2, then stuffed Mike Tolbert on a fourth and goal at the 1 while defending a 10-7 second-quarter lead.
The ensuing drives could not have been more different. Last week Brady hit Wes Welker on first down for a 99-yard touchdown pass. Yesterday the quarterback directed a 10-play drive culminating in a 10-yard pass to touchdown-machine tight end Rob Gronkowski, his first of two scoring receptions.
Speaking of the goal-line stand, tackle Matt Light said, “You’ve got to take that energy and turn it into points. We’ve had a couple of 99-yard drives, and they’re very demoralizing.’’
There was a lot of spirit-breaking taking place at Gillette yesterday. Failing at the goal line is bad. Then throw in a completely unexpected pick by that noted ballhawk Vince Wilfork, who, on a Chargers first and 10 at the Patriots’ 29 and 19 seconds left before the half, tipped a Rivers pass intended for Tolbert to himself, then maneuvered those 325 pounds of his 36 yards in the opposite direction.
An illegal block penalty set the ball back to the Charger 47, but Brady advanced the ball 18 yards on two completions and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 47-yarder to make it 20-7 at the half.
“Vince is a tremendous athlete,’’ said an animated Belichick. “People don’t realize how good his hands are. He can catch it. He can throw it.’’
There would be another pick, with Sergio Brown intercepting Rivers at the Patriots’ 7. There was a killer fumble by Tolbert. And there was an after-the-fact fumble lost with just over a minute to play.
Big defensive plays are always welcome. But it’s another matter when you put yourself in a position where they are necessary. The Patriots simply cannot expect Brady to throw for 400 yards every week. At least, I don’t think so.
“They moved the ball, unfortunately,’’ said Belichick. “They didn’t get enough points - but they moved it.’’
The Patriots go to Buffalo next week, and get this: the Bills have scored 79 points in two games. Yeah, that’s right. Beware of the Bills.