Going great guns
Patriots offense comparable to ’07
FOXBOROUGH - The numbers are certainly impressive, the type of inflated statistics reserved for video games.
The Patriots have racked up 1,126 yards of total offense through the first two games of the season - last year, as they scored the second-most points in franchise history, it took them into their fourth game to get that many - as they’ve posted a 2-0 record for the first time in three years.
But while the mark matches the team’s start in 2008, the current offense begs comparison to the 2007 squad, which scored more points than any club in NFL history, saw Tom Brady become the first quarterback to throw 50 touchdowns in a season, and had Randy Moss, on the receiving end of 23 of those scores, set a league record as well.
As exhilarating as it was to watch that ’07 team at times - the six touchdowns Brady threw in Miami that year, the beautiful strike in the old Meadowlands that gave Brady 50 and Moss 23 - statistically at least, this year’s team is off to an even better start.
In the first two games of the ’07 season, in wins on the road against the Jets and at home against San Diego, the Patriots had 838 yards of offense, and Brady accounted for fewer than 600 of those, not eclipsing 300 passing yards in either victory.
New England scored 38 points in each game, and the offense got a bit of help in each as well: against the Jets, Ellis Hobbs scored on a kickoff return, and against the Chargers, Adalius Thomas had an interception return for a score.
With a revamped receiving corps - Moss was new, as were Wes Welker and Donté Stallworth - and Benjamin Watson as the only viable tight end option (and he wasn’t always the most reliable option), Brady had explosive new weapons at his disposal. The Patriots also were a tougher team on the ground, with Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and Heath Evans each filling different roles.
Compare that with this season.
Currently, only Welker remains from that group. Deion Branch, who was in his second season in Seattle in ’07, was brought back last year; tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are in their second season, a year under their belts learning the playbook and working with Brady. Faulk will return in a few weeks, once his six weeks on the physically-unable-to-perform list are done.
Only Chad Ochocinco, acquired at the start of training camp after a decade in Cincinnati, is new to the mix, and thanks to the lockout and the timing of his acquisition, he and Brady didn’t have the benefit of offseason work together, and there wasn’t as much time for Ochocinco to learn a system far more complex than the one he came from.
Yet the offense is even better, at least by the numbers.
Two weeks ago against the Dolphins, Brady recorded the fifth-highest passing game in NFL history, his 517 yards part of New England’s 622 yards of total offense. The Patriots scored 38 points in the late-summer South Florida humidity.
Last week vs. San Diego, the reigning league Most Valuable Player threw for 423 yards and the Patriots had 504 net yards of offense. New England scored 35 points, its 10th straight regular-season game with more than 30.
All of those points came from the offense; there were no special teams points or points scored by the defense, though Vince Wilfork was chugging as fast as his legs would take him with an interception last Sunday before being taken down short of the end zone. His interception led to a field goal.
Perhaps it’s because of the familiarity he has with Welker, Branch, Gronkowski, and Hernandez that Brady has been so proficient. Not only has he set yet another league mark - his 940 total yards are a record for any player in the first two games of the season - but he’s doing it in an extremely efficient manner.
Brady has completed 71.6 percent of his 88 pass attempts, with seven touchdowns against a single interception, and that pick came off a batted ball in Miami. It ended his remarkable streak of 358 regular-season pass attempts without an interception.
“They do a great job,’’ said Bills coach Chan Gailey, whose team will get the next crack at slowing down the Patriots’ offensive juggernaut today. “It looks like it doesn’t matter who they play or where, they do a great job. Everybody is on the same page. That’s almost the highest compliment you can give to an offense is when everybody is on the same page.
“Obviously it has a lot to do with Tom and the way he runs the offense. He is a great quarterback. You look at physical talent, but he is even better when you see the way he manages the game, controls the tempo, and does all the little things to help his team be successful.’’
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has spent many years looking for a tight end Brady could rely on, and he seems to have hit paydirt not once but twice in drafting Gronkowski and Hernandez last year.
They are difficult matchups for defenses; Gronkowski is like a smooth power forward, working the red zone like a forward works the paint, and Hernandez can line up almost anywhere, although he won’t play today because of a knee injury.
Although it is obvious the Patriots are a passing team, they’re not getting much help from the ground game: their 200 rushing yards account for about 18 percent of the offensive output; in 2007, they had 278 yards on the ground through two games, a third of the offense’s total yards.
One other thing: for all the hand-wringing that the trade of Moss last year and the release of inconsistent Brandon Tate left New England without a deep threat, things are moving just fine to this point.
It could change quickly, since we’re only two games into the season. But to this point, the 2011 Patriots offense is better than the ’07 version.