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Patriots aren't half bad at all against Rams

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 29, 2012 10:18 AM

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All right, Patriots fans, whether you want one or not, it seems we've got a weekend to exhale now.

The bye week arrives at both the right time (heal up, Aaron Hernandez) and the wrong time (so much for maintaining the momentum after Sunday's 45-7 shellacking of the Rams), but either way the reality is we won't see the Patriots again until Nov. 11 when they host the Bills.

Feels like a long time from now, doesn't it? Especially after the way it all came together Sunday, with the Patriots putting together the all-around performance we've been awaiting.

The Patriots, who hit their midseason break with a 5-3 record, a first-place standing in the AFC East, a lot to be encouraged about, and much to be improved upon, will and should savor their time off. (Are we sure multi-continent cult hero Rob Gronkowski didn't stay behind in London to chill with Pippa and the little Nutcracker dudes who guard the house?) The first half has been an unexpected grind, and yet they reach the midway point with the same record they had through eight games a season ago. Last year, you might recall, they turned 5-3 into 13-3. A sequel to such a hot streak may be a lot to ask, but with the Bills, Colts and Jets the next three games on the schedule, there is a chance to seize some momentum.

That is, after the momentum-stalling break. So for those of us who watch rather than play, it's time to pay some back dues and catch up on all of those autumn duties that get neglected on autumn Sundays from 1-4 p.m. -- stacking wood, raking leaves, and apparently cleaning up post-Sandy debris in the yard. Maybe a nice trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond. At least apple-picking season has been dodged. Anyone know how the World Series is going?

The arrival of the Celtics will help us get our Boston sports fix, but even with the Patriots on their brief hiatus, they won't be far from mind. For one thing, the break at the precise midpoint allows for easy math games regarding their projected production, and there are some damn fun numbers at play with this offense in particular:

  • Tom Brady is on pace for 418 completions, 4,816 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. In other words, his usual brilliance. As if that brief clip of Scott Secules during the Seattle game wasn't enough of a reminder not to take Brady for granted.

  • Rob Gronkowski, despite limiting hip and back issues, is on an 86-catch, 1,160-yard, 14-TD track, which is down slightly from his transcendent 2011 season but is a career year for most wide receivers, let alone a tight end. I can't think of five players I've seen in my 30+ years of following the Patriots who have been more fun to watch.

  • Though the impressive Shane Vereen may cut into his carries, Stevan Ridley is having a sensational season -- he's averaging 4.8 yards per pop and is halfway to 1,432 yards and 10 TDs. It's not Corey Dillon in 2004, but it's extremely encouraging.

The Patriots' overall numbers, at least on offense, are beyond impressive -- did I mention they're averaging 440.8 yards per game, tops in the NFL and more than 30 yards ahead of the No. 2-ranked team, the Lions? Maybe the defending AFC champions are not quite where we expected them to be after eight games -- 6-2 seemed a reasonable estimate, and that lost opportunity in Seattle does particularly sting -- but after Sunday, we're comfortable saying that they're going to be OK, and probably much, much better than OK.

The beginning did not foreshadow what was to follow. Instead, it seemed all too annoyingly familiar. Stealing a page from the best-selling Russell Wilson Heave-It-Up-And-Good-Things-Might-Happen Guide To Beating the Patriots (a clunky title to be sure, but an accurate one), Rams quarterback Sam Bradford rolled right, set himself, and heaved a 50-yard touchdown pass to Chris Givens to toast Tavon Wilson and put the Rams up, 7-0, just 2:35 into the game. I wonder how many Patriots fans saw that Givens had 270 yards on 10 catches entering the game and started him on their fantasy team, knowing he'd get his shots downfield against the Patriots' abysmal pass defense.

It's frustrating on those rare occasions when the Patriots are trailing before Brady even takes the field, and that was magnified Sunday because of the familiar way the Rams scored their first touchdown. Little did we know it would be their only touchdown, and that the many local pundits who picked the Rams would recognize their folly by halftime at the latest.

Brady and the Patriots offense, from Gronkowski (eight catches, 146 yards, two touchdowns, two classic celebrations) to Brandon Lloyd (two TDs) to Ridley (127 yards and a TD on 15 carries), would systematically dismantle Jeff Fisher's defense, scoring five touchdowns and a field goal on their first six possessions, five of which lasted at least eight plays.

On the downside, they did have their seventh three-and-out of the season late in the third quarter, though that might just have been their way of getting Zoltan Mesko involved. Facetiousness aside, it was exactly what you wanted to see in the big picture, and contained within the victory were several smaller satisfactions:

Big hits from Justin Francis and Dont'a Hightower. The guy wearing No. 32 in the opposing defensive backfield having a worse day than the guy wearing No. 32 in the Patriots' defensive backfield. The extra gear Vereen gives the offense. Some encouraging plays on the ball by Alfonzo Dennard. A lineman finally called for holding Chandler Jones. A lead big enough that you don't have to worry about letting it slip in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots' midseason condition is not perfect, of course, but it is promising. Here's hoping those concerns of the first half -- namely that 28th-ranked pass defense -- get addressed during the week off and gradually evaporate as this team plays to its potential straight through February.

But after Sunday's encouraging sendoff into the bye, the only complaint I have about this team is a mild one: Just when they're at their best, they're hit with a week of rest.

Hurry up and get here, Nov. 11. We want to see the team we saw Sunday again, just as soon as we can.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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