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The last few weeks, it seems like a lot of the talk about the Patriots has been about the sluggish offense and anemic pass defense combining to blow games in the last minutes of the fourth quarter. Entering what had all of the signs of a trap game, the Patriots traveled overseas and showed up to play in all phases of the game. Tom Brady looked like his old self, piling up 304 yards and four touchdowns. For anyone wondering when Brandon Lloyd would finally have a breakout game, it could be argued that this was the one as he reached the end zone on both of his catches. The other two touchdowns went to Rob Gronkowski, and he did not disappoint with his first quarter touchdown celebration as he walked around like a member of the British National Guard.
Here’s a quick recap of the quarter-by-quarter highlights:
It took less than three minutes for Tavon Wilson to get beat by another double move, and with 12:35 remaining on the first quarter clock, Sam Bradford hit Chris Givens for a 50-yard strike following a well-disguised play fake to Steven Jackson. At this point, all of the worries were beginning to surface again; even Scott Zolak over Patriots radio started talking about how Bradford was the best pure thrower the Patriots have faced so far this year.
The Patriots answered with an important score of their own, punctuated by three key third-down conversions. In what appeared to be a three-and-out for the Pats on their first drive, Brandon Fletcher got called for a defensive holding on Lloyd, which resulted in a first down. On the next 3rd-and-2, Brady hit Woodhead for a 29-yard scamper up the right sideline that got them to the Rams’ 28-yard line. On the ensuing third down, Brady hit Lloyd for his second touchdown of the season up the right sideline for a 19-yard score. On this play, Brady extended his consecutive games with a passing touchdown streak, inching closer to Johnny Unitas and keeping pace with Drew Brees.
On the next drive, the defense got bailed out of another miscue when the Rams had a 17-yard play called back on an illegal touch pass. The discipline of the Rams would remain a factor throughout this game. The Patriots closed out the quarter by driving all the way down to the STL 1-yard line, punctuated by a great leaping catch by Gronkowski.
In a statement move early in the second quarter, Coach Belichek elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the one, and Shane Vereen punched it into the end zone following great blocks by Sebastian Vollmer and Michael Hoomananawanui, who had been inserted at fullback.
After another failed drive for the Rams in which the defense forced a fumble that was reversed by the replay officials, the Patriots drove 78 yards down field for another score, this one to Gronkowski.
The Rams offense had a strange next drive that included offensive holding, a Sam Bradford shoulder injury scare on a tackle from Dont’a Hightower, and a horribly misplayed fourth down fake field goal which gave the Patriots excellent field position with 1:52 left to play in the first half. The Rams continued to beat themselves on defense as Fletcher picked up his second and third defensive pass interference calls on the day, one of which resulted in a ball spotted on the 1-yard line. At that point, Ridley drove through right before the half was up.
At the end of the first half, the Patriots had scored 28 unanswered points to climb out to a 28-7 lead and the “bend but don’t break” defense and porous secondary held up after the initial score. It is important to note here that the Patriots offense was running on all cylinders, scoring a touchdown on every offensive possession of the first half. If this team can keep that pace up, they should have no trouble moving forward.
Halftime did not seem to change a thing for the momentum of the game, as the Patriots stormed out for 80 yards in six plays, highlighted by a 30-yard Ridley run off the right tackle and Brady’s second touchdown pass to Lloyd on the day. After a three-and-out from the Rams that included a holding penalty on fourth down, they managed to slow down the Pats offense a little, as the Patriots settled for a 26-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Chandler Jones managed to get into the backfield on the next possession and post a 17-yard sack on third down that forced a punt. The defense had built up all kinds of momentum to this point in the contest, and it only seemed to be growing. With 2:36 left in the quarter, Zoltan Mesko punted for the first time in the game. The quarter ended with the Rams having driven into New England territory, threatening with their first score since the 50-yarder to Givens in the first.
On the second play of the quarter, Rob Ninkovich sacked Sam Bradford on fourth down to get the offense. Ninkovich has been a playmaker all season while working as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. He has had a nose for the ball and seems to make one big play per game. Granted, this game was out of reach at the time, but any fourth down sack of a quarterback is good for a defense’s morale.
The scoring for the game concluded on the next drive as the Patriots methodically traveled down the field again, and Brady hit Gronkowski for his second score of the afternoon. The only marquee play that happened after this was a garbage time interception by Alfonso Dennard on a well under-thrown ball, but it is nice to see that Dennard has the hands to consistently take advantage of a mistake for the second week in a row. The human victory cigar (backup quarterback Ryan Mallett) was inserted into the game for the final two drives, and the game was over.
The Patriots were successful in all phases of the game against a very good team run by a very good coach. Bradford was without his favorite weapon (Danny Amendola), and it definitely showed. Meanwhile, the Patriots were without one of Brady’s favorite targets (Aaron Hernandez), but it seems this team has finally figured out how to make the offense fun without him. I am not ready to jump back on the “most elite offense in the league” band wagon yet because to me, one week does not make a trend after multiple weeks of struggles on offense, defense, and the mental game.
It was great to see Brandon Lloyd finally have a multi-TD performance. If the Patriots are going to emphasize his role in the offense moving forward, he has to step up and prove his worth. It definitely was not all perfect, as he had another catch-able deep ball slip through his hands, but there was definitely progress made.
Also, it’s been great to finally see the twin headed monster of the 2011 draft (Ridley/Vereen) on the field making their mark together.
Up next for the Patriots: a well-placed BYE week. This team still has some major adjustments to make, but Sunday’s win was a step in the right direction.
*Game stats courtesy of NFL.com