Pats take offense at Eagles in 38-20 romp

Pats take offense at Eagles in 38-20 romp
November 28, 2011, 12:27 am
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The weather -- game-time temperature in the low 60s, gentle winds from the south -- spoke more to September and early October than post-Thanksgiving November.

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So did the performance of the Patriots' offense.

Any concerns about Tom Brady's arm, or the ability of the wide receivers to get separation, or over-reliance on Wes Welker and the tight ends, melted away Sunday. Before being given the rest of the day off with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Brady completed 24 of 34 passes for 361 yards -- his highest yardage total since throwing for 387 in Game 3 against the Bills -- and three touchdowns as he led the Pats to a dominating 38-20 win over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

"They played the game the way we wanted to play it," said a visibly pleased -- and downright chatty -- Bill Belichick after the game, "and did a good job in all three phases of the game."

The Eagles scored the first 10 points of the game, in the opening 6 12 minutes of the first quarter, and the last 7, with 32 seconds to play. In the 53 minutes in between, New England outscored Philadelphia, 38-3 . . . and the score really did indicate the way the game played out.

Especially on offense.

The Patriots got top-of-the-line production, as usual, from their tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 10 catches and 121 yards -- but Brady had more targets on this day. Welker, held to 46 receiving yards or less in four of the last five games, broke through with eight catches for 115 yards, including two touchdowns. Deion Branch had a 63-yard pass-and-run with Brady en route to a 6-catch125-yard afternoon, his second-best game of the season.

They were backed by a solid, if unspectacular, run game which went for over 100 yards -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the top individual rusher, with 14 carries for 44 yards and two TDs -- and, with all elements of their game working, the Pats were especially efficient in crucial areas such as:

Red-zone efficiency (4 scores in 5 trips)

Goal-to-go efficiency (3 TDs in 3 tries)

Third-down conversions (6-for-11)

And it all happened despite an explosive start by the Eagles that had New England in a 10-0 hole before the Pats' second possession of the game.

"We certainly didn't want to start the game the way we started," said Belichick. "We kind of stumbled out of the gate there."

Eagles quarterback Vince Young completed two big passes -- a 58-yarder to Riley Cooper over Kyle Arrington that set up a two-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy just 2:10 into the game, and a 44-yarder to DeSean Jackson that led to a 43-yard field goal by Alex Henery -- in building the lead.

But to a man, the Pats said there was no panic on their sideline.

"We have a lot of veteran guys that understand it's a long game," said Welker.

"Overall, we did a great job of just staying composed," said Branch.

Brady directed a 12-play, 80-yard drive on the Pats' next possession that consumed nearly seven minutes and culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Green-Ellis -- who carried the ball on 8 of the 12 plays -- to cut the Eagle lead to 10-7.

The Pats' defense forced a three-and-out on Philly's next possession, and on the fourth play of the second quarter, Brady completed the 63-yard pass-and-run with Branch on a third-and-13 that moved the ball to the 1. Green-Ellis ran it in from there to put New England in front to stay, 14-10.

"That was a good job by the entire team to really stem the tide," said Brady.

The Pats wasted an Antwaun Molden interception on the Eagles' next possession when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt, but Belichick thought it was still a crucial play for the Pats.

"We finally made a play on defense, and that helped our confidence a little bit," said Belichick.

The Patriots increased their lead to 21-10 when Welker got behind the Philadelphia secondary and Brady found him for a 41-yard touchdown. The teams then traded field goals -- a 22-yarder by Henery and a 45-yarder by Gostkowski -- and New England took a 24-13 lead into the locker room at halftime.

After one possession of the third quarter, it was 31-13. The Pats took the second-half kickoff and marched 69 yards in 8 plays, with Brady passing nine yards to Welker for the touchdown.

Then it was the defense's turn. The Eagles took the ball to the New England 2 on their subsequent possession, but the Pats held. And when Young overthrew Brent Celek on a fourth-and-goal from the 2, the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

Brady finished his afternoon by making his weekly TD toss to Gronkowski, this one of 24 yards with 8:42 to play; with a 38-13 lead, Belichick gave him the rest of the day off and entrusted the QB job to Brian Hoyer. The Eagles made the final 38-20 with a garbage-time touchdown, as Young threw a one-yard scoring pass to Jason Avant with 36 seconds left.

The victory lifted the Pats' record to 8-3, keeping them a) comfortably ahead of both the Jets and Bills in the AFC East race and b) in the hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs. Considering the lack of iron in their schedule over the final five weeks, it's impossible not to be contemplating playoff scenarios.

Unless your name is Bill Belichick.

"We got a long way to go," he said. "Eight (victories); that's not going to win anything in the NFL . . . I don' t think we're where we need to be."

And the big picture?

"I don't even think about the big picture. The big picture is Indianapolis (next week's opponent) . . All the rest of it's just a bunch of garbage."

But at least one Patriot is putting it all in context.

"Coach always says football season starts after Thanksgiving," said Branch. "Right now, we're 1-0."