Falling Like Dominos
Patriots Roll in Battle of Undefeateds
Opponents. Records. Through six weeks of the 2007 NFL season, at the feet of the New England Patriots, they are falling like dominos.
New England went to Dallas where they had never won in four previous attempts and wrecked the previously undefeated Cowboys, 48-27. In the process, New England and quarterback Tom Brady tied or broke several league records.
Barring an 8-minute spurt from 3:28 of the first half to 4:36 into the third quarter (and one great defensive play early in the second quarter) this was no contest. New England dominated from wire to wire and and demonstrated the evident disparity that exists in today's NFL.
In the so-called "Duel in Dallas," the Patriots, who have scored on their every opening drive this season, stymied Dallas out of the gate with three straight defensive 3-and-outs and walked into the end zone with a fourth-string running back in the closing seconds.
48 - - - 27
Dallas entered the game before a wildly rowdy home crowd among the league's best teams, offense and defense, one of three undefeated teams in the league and the only one in the NFC. The Cowboys left heads held high but certainly on another plane.
Can anyone stop New England, especially the Patriots offense?
"I don't really know," Moss said. "I don't want to say yes and I don't want to say no. We work hard. That's one thing -- Tom Brady does not let us lolly-gag in practice. He wants the best out of us every day. "If we can make it happen in practice against defense we have, then we can go out there and make things happen against anyone. I'm not saying we're unstoppable, but we work hard at what we do."
Obviously still cheating ... Not only
Photo courtesy: Boston Herald / Matt Stone
It was merely shades of things to come.
Brady and Moss just missed connecting twice more on razzle-dazzle plays, one which may have ranked among the greatest catches in the history of the game had Moss been able to control the ball after touching his toe tips just inside the sideline.
Brady also overthrew Moss on a flea-flicker early in the second quarter. Moss was easily outdistancing Terence Newman. On the very next play, Greg Ellis sacked Brady, who fumbled the ball, which Jason Hatcher promptly recovered and returned for a touchdown. That two-play sequence may have kept this one from turning into a real blowout.
There were a few other plays that mere inches kept Dallas deceptively within striking distance. There was Marion Barber being chased deep into his own end zone, only to barely slip through fingers and run the ball back out to the 12. The drive ultimately went nowhere, but five Patriots had shots at bringing Barber down for a safety and Barber made one of the greatest runs ever (though it officially went for only 2 yards).
The Cowboys did little else to help themselves, committing 12 penalties for 98 yards. Nor did Dallas appear to do anything different in the second half from what failed in the first.
Jason Whitten, outside of three consecutive catches in a 30-second span on the Cowboys' end-of-half touchdown drive, was utterly nonexistent. Romo, who had 104 yards on that same drive, had just 38 yards before it and only 57 after. Dallas had just 28 yards rushing in the first half, and got 70 in the second half, 43 of those on consecutive plays on that third quarter scoring drive.
After missing Moss deep on New England's first play from scrimmage, Brady threw incomplete to tight end Kyle Brady. Then the Patriots did what they succeeded in doing 65 percent of the time the rest of the game: they converted a 3rd down. Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker for a 16-yard gain. Coincidentally, New England converted 11 third downs, and Brady completed 11 passes to Welker, who finished with 124 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / AP Photo
After Welker's first reception and a Sammy Morris rush for no gain, Brady connected with Stallworth on three straight plays, and it was clear Dallas would have little luck stemming New England's possession-style passing game. (The Patriots ran the ball just 11 times in the first half and for just 14 yards.)
New England continued to march virtually unchallenged down the field and culminated the first drive with a Brady-to-Moss 6-yard strike. Moss, incomprehensibly, appeared wide open.
A Logan Mankins false start killed New England's second drive before it started, but the third was quick and dirty. Brady converted a pair of 3rd-and-7s, swallowing far more than necessary on each play -- one for 28 yards to Ben Watson, the other for 35 yards and a touchdown to Welker.
While Dallas closed the score to 14-10 in the first half and actually took a 24-21 lead in the second half, the Patriots were undoubtedly in control. The Patriots owned an 18:32 to 11:28 edge in time of possession in the first half and 19:43 to 10:17 in the second half (38:15 to 21:45 in the game).
As much a team accomplishment as an individual one,** Brady tied Roger Staubach for the best winning percentage for a starting quarterback in his first 100 stars with 76. Brady's exploits this season are well-chronicled, here and elsewhere. Brady will discuss his achievements not.
"That's not what this team is about," Brady said. "Individual records are based on opportunities. What I get excited about is team records." The Patriots quarterback has a longer view in mind.
Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / AP Photo
Bear in mind that the Cowboys were without starting wideout Terry Glenn, who has yet to play this season; Dallas was without starting cornerback Anthony Henry; and the Cowboys will soon have the services of Terry "Tank" Johnson at their disposal. Any future matchup, including whatever injuries either team suffers between now and then, may feature "different" teams.
The Patriots suffered what may be two very significant injuries. Cowboys safety Roy Williams, who has injured several players using the now banned "horse-collar" tackle in which the defender drags down the ball carrier from behind by pulling down on the player's shoulder pads below the collar, injured Watson by dragging him down from behind, this time wrapping his arms around Watson's midsection and jumping (possibly inadvertently) across the back of Watson's legs, bending Watson's left ankle.
Morris was injured on the Patriots second play of the third quarter. After picking up 2 yards, Morris spun and landed on his back with the ball held to his chest. A Patriots player was pushed backwards on top of the ball, and a Dallas player fell over Morris's midsection. The locker room report said Morris sustained a chest injury.
Neither Watson or Morris returned, and there have been no additional reports.
Notes: With his third interception of the season, a new career high, Junior Seau is now tied with Asante Samuel for the team lead. ... New England last scored as many as 48 points in November of 1984 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots won 50-17. ... Brady turned in just the fourth five-touchdown performance in franchise history. Steve Grogan did it on Sept. 9, 1979, and Vito "Babe" Parilli accomplished the feat twice, and Nov. 15, 1964, and Oct. 15, 1967. ... As predicted in my pregame story, New England opened up the bag of tricks to welcome Romo to Belichick-style defenses. On several occasions, New England lined up with Jarvis Green as the lone defensive lineman, rushing only three pass rushers, and other times mixing up blitzes and coverages. ... The Patriots celebrated with popcorn after the game in response to Cowboys receiver and noted loudmouth Terrell Owens leaving a message for reporters early in the week to "getcha popcorn ready." New England celebrated a playoff win last season mocking another bigmouth -- Shawne Merriman -- by performing his "Lights Out" move after the game. Keep the fodder coming, people.
** Of course, the team Brady took over was 5-13 in the previous 18 games.