If anyone still questions what Bill Belichick’s mind-set is for his team, Sunday’s thrashing of the Denver Broncos should have answered them.
Smashmouth. Dominating. Downright scary. He doesn’t want to just win – he wants to crush his opponent.
The New England running game outgained their prolific passing game as the Patriots ran the ball right into the teeth of an overmatched Broncos’ front 7 for a total of 252 of New England’s 475 total yards – more than matching last week’s 247 yards that they laid on the Buffalo Bills.
Can we now say that the New England Patriots are a running team?
That may be a bit premature, but saying that they have a balanced attack is a bit of an understatement.
Looking every bit the feature back that Patriots’ fans have been waiting for since Corey Dillon left, Stevan Ridley ran with purpose and passion, gashing the Broncos’ defense for 151 yards on 28 carries as New England dominated in almost every category there is, smacking Denver right in the mouth to the tune of 31-21.
Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels started fast with the running game and never let up, while the Patriots’ defense bottled up Denver’s running attack, as Willis McGahee never was able to get untracked early, and the Broncos all but abandoned the run when they fell behind by three scores in the third quarter.
Deftly mixing in timely pass plays, New England Quarterback Tom Brady still managed to almost match the running game production, passing for 223 yards on a 23 of 31 performance, throwing lasers into tight coverage time after time, finding Wes Welker 13 times for 104 yards and spreading the rest of his completions around to 5 different recievers.
For the second week in a row, the Patriots’ running game topped 200 yards as Danny Woodhead chipped in 47 yards on the ground including an electrifying 19 yard run on a 3rd and 17 that kept alive a crucial drive. He also caught one pass for 25 yards to convert another 3rd and long to keep another scoring drive alive – but the night belonged to Ridley.
Despite a fumble late in the game that gave life to the surging Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense, Ridley carried the load, leading the Patriots to a 31-7 lead late in the 3rd quarter before Manning caught fire and threw two 4th quarter scores to close the gap to 10 points.
After Ridley’s fumble, Manning led the Broncos down to the Patriots 11 yard line with over 3 minutes left in the game and trailing by that 10 point margin, but Linebacker Rob Ninkovich forced a Willis McGahee fumble and Jermaine Cunningham recovered, ending the Broncos’ comeback hopes.
Manning had a typically efficient game, pelting the New England secondary for 345 yards and 3 touchdowns, 188 of those passing yards to Demetrius Thomas, who victimized New England cornerbacks on several long gainers. But the lack of a running game ultimately doomed the Broncos, who now stand at 2-3 on the season and headed to San Diego to face the Chargers in an AFC West matchup.
New England is above .500 at 3-2, and are at the top of the AFC East. They travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks and their tough defense next Sunday.