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Adam Kaufman

The Morning After: Patriots Finally Got Their Brag-Worthy Road Win

Tom Brady Julian Edelman.jpg

For two weeks, you heard the same thing over and over and over again:

The Patriots haven’t beaten a playoff-bound team on the road since Week 15 in 2011, when they destroyed the Tim Tebow-led Broncos 41-23 before Christmas!

But, of course, with Tebow under center for an 8-8 fluky division winner, that triumph in Denver felt more like it fell in the “impressive win” category. For a more respectable road victory, you had to go back to 2010, when New England posted resounding wins in both Chicago and Pittsburgh. Since, there were losses in Pitt, Cincinnati, Carolina, Seattle, and Baltimore, not to mention Denver in the postseason in last year’s forgettable match-up.

In fact, as my colleague Eric Wilbur wrote, the Patriots were a paltry 1-8 over the last three seasons against road opponents with a .500 or better record at season’s end.

You get the point – and thank goodness we can put that story to rest.

It didn’t start pretty, but the supposed-underdog Pats blasted the Colts 42-20 in Indianapolis on Sunday night in their first road game in over a month. It was also their first win in four trips to Lucas Oil Stadium.

On the day of the Tom Brady Backup Bowl in Cleveland, the Patriots’ future Hall of Fame starter looked more like one of his old stand-ins for much of the night.

In the first-half, marred by questionable decisions, play-calls, and bouts with inaccuracy, Brady targeted eight receivers but threw two interceptions and completed just 10-of-19 passes for 84 yards and a 24.8 QB rating. That came in the wake of an 18-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his previous five games.

Brady, though, went on to go 9-for-11 with 173 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to the increasingly-acrobatic Rob Gronkowski and sure-handed Tim Wright in the second-half, and finished with 257 yards and an 85 passer rating. He also improved to 11-2 in his career indoors and 3-0 versus talented, young counterpart Andrew Luck.

Fortunately, as Brady was slowly finding his way, former practice squad back and lesser-known comedian Jonas Gray rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries and found the end zone for the first two times of his young career, and he did it all in the first 30 minutes. Move over, Tony Collins.

In the ultimate establish-the-run affair against the 25th-ranked run-defense, Gray finished with 199 yards of the club’s 244 rushing yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns in just his fourth career game. The Patriots entered the evening with three scores on the ground all year.

Who needs Stevan Ridley, right?

Ultimately, Brady’s line-aided offense came wildly alive in the second-half after a feel-it-out first and the team’s defense shut down Luck and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense entering Week 11 (that distinction now belongs to the Packers at 33 points a game, with the Pats second at 32.3). In man-coverage, Darrelle Revis thrived, the secondary made stops when it had to, and the defensive line stood tall against a generally unimpressive Indy backfield. The Colts managed just 19 rushing yards, 15 from their quarterback.

With the win, the Pats improved to 3-2 on the road this season. The only previous celebrations outside of Foxborough came against a Vikings team playing without the embattled Adrian Peterson and a Bills squad that’s lost five of eight, while the defeats arrived in Miami (almost expected at this point) and Kansas City (remember when the sky was falling?).

As we all know, though, this is a much different club than the they’re-not-good-enough collection of players we watched limp to a 2-2 mark in September. They’ve now won six in a row overall to claim sole possession of first-place in the surprisingly deep AFC (75 percent of the conference owns a record of .500 or better). At 8-2, the script has effectively been flipped.

Going into the game, we already sensed what the Patriots were capable of. However, this was the convincing win fans needed to believe the team can go the distance.

Though the Pats currently hold the top-seed in the AFC, they tough tests ahead each of the next three weeks against the Lions (7-3) and at both the Packers (7-3) and Chargers (6-4). The Broncos’ loss in St. Louis on Sunday was a gift, but the Chiefs and Colts are also still very much threats to challenge for the top spot by season’s end. There are no guarantees, no matter how good it looks right now, New England will finish with a first-round bye or won’t have to play a pivotal road game in January.

In a best-case scenario, the Pats won’t be on the road all postseason until they reach Arizona in February for Super Bowl XLIX. Those last two visits to neutral sites haven’t ended all that well.

The Patriots will likely run the table at home against the Lions, Dolphins, and Bills. Dating back to a 28-13 loss to the Ravens in the 2013 AFC Championship game, they’ve won their last 14 at Gillette. Home domination is part of the blueprint. It’s the trips out of town that have recently been filled with questions.

Are they out of the woods? It would be cocky to suggest that at this point, but the list of comparisons to the local championship teams of the early 2000’s is growing longer by the day. During the Pats’ three title-winning seasons, they ousted six playoff teams on the road, eight if you including trips to Pittsburgh for the conference finals in 2001 and 2004. With wins in Green Bay and San Diego, New England could make it three this year alone.

Three games into what most of us felt would be a daunting six-game, seven-week stretch, the Pats have coasted to victories by an average of 19 points. During their six-game winning streak, they’ve clobbered opponents by a 243-128 margin and reached at least 37 points five times.

Can they keep it up?

How could you possibly think otherwise?

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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