FOXBOROUGH -- Points. Time remaining. Down, distance, yard line. Timeouts.
And, of course, advertisements for any company that will fork over the cash to buy the space. That's what you find on the scoreboard at Gillette Stadium. Note, there isn't room for excuses. So whether Deion Branch is in uniform or not, the Patriots' offense has to figure out a way to score touchdowns. New England did that last night, as it rolled to a 30-3 victory over Arizona.
With an improved defensive effort compared to the exhibition opener, the Patriots looked as if they are beginning to take shape after three weeks of hard work in training camp. Branch is holding out in hopes of getting an improved contract, and while his presence could mean the difference between a solid team and a title contender, the Patriots showed they are able to make plays with those on hand.
Eight players had receptions in the first half, as New England scored on three of its four possessions, and Tom Brady finally led the team to a touchdown after having to settle for field goals on his first three possessions of the preseason.
A week ago, the Patriots' pass offense looked shaky, as wideouts struggled to get open and dropped passes against the Falcons. This week, even Rich Musinski, a very long shot to make the team, had a touchdown catch.
Stephen Gostkowski, a rookie from Memphis who is trying to win the placekicking job against veteran Martin Gramatica, was good from 37 and 33 yards to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead after one quarter. Second-year receiver Bam Childress submitted the top play of the second drive, hauling in a 29-yard pass from Brady along the right sideline, over the Cardinals' Adrian Wilson.
Childress drew the start with Troy Brown sitting out the first half. It appeared that Brady would play just two possessions, but he returned to the game in place of Matt Cassel during New England's third drive, then led the Patriots' to a touchdown on their next possession.
Reserve running back Kevin Faulk keyed the march with a pair of runs totaling 21 yards. Corey Dillon finished it with a 4-yard run. The Patriots had four tight ends on the field on the scoring play, as Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham were on the line, with David Thomas in motion and Garrett Mills at fullback. Dillon followed the blocks of Thomas and Mills, both rookies, off the left side. Gostkowski added the extra point to give the Patriots a 13-0 lead with 1:14 left in the half.
The touchdown was the first for the Patriots this preseason with Brady at the helm. In his first three possessions, Brady took the Patriots to field goals (two against the Cardinals and one Aug. 11 at Atlanta). In those possessions, Brady completed just 1 of 4 passes for 6 yards inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Add a sack (Arizona's Bertrand Berry for a 9-yard loss) and an illegal formation, and you see why the Patriots had to settle for 3-pointers.
But late in the second quarter last night, the Patriots finally got it right in the red zone. Brady hit Faulk and Watson on consecutive plays, for 6 and 7 yards, respectively, to set up Dillon's scoring run. Brady completed 15 of 20 passes for 149 yards. In the first two quarters, the Patriots had twice as many yards (227-113) and almost twice as many first downs (13-7) as the Cardinals.
Rookie tailback Laurence Maroney came close to breaking free a couple of times and led the Patriots with 28 yards on six carries in the first half, to Dillon's 26 yards on 10 attempts. The Cardinals couldn't establish their running game, as at the break starter Edgerrin James had only 5 yards on two rushes, and backup J.J. Arrington just 10 yards on three tries.
Asante Samuel had his second interception of the exhibition season in the second quarter. Samuel has at least one interception in five straight games. The Patriots had another second-quarter interception nullified by a penalty when Ellis Hobbs was called for holding just before Barry Gardner picked off Kurt Warner and returned the ball 20 yards to the Cardinals' 9. Samuel later dropped another would-be pick thrown by Cardinals rookie Matt Leinart.
Leinart, who signed early last week, came in for the last drive of the quarter and drove the Cardinals 54 yards on nine plays. Twenty-nine of the yards came on Leinart scrambles, as the Patriots left the middle of the field open in their ``dime" (six defensive backs) package. Neil Rackers capped the drive with a 48-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half, sending the Patriots to the locker room with a 13-3 lead.
Cassel took over for Brady in the third quarter as the rout took hold. Eric Alexander, trying to make the squad as a reserve linebacker and special teams player, delivered a big hit to Michael Spurlock on a kickoff, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Randall Gay and returned to the 9. Cassel hit Heath Evans for the touchdown to put New England up, 23-3, with just a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter.