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Patriots pass with flying colors in rout of Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Defensive lineman Richard Seymour sat at his locker after the Patriots' thoroughly dominating 31-7 victory over the Vikings last night, and it was hard to miss the large piece of jewelry on his right ring finger.

Seymour needed a pick-me-up, so he put on his 2001 Super Bowl ring.

"I don't even wear them, but I just felt the need this week," Seymour said. "I was just feeling like a ring."

The Patriots' performance last night was indeed ring-worthy.

The passing game erupted out of a spread formation. The defense swarmed, delivering crunching hits and forcing four turnovers. The special teams answered a lone mistake with a resounding response.

In pummeling the Vikings before a sellout crowd of 63,819 at the Metrodome, the Patriots (6-1) flexed their muscles in every area possible. And in the process, they set up what figures to be a classic matchup Sunday night at Gillette Stadium against the 7-0 Colts.

Quarterback Tom Brady finished 29 of 43 for 372 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception, as he improved to 10-0 in dome games. Brady was poised while working out of a four-wide/one-tight-end formation for long stretches.

"It kind of spreads things out and shows things to Tom," said Vikings coach Brad Childress. "There's a reason he's an All-Pro. He can pick you apart."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick felt the team's performance was across-the-board solid.

"We had guys step up in every phase of the game," he said. "We're happy to win, and it doesn't get any easier. We know we have a big challenge coming up this week, with the Colts."

The Patriots jumped to a 17-0 halftime lead, and when the Vikings closed to 17-7 early in the third quarter on Mewelde Moore's 71-yard punt return, rookie Laurence Maroney ripped off a 77-yard kickoff return and the Patriots quickly reestablished momentum. Belichick felt Maroney's return was a key play in the game.

Tight end Benjamin Watson and wide receivers Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, and Chad Jackson all caught touchdown passes, and 10 players hauled in at least one pass from Brady. Watson (95 yards) and Caldwell (84) tied for the team high with seven receptions, while Doug Gabriel finished with five catches for 83 yards.

Entering the game, the Patriots' longest pass play of the season was 35 yards. They struck for connections of 40 and 45 yards in the first half, with the tone set on the opening possession as the Patriots opened the game by spreading out the Vikings' defense and attacking through the air.

While the team spent practice time preparing for loud crowd noise, the first drive quickly hushed the charged-up spectators at the Metrodome, which was hosting a Monday night game for the first time since 2001. Working with Brown, Gabriel, Caldwell, and Jabar Gaffney at receiver, and Watson at tight end, Brady carved up the Vikings' defense on an efficient seven-play, 86-yard drive.

The big play came on third and 10 from the New England 14, when Brady hit Gabriel for a 45-yard connection across the middle. Brady went right back to Gabriel on the next play for a 16-yard hookup. Completions to Brown (6 yards) and Watson (14 yards) set up a first and goal from the 6, and Brady promptly found Caldwell in the right-hand corner of the end zone.

It marked the first time in seven games this season that the Vikings didn't score first.

After the Patriots stopped the Vikings on the ensuing drive -- marking the first time Minnesota didn't score on its opening march of a game -- Brady had a third-down pass intercepted by Darren Sharper at the New England 45. The Vikings then marched 11 plays to the 5, threatening to tie, when quarterback Brad Johnson was intercepted by safety Rodney Harrison on the goal line. It was an ill-advised throw by Johnson, who was looking for Moore.

Harrison returned the pick to the 2, and the Patriots went on another impressive scoring march. Brady hit Gabriel on a 9-yard first-down hookup to give the team some breathing room and then zipped a 40-yard pass to Watson across the middle. That was followed by a 20-yard completion to Maroney, as the Patriots continued to pick up large chunks of yardage in the passing game.

After Corey Dillon ripped off a 15-yard run and a pass interference call spotted the ball on the 5, the drive broke down and the Patriots settled for a 23-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, making it 10-0 with 12:09 to play in the half.

The lead ballooned to 17-0 with 25 seconds left in the half, when Brady culminated an 11-play, 74-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Watson. Two big third-down hookups from Brady to Caldwell -- for 34 and 12 yards -- highlighted the charge.

The third quarter featured special teams fireworks, with the Vikings' Moore returning the punt 71 yards for the touchdown 4:24 into play, slicing the deficit to 17-7. But the Patriots answered right back, with Maroney taking the ensuing kickoff and picking up some bruising blocks on his 77-yard return to the 21.

Brady then completed three straight passes -- 8 yards to Caldwell, 6 yards to Watson, and 7 yards to Brown for a touchdown and a 24-7 lead. Maroney's long kickoff return was his second in as many weeks; he had a 74-yarder against the Bills Oct. 22.

A 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Jackson with five seconds left in the third quarter increased the lead to 31-7.

Next up, the Colts.

"We know that we're playing against the best team in football," Harrison said. "It's going to be a huge challenge for us."

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