In his 14 seasons as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bill Cowher had to consider decisions similar to those that have faced Bill Belichick the last three weeks.
With a big lead late in the game, when do you pull some starters?
The Patriots led the Washington Redskins, 38-0, late in the third quarter Sunday and kept quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Randy Moss in for one more series. A week earlier, against the Miami Dolphins, Brady was pulled at the start of the fourth quarter, then reinserted after the lead was cut to 21 points.
What would Cowher have done?
"I think the risk he's weighing is that those guys could get hurt in those situations," said Cowher, now a studio analyst for CBS. "I don't know if I would be willing to risk that. At some point if this continues, someone's going to take a cheap shot. Is that worth subjecting your players to if it comes to that?"
Asked for his take on how Belichick handled his offense Sunday, Colts coach Tony Dungy said, "Every week is a little different, and sometimes you have different things you want to accomplish. I know when we've gotten Jim Sorgi in at times, you want to let him get a chance to do some things and throw with the first group. And we've thrown a lot of balls late in games when we've had big leads.
"Other times, you're working on different things. I think only that coach knows what you're trying to accomplish, and basically in the NFL, you don't try to coach other people's teams. How they play, that's up to them. I've never been one to get offended by whatever anybody else does. You don't know what they're trying to work on."
Catchword: TeamworkWhen he was acquired by the Patriots in April, Moss seemed to know his audience when he said he was the second-best receiver to come out of Marshall - after longtime Patriots fan favorite Troy Brown.
But on further review, Brown believes it's time for Moss to issue a correction.
"I think he's proving himself wrong," Brown said.
Through eight games, Moss has 47 catches for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns. While he was limited to three catches for 47 yards and one touchdown Sunday against the Redskins, Moss still had a major impact on the outcome, according to Brady.
Speaking in his weekly interview on WEEI radio Monday, Brady noted that the Redskins double-teamed Moss and fellow outside receiver Donté Stallworth throughout the game, and that opened opportunities underneath for slot receiver Wes Welker and running backs Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney. They combined for 18 catches for 183 yards.
Belichick added in his WEEI interview that the Redskins played two-deep zone for the first 27 snaps and about two-thirds of the first 60, meaning it was a game for inside receivers and backs to make plays as pass-catchers.
So, much like the Oct. 14 game against the Browns in which Moss was consistently double-covered and finished with three receptions, it was a case where the statistics didn't reflect his contributions.
Brown has been impressed by the entire receiving corps.
"The guys, they've been making every play they've had to make," he said. "When the ball is thrown, you got to get open and catch it, and they've been catching it when they're covered, so they've been making some spectacular plays. It's been a treat to watch."
Excelling at guard dutyOffensive guard might be one of the easier positions for spectators to overlook, but the Patriots' coaching staff has recognized the stellar work of left guard Logan Mankins.
After every victory, the Patriots award game balls to players who have played an integral part, and no player has earned more game balls this season than Mankins, the team's first-round draft choice in 2005.
Belichick said the 6-foot-4-inch, 310-pound Mankins brings strength and athleticism to a position that is challenging because of the variety of opponents they face. One week a guard could be facing athletic linebackers like the Jets' Jonathan Vilma and the Redskins' London Fletcher; the next week it could be bigger defensive linemen like Jacksonville's John Henderson and Marcus Stroud.
"He does a lot of things well," Belichick said. "You've got guys that can pretty much handle themselves and you don't mind matching them up against anybody, and I'd say that Logan is one of those kind of guys."
First and foremostThe Patriots have outscored opponents, 79-7, in the first quarter, easily the largest margin in the NFL . . . With the Patriots (8-0) visiting the Colts (7-0), this marks the first time in the 88-year history of the NFL that two undefeated teams with seven or more wins have faced each other, according to the Elias Sports Bureau . . . The Patriots and Colts are tied for the top mark in the NFL in turnover differential, plus-11. In eight games, the Patriots have 18 takeaways and seven giveaways, while the Colts have 16 takeaways and five giveaways in seven games . . . The Patriots have scored 149 points over the last three games, marking the highest three-game point total by an NFL team since the Los Angeles Rams scored 163 in a three-game span in 1950 . . . New England's three-game losing streak against the Colts ties for the franchise's current longest against any club. The Patriots also have dropped three in a row to Denver . . . Welker's 56 receptions are tied for second in the NFL behind the Bengals' T.J. Houshmandzadeh (58).
Sack raceMike Vrabel's 7 1/2 sacks rank first among NFL linebackers and fifth overall in the league . . . Linebacker Tedy Bruschi has been credited with 50 tackles by the team's coaches, tops on the club . . . With two more touchbacks Sunday, kicker Stephen Gostkowski has 12 on the season, matching his total from his 2006 rookie year and putting him second in the NFL behind Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski (17) . . . Brady has thrown 164 passes without an interception, tying the longest streak of his eight-year career. His last interception came against the Bengals Oct. 1. The franchise record for passes without an interception is 179, set by Drew Bledsoe in 1995 . . . The Patriots have a league-high 213 first downs . . . After recovering two fumbles Sunday, defensive end Ty Warren is now one of three players tied for first in the NFL with three.
Another 'thrilla'?Dungy, speaking to Sirius NFL radio, on Sunday's matchup against the Patriots: "I look at it like when I was in high school and it was Frazier against Ali. Ali was the people's champ and he had been the greatest, and all of a sudden, Frazier comes along. But they said, 'Now Ali's back and he's better than ever.' And it was, it was just an unbelievable situation, and I think this is the same thing. People are saying, 'Hey, New England was the champ. They've been away for a couple of years. Now they're reloaded.' For both teams to be undefeated, it's great for the NFL, it really is." . . . With the Cowboys agreeing to a six-year contract with quarterback Tony Romo that includes an $11.5 million signing bonus and total bonuses/guarantees of $30 million, how does the deal compare to what Brady is earning? In 2005, when Brady signed an extension through the 2010 season, the contract included a $14.5 million signing bonus, a $12.5 million option bonus, and $9 million in roster bonuses from 2008-10 . . . Moss has played just once against the Colts, in the season finale in 2000, when he had one catch, a 42-yard touchdown, for the Vikings . . . Of the 40 penalties called against the Patriots this season, including those that were declined, the most frequent has been false start (12). The team had four false start penalties against the Redskins . . . John Parry, a first-year referee who was a side judge in Super Bowl XLI, is scheduled to work the Patriots-Colts game. This is Parry's eighth season as an NFL official.
Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report.