FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick said his team had its best week of practice preparing for the Denver Broncos, and last night it showed.
The Patriots not only bounced back from a 20-point loss in San Diego, they blew away the Broncos, 41-7, in their most complete performance of the season.
They rushed 38 times for 257 yards, the most yards on the ground by a Patriots team since 1993. The defense forced five turnovers, four in the first half. Matt Cassel threw a career-high three touchdown passes. Randy Moss found the end zone twice, matching his total from the previous five games.
The last rites were administered to Denver when Moss (5 catches, 69 yards) took a short pass from Cassel and raced 27 yards into the end zone with 7:32 left in the third quarter to push the advantage to 27-0. The reality was that the Patriots had sapped the Broncos of any pulse in the first half by taking a 20-0 lead.
"It was a great game," said Moss. "Like Bill said throughout the week, when you have great preparation, you have a great week. The game is won during the week and not on Sunday, so if you have a good week and come out here ready to go, the game will be a lot easier.
"We have a lot of things we can hang our hats on tonight from all three units - offense, defense, and special teams. We put it together, and I think when we put all three of those together, this team is very scary.
"We still have a lot of work to do. It's a short week. We're going to just keep tapping away and see what we can come up with."
What they came up with last night was a demolition of Denver. They silenced Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler (17 of 26 for 168 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions) and the second-rated passing attack in the NFL and orange-crushed Denver's 26th-rated run defense.
On the day they lost running back Laurence Maroney, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, the Patriots were carried by the running of Sammy Morris and an opportunistic defense.
Morris had all of his career-high 138-yards and a touchdown in the first half, on just 16 carries. He had runs of 14, 20, 34, and 29 yards. The last, which came on fourth and 1 from the Denver 42, set up a 13-yard touchdown pass to Moss that made it 20-0 with 44 seconds left in the half. Moss was covered by Dre' Bly on the play after Denver All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey was forced to leave the game with a groin injury.
The drive began at the Patriots 16 when Brandon Meriweather intercepted an injured Cutler, who came up holding his right index finger on the first play of the game. But it almost ended in the wrong end zone with Cassel narrowly avoiding a safety on third and 18 from the 8.
However, linebacker Jamie Winborn was flagged for a 15-yard face-mask penalty, one of six penalties and three personal fouls on Denver in the first half.
It was that kind of night for Denver, which did about everything it could to aid the Patriots.
Morris's 34-yard gain, the Patriots' longest run of the season, gave him 100 yards on just nine carries and helped set up his 4-yard touchdown rush on fourth and 1 that gave the Patriots a 13-0 lead.
The only thing that stopped Morris was a knee injury that kept him out after halftime; rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis took over and had 13 rushes for 65 yards, including a 1-yard TD.
"We knew we could run on them - well, we didn't know, but we assumed we could," said Patriots left guard Logan Mankins. "We saw other teams do it, and we feel like we can run the ball on most nights.
"The backs hit the holes hard and Sammy ran the way he always runs. We got to see Bennie tonight and Bennie really ran well, so that was a good sign."
Another good sign was the spirited play of the defense. A week after getting embarrassed in San Diego, it caused three fumbles and made two interceptions that led to 20 points. The Patriots had forced a total of six turnovers in its first five games.
"We knew last week we didn't leave our best football on the field, and we wanted to come out this week and make a statement and fly around and make plays and cause turnovers," said safety James Sanders, who had a third-quarter interception that led to Wes Welker's 6-yard touchdown reception.
The Patriots jumped to a 6-0 lead by turning a pair of Denver fumbles into Stephen Gostkowski field goals of 31 and 40 yards.
The Broncos even tried changing quarterbacks to change their karma, as Patrick Ramsey came on for the injured Cutler with 39 seconds left in the half. But Ramsey was sacked by Mike Wright and Gary Guyton picked his fumble out of the air.
Cutler came back in the second half.
But the biggest comeback was authored by the Patriots.
"We wanted to come back and right the ship," said Mankins. "Once we got back, we went to work and practiced hard and practiced with a lot of enthusiasm. I think it showed tonight.
"A lot of guys played really hard and everyone was rooting for each other and it really showed in our play tonight."