Blizzard of 59
It’s a snowstorm at Gillette as Brady (6 TD passes), Patriots pile up points in historic rout
FOXBOROUGH - Oh, the snow and the woe that befell the Tennessee Titans yesterday at Gillette Stadium.
In wintry conditions not fit for man, beast, nor professional football players wearing powder blue helmets with oil derricks on them, the Patriots yesterday added to their growing reputation as the Greatest Show in Snow. Led by Tom Brady’s otherworldly first-half passing performance, in which he threw for 345 of his 380 yards and five of his six touchdowns, the Patriots unleashed a flurry of points, yardage, and records in a 59-0 shutout of the hapless Titans, who didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of winning their first game after trailing at halftime by a whopping 45 points.
The Patriots, meanwhile, improved to 11-0 in snow games in Foxborough.
“I was saying, when you see the weather forecast on Thursday, you’re kind of angry,’’ said Brady, who led the Patriots on eight of their nine consecutive scoring drives, connecting with Randy Moss (eight catches, 129 yards) on TDs of 40, 28, and 9 yards and Wes Welker (10 catches, career-high 150 yards) on scoring tosses of 30 and 5 yards.
“Then once the day of the game comes around everyone is excited,’’ Brady said, “because you’re out there and you’re like, ‘This is football. This is how it should be.’ ’’
But who ever would have expected such an offensive avalanche? Who ever would have imagined the Patriots would win the game scoring 59 points, amassing 619 yards total offense, and featuring a 100-yard rusher, a pair of 100-yard receivers, and a 300-yard passer who completed 85.2 percent of his passes (29 of 34)?
“You never go into a game thinking it’s going to be like this,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose team (4-2) rebounded from a 20-17 overtime loss at Denver last weekend by storming to the most convincing win in franchise history. It was one in which the Patriots established nine team records and two NFL records, including most total net yards, most points in a game, half, and quarter (35 in the second).
New England’s defense, which last week was faulted for allowing Denver to score on drives of 90 and 98 yards, held up its end by blanketing the Titans and holding them to 186 yards - including minus-7 yards passing by quarterback Kerry Collins - while forcing five turnovers, three of which resulted in touchdowns that fueled the second-quarter eruption.
“We did a good job of protecting the quarterback, we threw the ball well and caught it, opened some holes, ran well,’’ said Belichick, who must prepare his team for a trip to London to face the winless Buccaneers in Wembley Stadium. “Anytime you turn the ball over that can lead to some points and it did today.’’
All this came against an 0-6 Titans team that won its first 10 games last season, but showed up in frigid Foxborough ill-prepared to handle the elements or the Patriots’ explosive offense with three members of its secondary missing because of injury: cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) and Nick Harper (broken forearm) and safety Vincent Fuller (broken forearm).
“For us to have an injured secondary group,’’ said safety Chris Hope, “playing against a Brady that hasn’t been clicking like he normally does, a slow-starting Randy Moss . . . all that with the elements and the snow and the rain, it was a perfect opportunity to get somebody on their schedule that is banged-up and to go out and exploit it, and that’s what they did.’’
Stepping in for an injured Sammy Morris, who hurt his left knee on the third play of an ill-fated opening offensive series that ended in Stephen Gostkowski’s errant 39-yard field goal attempt, Laurence Maroney gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead when he highlighted his season-high 123 yards rushing with a 45-yard TD run that ranked as the team’s longest play from scrimmage of the season.
On the Patriots’ next possession, Gostkowski atoned for his earlier miss, converting a 33-yard field goal that made it 10-0 with 47 seconds left in the first quarter. Welker highlighted the seven-play, 63-yard march when he hauled in a 48-yard reception from Brady, the team’s longest pass play of the season. It helped the Patriots erase the dubious distinction they had entering the game as the only team in the league without a run of 20-plus yards and a pass longer than 40 yards.
“Yeah, it was good to get ’em,’’ said center Dan Koppen. “We had a good week of practice. Guys were really focused, and to be able to go out there and hit them, hopefully it’ll give us some confidence and we can just build on it from there.’’
Confidence was brimming on the Patriots bench, but waning on the visitors’ side, when Brady threw five of his six TDs in the second quarter, the first three of which were set up by Tennessee turnovers.
Brandon Meriweather’s jarring hit on LenDale White led to a recovery by Jonathan Wilhite at the Patriots 35. Six plays and 65 yards later, Brady connected with Moss on their first of three TDs on a 40-yard flea-flicker that made it 17-0 with 9:56 left.
Collins, who completed 2 of 12 passes (including a 15-yard pass to fullback Ahmard Hall), fumbled the snap on Tennessee’s next play from scrimmage. “At the end of the first half, I think we turned it over three straight possessions,’’ Collins said. “Two of those were mine and that’s unacceptable, bottom line.’’
Mike Wright recovered for New England at the Titans 31 and, two plays later, it was 24-0 when Brady rolled to his left and found Moss streaking across the back of the end zone for a 28-yard strike with 8:59 left.
Things continued to snowball for the Titans when Darius Butler intercepted a badly underthrown Collins pass intended for Nate Washington. Four plays later, it was 31-0 Patriots after Brady found Kevin Faulk with a screen pass that turned into a 38-yard touchdown.
Brady threw his fourth TD of the game on a 30-yard pass to a wide-open Welker for a 38-0 lead with 1:53 to go before intermission. But the Patriots were hardly done. After the Titans’ Reggie Hodges shanked a 21-yard punt to the Titans 49, the Patriots went into two-minute mode and expended all three of their timeouts on a 10-play drive that consumed 1:04 and resulted in Brady’s 5-yard TD toss to Welker and a 45-0 halftime lead. “I always love getting the ball with two minutes, especially with no time left on the clock for the defense,’’ Brady said. “So that’s always the goal - to score and not give the opponent time to come back.’’
Mission accomplished. Brady came out in the second half and led the Patriots to their eighth consecutive scoring drive when he connected with Moss for on a 9-yard TD that capped a nine-play, 65-yard march and made it 52-0 with 10:13 left in the third. Brady handed the baton to rookie backup Brian Hoyer, who directed the Patriots to their ninth straight scoring drive by capping a 12-play, 61-yard march with a 1-yard plunge. It was Hoyer’s first career touchdown and gave the Patriots a franchise record for points.
“Not every game are you going to win by this many points,’’ Brady said. “But you’re going to score touchdowns, you’re going to get the ball in the red area, you’re going to hit big plays, you’re going to change the field position with big plays.’’
And if it’s a snowy day in Foxborough then so much the better.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.