September 12, 2011
Rewriting The Patriot Offensive Record Book
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
MIAMI -- If not for that ungodly win at home a few years ago against Tennessee, this one would be the signature offensive win in Patriot history. It may be anyway.
In 1982 (actually January 3, 1983), Tony Dorsett ripped off a 99-yard touchdown run on a Monday night against Minnesota that Howard, Frank and Dandy Don got to see and call. Now nearly 30 years later, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski got to see a 99-yard play on a Monday night game. Midway through the fourth quarter, backed up at the one-foot line after a goalline stand, Tom Brady lofted a touch pass to Wes Welker along the left sideline. Welker stiffarmed Benny Sapp and took off to the end zone, completing the first 99-yard scoring pass in the NFL since Gus Frerotte of the Vikings hit Bernard Berrian on November 30, 2008. The Patriots would go to win the 2011 season opener at Sun Life Stadium, 38-24 over the Miami Dolphins, but Brady had his best non-playoff game as a pro and left everyone agog at his passing numbers and his ability to generate offense.
Brady set a personal record, a Patriot record and a Monday Night Football record with 517 yards passing, the fifth most in a game in NFL history. He completed 32 of 48 passes threw four touchdowns, and looked as slick and as invincible as ever. Running primarily a no-huddle offense all game long, Brady gassed out the Miami defense when usually it's the Dolphins that gas out the Patriots in Miami in the late summer. Only a fluke interception off a deflection by Jared Odrick tainted Brady's evening, knocking his passer rating down to 121.6.
If there is any concern for the Patriots, it is the defense. Chad Henne, who like Brady played his college ball at Michigan, threw for 416 passing yards in his own right, and the combined 933 passing yards between the two quarterbacks set an NFL record. But Brandon Marshall had 139 yards receiving on seven catches, Davone Bess had 92 yards receiving on five catches, and Reggie Bush had nine catches to lead the team. Brady more than made up for the porousness of the defense, but this is an area where, when all the excitement over the offense dies down, Bill Belichick will have to address with San Diego coming to town next weekend.
Brady was the clear and unchallenged star of the game, if that statement doesn't insult anyone's intelligence. Miami had no answer for the Patriot tight ends; Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski each caught a touchdown pass and both combined for 15 catches and 189 yards. Welker was the obvious pass receiving leader, with 8 catches for 160 yards. Even Matthew Slater got in on the fun, catching his first NFL pass for 46 yards (and dropping a second one).
The no-huddle offense was a perfect foil for the Miami defense, still very good but lacking the marquee stars it had for much of the last 20 years. One matchup which the Patriots will feel good about was top draftee Nate Solder, playing in his first NFL game. He handled Cameron Wake pretty well for the entire game and got called for only one holding penalty. That helped give Brady a lot of time to throw the entire evening, and Brady looked as comfortable in the pocket as if he were at home in a recliner. The one interception came off a quick screen toss to Julian Edelman which happened to deflect off of Sapp and into the arms of Odrick, who lumbered 39 yards to the Patriot 9 before Deion Branch collared him from behind.
Another concern for the Patriots involves Dan Koppen. Towards the end of the first half, Carlos Dansby fell on Koppen with his left leg unable to give under his weight. The early diagnosis is a broken ankle, and Koppen is likely lost for the season. Dan Connally filled in nicely for Koppen, but the veteran center will be sorely missed in terms of calling out blocking assignments, coordination with Logan Mankins and leadership.
The Patriots literally didn't need a sound running game, but the running game generated 106 yards total. Both Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Green-Ellis scored on a four-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to tie the game at 7. Otherwise the backs were a complete footnote to the passing game.
Defensively, other than some nice pressure on Henne with four sacks, the pass defense needs to tighten up with Philip Rivers coming to town next Sunday. The Patriots gave up nine passing plays of 20 yards or better, with the middle of the field being rather poorly defended by the Patriot secondary. Cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling, the latter playing in his first NFL game, played rather uneven games, making some good plays mixed in with coughing up big gains. Patrick Chung has been handed the keys to the car in the secondary, but too often Henne was able to find open receivers in intermediate routes where they should have been clobbered.
Henne was Lloyd Carr's last quarterback at Michigan, and Brady was one of his first (actually, Brian Griese and Scott Dreisbach were). Henne's career at Michigan was good but not great, and his NFL career has been much of the same. For a Patriot defense to give up 416 passing yards to Henne, that does not signify that the Patriot defense is ready for prime time.
But the Patriots won, everyone's head is spinning, and the defense didn't need to be good. Brady made all of Patriot Nation even more happy that he belongs here, and keeps adding to his Hall of Fame resume as he strives to win that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring.
The 99-yard pass play is truly an NFL rarity. It was only the 12th in NFL history, perhaps as rare as the unassisted triple play in baseball. Welker has come back completely from the grisly knee injury he suffered a few years back, and remains Brady's main man, though those two tight ends aren't exactly unreliable either.
Brady won't throw for over 500 yards against the Chargers. But San Diego is a team Brady has done well against in past years.
For right now, let San Diego be hanged. Brady really had a night. This one needs to be enjoyed for more than just 24 hours. Everyone in these parts needs to enjoy Brady to the fullest, and never take for granted the exceptional player this region possesses.
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