FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England’s offense has long been hailed as one of the most explosive in the league.
Lately, though, the other two phases of the Patriots (8-3) have been delivering in impressive fashion, too.
What was expected to be a grind-it-out game quickly turned into a laugher Thursday night as the Patriots posted 35 points in the second quarter alone, including offensive, defensive and special teams touchdowns in a 52-second span, on their way to a 49-19 thrashing of the struggling New York Jets.
“But that’s what happens,” said New England’s Bill Belichick, who became the eighth coach in NFL history with at least 200 career wins. “A big play, a turnover, score, another turnover, another big play and when you get all those yards in one play, whether it’s on a big play or a turnover, then that’s what defines explosive plays. It certainly changes the whole dynamic of the game.”
One of the worst pass defenses in the league over the past year-and-a-half has swiftly shifted into one of the most feared, more closely resembling the units that keyed New England’s three Super Bowl victories than the one that allowed the second-most yards passing in the league last season and ranks similarly this year.
Just five days before the Patriots feasted on five Jets turnovers Thanksgiving night, they capitalized on a handful of Colts miscues as well, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and a punt return for a score in a 59-24 win over Indianapolis on Sunday.
“I think last night is the Exhibit A on how quickly the game can change,” Belichick said. “Turnovers are a huge part of the game and other than points, they’re probably statistically the highest correlation to winning.
“We had a lot of turnovers earlier in the year and we didn’t get enough point production out of those turnovers. A lot of times, we’d turn the ball over and end up leaving with not many points,” he added. “So even though we had a turnover differential advantage, that didn’t really translate into a big point advantage with those turnovers. The past few weeks, that number has changed more in our favor where the turnovers have been converted into points and in a lot of cases, touchdowns.”
As usual, the Patriots’ potent offense had little trouble shredding the opposing defense.
Quarterback Tom Brady accounted for four touchdowns, including one rushing, and finished 18 of 28 for 323 yards, becoming just one of six players to reach 3,000 yards passing for the 10th time.
Brady, who has thrown 14 touchdowns against no interceptions during New England’s current winning streak, also passed Dan Fouts for 10th place on the career passing list.
Running back Stevan Ridley chipped in with 97 yards and a touchdown.
But it was the defense that started the scoring spree this time.
The points parade began when safety Steve Gregory intercepted quarterback Mark Sanchez and Brady led the offense on a 15-play, 84-yard drive, capped by Wes Welker’s 3-yard catch on the first play of the second quarter.
That was the beginning of the end for New York.
One play after Gregory recovered a fumble by Jets running back Shonn Greene on fourth-and-inches from the Patriots 31, Brady threw a swing pass to Shane Vereen. He darted untouched up the left sideline for an 83-yard touchdown that made it 14-0.
The scoring surge continued moments later when Sanchez fumbled after slamming into right guard Brandon Moore’s backside. Gregory picked up the ball and ran it 32 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead.
New England was far from finished.
Joe McKnight fumbled the ensuing kickoff on a hit by Devin McCourty and Julian Edelman scooped up the loose ball and bolted 22 yards for another score, finishing off the 21-point blitz in less than a minute. Brady and Edelman later connected on 56-yard touchdown to stretch the lead to 35-0 late in the second period.
“I thought that really set the momentum for the game,” Gregory said. “It really turned things into a lopsided feel there.
“They’re a good football team, but I think we’re a little better this year.”
The numbers certainly support that.
Boasting the most prolific offense in the NFL with 37 points and 435.8 yards per game, both best in the league, New England has now scored 190 points in its past four games, the most in a four-game span during a single season since the 1950 Rams scored an NFL-record 208. The Patriots also top the AFC in turnover margin at plus-17.
“I thought it was almost impossible to score 35 points in a quarter, but they found a way to do it,” said Jets Coach Rex Ryan. “You have to give them a ton of credit. That’s a great football team. Like I said, they don’t need any help, and when you don’t protect the football, 35 points in a quarter is ridiculous.”
The Patriots’ mantra all season has been to play a full 60 minutes. On Thursday, however, 52 seconds was more than enough to quiet the Jets.
“This team is a steady group. When we play together, we play well. Good things happen,” nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “It starts being fun when you score 28 points in a quarter. All you can say is, ‘Wow.'”