FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Buckle up.
If the New England Patriots are looking for a catch-phrase for the 2012 season, they might consider those two words.
For the second time in five seasons, the Patriots are putting on an offensive clinic every time they step onto the field, be it at Gillette Stadium or on the road, as they are Sunday in Miami.
Quarterback Tom Brady is quietly having an MVP-type season in leading an offense on pace to set NFL records for points in a season (currently 589, set by the 2007 Patriots), average points per game (36.8, also 2007 Patriots) and first downs (416, New Orleans, 2011). They have already set an NFL record for consecutive games with at least 350 yards (17, the streak snapped Nov. 11 with only 347 against Buffalo).
The Patriots are the first team to score at least 30 points in a quarter twice in a season (35 in the second against the Jets on Thanksgiving; 31 against Buffalo in the fourth on Sept. 30).
They set a franchise record with 35 first downs against Denver and tied the franchise record with 59 points against Indianapolis. They scored 108 points in back-to-back wins against the Colts and Jets, another team record.
With five games left in the regular season, the Patriots compare favorably to some of the greatest offenses in NFL history (see graphic). One stat worth noting from the comparison is that this year’s Patriots team runs the ball much better than any of the others, allowing for a balance that the others may have lacked.
And they’re still looking to improve.
“I think last week we played well,” Brady said of New England’s 49-19 whacking of the Jets. “Hopefully we play well this week. But I don’t think you can just assume that we’re going to go play well next week. I think we have to go out and prove it.
“We have to go out and go through our week of practice, and try to execute well in practice so that leads to confidence and anticipation going into the game, and then going out there and executing in the game.”
The reasons for this year’s offensive prowess are multiple: Brady’s efficiency (only three interceptions in 421 passes, none in a five-game winning streak), a strong running game (143.7 yards per game), good pass protection (15 sacks, only two in the last five games), a gifted group of receivers and a defense that gives the offense the ball in good field position.
The Patriots led the NFL with a plus-24 turnover differential. They have forced 32 turnovers while only allowing eight. Five of those turnovers have been turned into touchdowns. The others set up the offense.
“We pride ourselves on being a defense that can create turnovers,” said safety Steve Gregory, who has two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
“That’s what we want to do, get the ball back into the hands of those guys on the other side of the ball because we know what they’re capable of. The more chances we can give them, the better off we can all be.”
The Patriots are averaging 43.8 points in their five-game winning streak, a number made even more impressive because tight end Aaron Hernandez missed three games and Rob Gronkowski, who leads the NFL with 37 touchdown catches in the last three years, missed the last.
Miami Coach Joe Philbin, whose team plays the Patriots Sunday, said he hasn’t seen any drop-off.
“They looked pretty good the other night when I saw them,” he said.
“Obviously (Gronkowski) is a heck of a football player but they have good players and, as you guys know, when injuries occur, teams have to adjust and move on. They moved on quite well against the Jets.”
The Patriots aren’t missing a beat, said wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, because “we have a very accomplished group of pass catchers. And when guys have been injured and guys have been down, we’ve been able to step in and continue to make plays. And Tom’s doing a fantastic job of finding the open player.”
On this team, just about anyone can expect to get a pass thrown to them. Wes Welker leads with 80 catches, and is on the verge of becoming the first player in NFL history with five 100-catch seasons. He’s followed by the injured Gronkowski with 59. After that, Lloyd, Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman have all contributed.
No one complains when the ball isn’t coming their way, because they know it will eventually.
“I think that part of being part of a team and being part of an organization is being unselfish and doing what’s best for the team, always,” said Brady. “It’s not what’s best for the individual players or the individual position, it’s how we’re going to score the most points and in order to score the most points, we need to do what our job is.
“If your job is to run through the defense and clear out for another player, then you do that the best you can. We’ve found guys to be able to do those things. So it’s not about rushing yards or passing yards or receiving touchdowns. It’s about winning games.”
Lloyd said the receivers understand what’s expected.
“On this team, we believe in each other,” he said. “We believe in the coaching staff. They put us in positions that we’re comfortable in. We’re not going to have to operate outside our comfort zone and we don’t do things we’re not good at.”
Like Brady, Lloyd sees plenty of room for improvement in the offense.
“We just have to continue to remain consistent,” he said. “We have to continue to make the plays when our number is called. We have to continue to get open. It’s the same things.”
It’s the little things. And when all put together, they make up one of the best offenses in the NFL.
“It’s cool, man,” said Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, of watching the Patriots’ offense. “We know if we do our job, there’s not a doubt in any of our heads that they’re not going to do their job and put points up on the board.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: