Patriots offense on pace for record-setting season

The New England Patriots set team records last season for first

downs and yards gained.

Those marks may not last long.

After five games, the Tom Brady-led offense is on pace to break

both of them and he’s getting plenty of help from a revived running

game with a deep group of backs who combine power, speed and

elusiveness.

That’s been evident in the past two games. The Patriots rushed

for 251 yards in Sunday’ 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos one week

after gaining 247 in a 52-28 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

”All our backs ran hard and were productive,” against the

Broncos, coach Bill Belichick said. ”We’re confident in all of

them.”

The challenge figures to be tougher next Sunday when the

Patriots visit the Seattle Seahawks, who have given up the fewest

yards in the NFL, 258.6 per game. But the Patriots have gained the

most, an average of 439.4, an increase of 11 yards over last year’s

club record.

On Sunday, they set a team record with 35 first downs against

the Broncos after picking up 33 in each of their previous two

games. If they maintain their pace of 30.2 first downs a game,

they’ll finish with 483, shattering the NFL record of 416 set last

year by the New Orleans Saints and the club mark of 399.

The Patriots used a no-huddle attack for most of the first three

quarters, making it tough for the Broncos to make substitutions and

get in the proper positions.

”It takes a lot of concentration,” tight end Rob Gronkowski

said. ”You’ve got to have all 11 guys working at the same pace and

you’ve got to make sure you’re doing your own job out there.”

They did on Sunday when running backs Stevan Ridley, Brandon

Bolden, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen followed outstanding

blocking. They accomplished a rare feat – gaining more yards on the

ground than Brady, with 223, did through the air.

It marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots had

consecutive games in which they rushed for at least 200 yards.

”We’re getting a lot of nickel defense,” Brady said. ”When

they put little guys out there (in the secondary), we have to take

advantage of it. I think we’re playing definitely a more physical

style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the

football. We have to keep doing it. It’s only been five

games.”

Against Denver, Ridley rushed for a career-high 151 yards,

Bolden had 54 and Woodhead gained 47. The previous Sunday, Bolden

led the team with 137 and one touchdown and Ridley added 106 yards

and two touchdowns.

”A lot of people key on (Brady) and our running back group has

to get some pressure off him so he can be the quarterback he can

be,” Ridley said. ”If they’re sitting back there staring Brady in

the face every play, we can’t be a one-dimensional offense.”

The Patriots are averaging 165.4 yards rushing this season after

picking up 110.3 per game last year when BenJarvus Green-Ellis, now

with the Cincinnati Bengals, led them with 667 yards and Ridley was

second with 441. Ridley already has 490 this year.

They’ve also improved in the red zone. In the first three games,

they scored on 11 of 12 trips inside the 20-yard line with six

touchdowns and five field goals. In the last two games, they’re 11

for 11 with nine touchdowns and two field goals.

And they’re getting better in third-down situations with more

than 5 yards to go for a first down.

Brady hit Woodhead for a 25-yard gain on a third-and-14 that

kept alive a drive that ended with a field goal that gave New

England a 17-7 lead with two seconds left in the first half. Then

Woodhead ran 19 yards on third-and-17 in the third quarter to help

set up Brady’s 1-yard touchdown run that made the score 24-7.

”It’s hard to make those, but we were able to convert a few,”

Belichick said. ”You’d like to think you can make the

third-and-one and third-and-twos, but the third-and-17s, those are

little bit tougher.”

Brady has passed effectively but has thrown just eight touchdown

passes with one interception. His ability to understand defenses

and the best way to attack them remains exceptional.

”You can’t just throw it all day. You can’t just run it all

day. You have to be able to do both,” Brady said. ”It’s been

pretty good the last few weeks.”

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