As the Patriots prepared for the Seattle Seahawks last week, coach Bill Belichick spoke repeatedly about Seattle's ability to jump out on top and play the game on their terms while playing from ahead. He could just have easily been talking about his own team.
That has been a formula New England has used throughout its long winning streak and did again in Sunday's win over Seattle when it took advantage of an early interception to jump out 7-0 before extending that lead to 17-0. It was the 10th consecutive regular season game in which New England has scored first and the13th consecutive game overall. In other words, it's another in a long list of streaks for the Patriots.
Jumping out of the gate Sunday was even more critical against a team unaccustomed
to playing from behind.
"They have been ahead all year other than for a few seconds," Belichick said last week before Sunday's game. "Going back and doing a lot of work on them last year, they are a very fast starting team. They score almost every time they get the ball at the beginning of a game or the beginning of the half. The differential between their scoring and what the rest of the league does on those first possessions is pretty substantial."
The difference Sunday also was substantial, but in the Patriots' favor. Richard Seymour deflected a pass that Willie McGinest intercepted, and the Patriots
offense converted that takeaway into seven points. Then Ty Law intercepted Matt Hasselbeck and the Patriots put up three more. One possession later, Tom Brady
hit David Patten for a touchdown and Seattle was playing from behind.
"It's something we talked about all week," Brady said. "Playing
from ahead is critical when you play good teams. So we are comfortable playing
with the lead. Sometimes I think we would like to play better when we play with
the lead, but at the same time, when you play a good team like (Seattle) and
win, everyone walks away feeling good."
"It was huge," safety Rodney Harrison said of the Patriots' fast
start against Seattle. "Anytime you're used to playing in front (and you
fall behind), that's adversity. How are you going to react playing from behind?"
That's a question the Patriots haven't had to answer since a late rally and overtime win over Houston back on Nov. 23, 2003 - the last time the Patriots didn't score first in a game.
The Jets' 5-0 start is their best ever. The Patriots 5-0 start ties their best
ever. One of the teams will be 6-0 after this weekend's meeting of unbeatens
at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots' only other 5-0 start came 30 years ago back
in 1974 under head coach Chuck Fairbanks.
New England beat Miami, the Giants, the Rams, Baltimore and the Jets in 1974
before dropping a 30-28 decision in Buffalo. The following week, they edged
Minnesota to go 6-1 before injuries mounted and became too much to overcome.
New England collapsed in the second half to finish 7-7.
--While Sunday's win was the Patriots' 20th straight overall, it was their
17th straight regular season win, which eclipsed the modern-day record of 16
and ties George Halas' 1933-1934 Bears all-time mark for consecutive regular
season wins. Three other teams have won 16 in a row including the 1983-1984
and 1971-1973 Miami Dolphins along with the 1941-1942 Chicago Bears.
--RB Corey Dillon surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the second time this
season and 30th time in his career in Sunday's win over the Seahawks when he
carried 23 times for 105 yards to go with his second and third rushing touchdowns
of the season. He last passed the century mark in a Week 2 win over Arizona
when he carried 32 times for 158 yards. New England had just one individual
100-yard rusher last year and that performance came in Week 16 when Antowain Smith ran 18 times for 121 yards against the Jets. The last time the Patriots
had a rusher with more than one 100-yard game in a single season was back in
2001 when Smith did it four times. Dillon is currently on pace to rush for a
franchise record 1,670 yards.
--DL Richard Seymour has been quiet in the early going this season, but he
typically finds a way to make an impact and can only be held down so long. On
Seattle's opening possession of the game Sunday, he deflected a Matt Hasselbeck
pass skyward that landed in the arms of Willie McGinest, who returned it 27
yards to the Seattle 26-yard line. It was McGinest's first interception of the
season and the fourth of his career.
--DE Ty Warren's play has improved steadily since he was inserted into the
starting lineup at the beginning of the regul arseason.His20tacklesare second
among defensive linemen and he recorded his first sack of the season and second
of his career when he took down Hasselbeck Sunday.
--WR Bethel Johnson, who made the game's biggest catch Sunday and one of the
best catches in the NFL this season when he laid out to haul in a 48-yard pass
that set up a game-clinching score, has been unable to rekindle his kickoff
return magic of a year ago. Johnson led the AFC in kickoff return average last
year with a 28.2-yard average and raced to returns of 71, 63 and 92 yards, the
latter of which was his only touchdown return of the season. This season, Johnson
is averaging just 22.9 yards per return with a long of 40 yards.
--CB Ty Law intercepted his 24th different quarterback Sunday when he snared a Matt Hasselbeck pass in the first quarter for his franchise-record tying 36th career interception. Included on the list of quarterback Law has picked off are Boomer Esiason, Dam Marino, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, Steve McNair and Drew Bledsoe. His four interceptions against Manning are the most against any quarterback and do not include the three he took away from Manning in last year's AFC Championship Game. He has intercepted eight quarterbacks twice.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS
PASSING OFFENSE: B
-- The Patriots' undermanned passing game was good enough against Seattle.
Tom Brady completed 19-of-31 passes for 231 yards with a touchdown and an interception
while throwing to eight different receivers. He hit on a huge 48-yard strike
just before the 2:00 warning that set up the game-clinching touchdown and he
helped the Patriots to 7-of-14 third down conversions (50 percent). He went
downfield when the chances were there and used Kevin Faulk as a reliable safety
valve. He was sacked only once, but took some shots in the pocket. His interception
led to Seattle's only touchdown of the day. He appeared to have some cobwebs
after running for a first down only to get crunched and fumble. Tight end Daniel Graham was a factor with four receptions for 45 yards while David Patten led
the way with five catches for 58 yards and a score before leaving with an injury
in the fourth quarter. Leading receiver David Givens was held to just one reception.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
-- Corey Dillon was superb once again, consistently churning out yards with
23 carries for 105 yards (4.6 yards per carry). New England averaged 4.4 yards
per carry on first down, converted both of its third-and-one opportunities and
posted efficient carries (4 yards, a first down or touchdown) on 16 of its 32
rushing attempts, including 8-of-16 on first down. Dillon rushed for a pair
of touchdowns, one from 1 yard out and the other from 9 yards out with 1:55
left in the game. The front five did a solid job making room for Dillon, but
the back once again did plenty of work on his own, breaking tackles and fighting
for yards. Brady's fumble on a scramble was the biggest negative of the day,
but the defense responded by forcing a three-and-out.
PASS DEFENSE: B
-- Matt Hasselbeck threw for 349 yards, but needed 50 pass attempts to do it
on 27 completions. New England intercepted him on Seattle's first two possessions
to set up 10 first quarter points. He hit Koren Robinson nine times for 150
yards and threw to nine different receivers, but the Patriots' coverage tightened
when it needed to and Hasselbeck couldn't get the ball in the end zone. The
Patriots did a decent job keeping Hasselbeck in the pocket and preventing him
from making plays on the run although he did do some damage on designed rollouts.
Seattle also converted 8-of-17 third downs (47 percent), but the Patriots' red
zone defense and the two interceptions - one by Ty Law and one by Willie McGinest
off of Richard Seymour's reflection - were the difference here.
RUSH DEFENSE: C
-- The Patriots did not get burned on the ground. Shaun Alexander gained his
yards - 77 on 16 carries to be exact - but beyond a 9-yard touchdown run, did
little damage to affect the game's outcome. Many of his yards came with Seattle
trailing and the defense staying back and defending the pass. That, however,
doesn't exonerate the front four from doing its job. Rodney Harrison needed
to be a huge factor in the game because of Alexander's ability to get to the
second level and cut to the perimeter for a big play. He finished with 10 tackles,
second only to fellow safety Eugene Wilson. It was an average day for the run
defense and an average day for Seattle's rush offense as well.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
-- Since a terrible performance against the Bills two weeks ago, the special
teams, and more specifically, the kick coverage has improved dramatically. Adam Vinatieri connected on all three of his field-goal attempts and kicked off seven
times. Five of those seven times, Seattle began its possession inside its 30-yard
line thanks to excellent coverage. Josh Miller had a 40.5-yard net punting average
on two punts, including a 52-yarder that had no return thanks to a tremendous
play by cover specialist Je'Rod Cherry, who led New England with three special
teams stops. Both Miller punts resulted in Seattle starting inside its 20. The
Patriots were ordinary returning kicks and punts with no big plays to speak
-- Bill Belichick stressed to his team the need to get on top of Seattle and make the Seahawks play from behind. His team got the message, jumping on top 17-0 before holding on for a 30-20 win. The defensive plan was solid with New England being physical with the Seattle receivers within the 5-yard legal zone and forcing Hasselbeck to hold the ball. Belichick took the sole blame for some of his team's defensive breakdowns, but even his players weren't letting him take the fall for some miscommunications that led to Seattle receivers running wide open at times. But the coaches did get some of the defensive calls in too late and it left the defense scrambling at the snap. Seattle took advantage of that on a few occasions. Overall, though, the game plan was solid and the Patriots were prepared for a tough interconference opponent. Belichick took some words uttered by Seattle wideout Darrell Jackson, who called the Patriots "beatable" and their secondary "old" and used it to motivate his club. Jackson finished with two catches for 40 yards, one of which came when no one covered him and he gained 37 yards. He was a non-factor in the game and the Patriots clearly tried to take him away. Jackson was the intended receiver on nine of Hasselbeck's incompletions, including one of his two interceptions.