Morris Fills In Beatifully As New England Moves To 4-0
by Rich "Mell-o" Lyons
"You guys have really come up with somethin'." ~2001: A Space Odyssey
As news came down during the day that Laurence Maroney would not be active for the Monday night affair with the Cincinnati Bengals, there was definitely concern that New England would have a problem keeping the offensive balance they had enjoyed in their first three games.
The Patriots game plan unfolded when Sammy Morris started running, and didn't stop until the final gun went off.
Morris ran for 117 yards and a touchdown as the Patriots dominated the Bengals 34-13. This is the first time since the AFL-NFL merger that a team has started off the season winning by 20 or more points in each of their first four contests, and the first since the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans to do so.
First Quarter: All Patriots
|New England Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas celebrates after sacking Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in the first quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 1, 2007, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)|
Cincinnati started off the game having only four active linebackers on the roster, and as the game progressed, two Bengals linebackers, Lamar Marshall and Landon Johnson, needed to be helped off the field. This led to the Patriots exploiting the Bengals depleted defense by running the ball 34 times for 173 yards, a 5.1 per carry average.
Although they were very successful on the ground, the Patriots immediately went after the Cincinnati defensive backfield on their first drive, passing on eight out of ten plays, culminating in a Stephen Gostkowski 31-yard field goal to make it a 3-0 game. The Pats targeted the short and middle of the field, as Tom Brady, who had another outstanding game, attempted to lure the Bengals into a false sense of security by starting off with quick passes in the first series to set up the big plays to come later on.
The Bengals were without their top running back, as Rudi Johnson was inactive for the game with a strained hamstring. This marked the first time in 64 games that the Auburn standout was kept out of the starting lineup. The Bengals tried to make up for his absence by handing the ball off to his replacement, Kenny Watson, on the first three plays of Cincinnati's opening drive. However, once Carson Palmer was forced to drop back and throw the ball, the Patriots' defense stymied any the drive before the Bengals could build momentum. Adalius Thomas recorded his first sack of the year to end the drive abruptly.
The Pats then tried to capitalize by again throwing the ball downfield against the Bengals' secondary. This time, however, they were unproductive, as two false start penalties killed the Pats' chances of making any progress, and Chris Hanson made a rare appearance to punt the ball away. Hanson came into the game with only four punts on the year, marking just the third time since the merger that a team started the first three games of the year with four or less punts.
The Bengals failed to capitalize on the Patriots punt when they went three-and-out, as Palmer's attempt to establish the short passing game faltered. It seemed as though the Bengals and the Patriots both had the same kind of offensive strategy to start off the game. With both teams having numerous deep threats, both decided to establish a ground game and a short passing game in the early stages. The Bengals' attempts were unproductive at the beginning, but improved as the game went on.
Once Tom Brady and company got the ball back on their own 35, they wasted no time in marching down the field. First, Brady found Donte' Stallworth down the left sideline for a gain of 14. Then Sammy Morris turned in one of the key plays of the game when he took a Brady hand-off, surged through a massive hole in the right side of the line, and then put the jets on going down the right sideline. Morris showed impressive speed on the run, and was finally brought down by Madieu Williams after 49 yards at the Bengals' two yard line. Morris also showed great balance and footwork, tight-roping down the line to gain about ten more yards after the initial contact.
After two initial attempts by Heath Evans to get into the end zone, the Pats went to their old stand-by goal line play on third down, as Brady found Mike Vrabel in the back of the end zone. Vrabel has nine receptions as a Patriot (seven in the regular season, and two in the playoffs), and all of them have gone for touchdowns. The Patriots have used this to their advantage over the years by employing Vrabel as a decoy in goal line situations.
Second Quarter: Bengals come to life
The Bengals went three-and-out, and were forced to punt as the second quarter began. After two miscues on their first pair of passing plays, New England decided to pass again on third down. Although the Patriots had 23 yards to go to make a first down, and conventional wisdom would be to run the ball to get as much yardage as possible before an inevitable punt from deep in their own territory, the Patriots tried to get the first. Brady under threw a crossing pattern over the deep middle to Wes Welker, which landed in the hands of Bengals rookie Leon Hall, who brought in his second career interception. The play was Brady's only mistake of the night, although it was a costly one at the time.
The Bengals showed renewed life after getting their best field position of the game at the Patriots' 35. Once again, Cincinnati ran the ball on their first three plays, with Kenny Watson gaining 13 yards on the three carries. Then, on second and eight, Palmer found Chad Johnson on a screen play for his first reception of the night. He broke an Ellis Hobbs' tackle to bring the ball all the way down to the 1. Cincinnati then made a great call on first down, opting to run a play-action pass to fool the defense as Palmer hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the score to make it a 10-7 game. The game was tight, and well within the Bengals' grasp, but it would not stay that way for long.
|Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson (85) pushes off against New England Patriots defender Ellis Hobbs in the second quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 1, 2007, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)|
The Patriots they used Sammy Morris to attack the Bengals linebackers by handing off on eight consecutive plays to start their next drive. Cincinnati defenders played deep to stop the big play down the field, but that left them vulnerable to the short runs that Morris was able to use to get New England to the Bengals' 7 from midfield. The Patriots scored on a Brady to Randy Moss touchdown strike to make it a 17-7 game with little over four minutes left in the first half. Moss' catch was a spectacular leaping grab over Jonathan Joseph's right shoulder as he twisted his body to land on his tiptoes inbounds.
The Bengals went no-huddle to attack the Patriots secondary. Palmer went 4/4 for 50 yards to get Cincinnati into the red zone at the two-minute warning. A communication breakdown between Palmer and Chad Johnson led to an Asante Samuel interception at the two yard line. As the teams made their way off the field, the cameras showed Palmer and Johnson in a heated discussion, likely stemming from the turnover.
Second Half: The Patriots Dial it up
At the start of the third quarter starting up, the Bengals were able to get to midfield on a couple of Palmer completions, but a holding penalty on first down killed the drive, forcing another punt which placed the Patriots at the 19 yard line. In terms of the return game, Welker was not nearly as productive as he had been so far this season, but his presence would be felt on the next drive.
On a third and short play, the Pats again dug into their bag of tricks, and suckered the Bengals into a reverse play, which featured Morris pitching the ball to Welker, who blazed down the left sideline, gaining 28 yards, and more importantly, keeping the drive and the clock going. After a Randy Moss reception, coupled with an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Bengals, the Pats ran the ball four straight times, highlighted by a seven-yard TD run by Sammy Morris, his third of the season, giving New England a 17-point lead.
Cincinnati appeared to collect itself on its second series of the half, driving all the way to the New England 22. However, they had to settle for three points when Tedy Bruschi made one of the better plays of the game. On the third down play Palmer looked to convert a quick screen pass for a first down, but Bruschi lept over a blocker to get his hand on the ball to deflect Palmer's pass. That lead to a Shayne Graham, 40-yard field goal, making the score 24-10 with little over four minutes to go in the quarter. Graham has the second highest career field goal percentage (84.21%) in NFL history (Mike Vanderjagt, 86.47%).
Fourth Quarter: Patriots seal the deal
|New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss (81) catches a touchdown pass against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall (29) in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 1, 2007, in Cincinnati. Moss caught nine passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots 34-13 win. (AP Photo/David Kohl)|
The Patriots' next drive took the game into the fourth quarter, as Brady hooked up with Moss on three occasions, and got the ball down to the Cincinnati, but a failed third down rushing attempt by Morris, which resulted in a five yard loss, forced the Patriots to kick a field goal. Gostkowski, hit his second field goal of the game, returning the Pats' lead back to 17.
The final effort by Cincinnati came at the beginning stages of the fourth quarter. Down by three scores, the Bengals had to rely on their passing game the entire series. While the game certainly wasn't over, it was clear that Cincy was going to need a quick score to at least keep the game within reach. However, their drive stalled out at the New England 30, despite a fourth down conversion on the previous set of downs. Graham again came on and connected on a 48-yard field goal, making it a 14-point deficit again.
The Patriots knew that they had the clock on their side, and given how well the running game worked through the first three quarters, it was assumed that they would simply attempt to run the clock out. Bill Belichick opted instead to keep Cincinnati on their heels by allowing Brady to throw. Brady completed passes to Moss and Stallworth for 20 and 23 yards respectively. Three straight Morris runs burned some time off the clock and got them in the red zone. After a Cincinnati timeout, Brady again found Moss in the end zone to give the Patriots a 34-13 lead, which would ultimately be the final thanks to a Randall Gay interception on the last Bengals drive of the game.
History In The Making
Much history was made in Monday night's game for the Patriots. Randy Moss had his fourth 100-yard receiving game, which extends his record for most consecutive times a receiver has hit the century mark with his new team. Also, with his two touchdowns, Moss becomes the first Patriot since Ben Coates in 1993-94 to catch two TDs in three consecutive games. He is #1 in the league with his seven TDs on the season.
Tom Brady continues to be the gold-standard for quarterbacks this year. With his 25-for-32 (78.1%) performance, Brady tied an NFL record by completing at least 75% of his passes in four consecutive games while attempting at least 25 passes. If Brady is able to throw for at least three TDs in the next game against Cleveland, he will tie an all-time record, held currently by Steve Young, with three or more TDs in five consecutive games.
The Patriots not only have the record for most 20+ point wins in post-merger history, but also have scored in every quarter played this year, and 35 consecutive dating back to the playoffs and regular season of last year.
Welcoming An Old Friend
The Pats return home to face the Browns, who are coming off an impressive victory of their own, beating Baltimore at home 27-13. This will mark the first time Romeo Crennel has faced Bill Belichick as a head coach. Crennel was the defensive coordinator for the Pats from 2001-2004 before taking the Cleveland head coaching job.
The Patriots have shown one incredible balancing act for their offense and defense. The offense (431.8 ypg) is currently only behind the Cowboys (440.8 ypg) for the most total yards per game, and ranks fifth in passing (274.8 ypg) and fourth in rushing (157.0 ypg). The defense holds the top spot in total yards (226.0 ypg), while having the fourth best pass defense (156.2 ypg) and third best run defense (69.8 ypg).
With this team continuing their electric start, it's important not to look ahead to the potential "game of the year" matchup with Dallas in two weeks. As proven before, this is a team that likes to talk about just the next game, and shakes off questions about future opponents. While Cleveland may not be impressive on paper, they still have a chance to win. This is the NFL, and any given Sunday, on any given week, one team can beat another. So while people cannot wait to see the game at Texas Stadium, the focus needs to stay on the Browns. Once that game is over, then the Cowboy talk can begin.
For right now, it's back to Foxboro to play the Browns next Sunday.
Rich Lyons is a Boston fan and USC Gamecock graduate. You can read more of Rich's material on Sports Central or on his personal sports blog "Mell-o's Thoughts."
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