Patriots Passing Game Starting to Take Flight

The New England Patriots have a formidable backfield tandem of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, but their passing game is starting to come around, making them all the more dangerous. See what the receivers and coach had to say about their progress.

The Patriots travel to Minnesota this Monday night to take on the surging Vikings. After losing to the Bills, Minnesota has rattled off two wins in a row, including an impressive 31-13 victory at Seattle last week. The Patriots are on a roll of their own, winning their last three contests by a combined score of 86 to 29.

The good news for New England is slowly but surely, its passing game is beginning to take flight. Last Sunday in Buffalo, Tom Brady threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns, while connecting with seven different receivers.

After six games, it appears Brady has more confidence in his new receivers, something he didn't have early in the season.

"That just shows the trust that he has in us," Reche Caldwell said after catching five passes in Buffalo. "That he can throw a ball up and we'll make a play and if not, we'll knock it down where they won't pick the ball off. He told Gabriel the touchdown pass was luck but he gave him a chance and he made a play on it."

Brady is giving more of his receivers a chance to make plays. Caldwell and Ben Watson each caught five passes against the Bills, while Doug Gabriel and rookie Chad Jackson were on the opposite end of the two Brady touchdown passes. Overall, Brady connected on a season-high 66 percent of his passes.

"With Tom, you know that if you are open, he's going to throw you the ball," Caldwell said. "He's going to hit the open receiver."

The Patriots still rank 22nd in the NFL in passing offense but Bill Belichick said he's beginning to see some improvement from Brady and his receivers.

"I think we're executing some things better in the passing game than we did a few weeks ago," Belichick said. "There is still a lot of room for growth but I think we're headed in the right direction. We've made progress."

That progress needs to continue this week against a Vikings defense ranked 18th in the NFL when it comes to defending the pass. Minnesota gives up a lot of underneath stuff trying to prevent the big play, so the short passing game the Patriots unveiled in Buffalo should serve them well again this week. Especially against a Vikings defense that gives up only 70 yards per game on the ground. Since the Patriots won't be able to just run the football on the Vikings front led by defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams, look for Brady to spread the ball around to different receivers on short routes over the middle.

"You need good distribution on a pass pattern," Belichick said. "You want the receivers spaced properly, depending on what type of coverage they're in and what the pattern is and how the pattern is designed. You want things spaced so the quarterback has a clear view of the coverage and where to go with the ball. How the defense covers the pattern, that's not in our control. We have to read that and get the ball to the guy that has the least coverage on him."

Gabriel has really started to come on in recent weeks. He and Jackson give the Patriots the big-play ability at receiver that the team lacked early in the year. Those two — along with the rest of the Patriots receivers — will need to continue their upward climb because with the Vikings, Colts, Jets and Bears coming up, these next five weeks will define the Patriots' season. It all starts this week in Minnesota, against one of the NFC's hottest teams. Belichick knows the challenges that lay ahead Monday night.

"We have a real strong test this week in Minnesota," he said. "The Vikings are a real good football team. They're very good on defense. They're good in all three phases of the game. They can run, and they have some good skill players. They're tough at home. We know we'll have a big challenge Monday night in Minneapolis. It's a team we don't know very well so we'll need a lot of work this week to get in tune and be prepared for them. At the same time, we're excited about the opportunity."


  • The Buffalo Bills run a Tampa 2 defense that keeps the safeties back to provide corners with help over the top on passing plays. This was good practice for the Patriots because the next two teams on their schedule — Minnesota and Indianapolis — play a similar style of defense.

    "I would say that they are generally in the same family," Bill Belichick said comparing the Bills style of defense to that of the Vikings and Colts. "Maybe cousins or second or third cousins. They're certainly not identical, but there are elements that will carry over in several of the next games."

  • As part of their planning for playing in the Metrodome, the Patriots are practicing inside the Dana Farber Fieldhouse on Wednesday so they can prepare for the deafening crowd noise that awaits them on Monday.

  • "I don't know how they lost to the Bears or Buffalo but I thought they were the better team in both of those games. They won four games and the two they've lost, I'm sure they think they should have won them." — Bill Belichick talking about the Vikings two close losses to the Bears and Bills this season.

  • The Patriots have won nine consecutive games played in domes dating back to 2001, and quarterback Tom Brady is 9-0 in domes over his career.

  • The Vikings have the NFL's top ranked rush defense, only giving up 70.8 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in rushing offense, but they know they're going to face a tough test Monday night.

    "They create a lot of negative plays in the running game," Belichick said. "One out of every five running plays against them go for negative yardage, so it's like taking a sack every five snaps."

  • The Vikings and Patriots have not met in Minnesota since Nov. 2 1997, a 23-18 Vikings victory. That marks the Patriots fourth-longest current away game drought. Since the last time the two teams met at Gillette Stadium in 2002, New England has played against 29 of the 31 other NFL teams. The other two teams on the list the Patriots haven't faced — Chicago and Green Bay — New England will face next month.

  • RB Laurence Maroney was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Maroney totaled 100 yards on two kickoff returns against the Bills, including a 74-yarder in the first quarter that set up a Patriots touchdown.

  • The Patriots announced the signing of rookie offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes to their practice squad. Barthelmes was with the Patriots in training camp.

  • DL Richard Seymour was present for Wednesday's workout, with his left elbow wrapped. After stretching, Seymour ran through a bag drill. He is listed as questionable for this week's game.

  • CB Antwain Spann, RB Kevin Faulk, G Stephen Neal and C/G Russ Hochstein missed the media-access portion of Wednesday's practice. Neal left Sunday's game in Buffalo after suffering an undisclosed injury. Faulk (ankle), Neal (shoulder), Hochstein (knee) are all listed as questionable, while Spann (shoulder) is probable.

  • Spann had a black jersey with his No. 31 in his locker, meaning he's been named practice player of the week.

  • TE Daniel Graham has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is questionable for Monday night.

  • DL Ty Warren (shoulder) is questionable for this week's game. Warren started last Sunday in Buffalo.

  • DB's Ellis Hobbs (wrist) and Eugene Wilson (hamstring) are questionable for Monday's game, although both players started last week against the Bills.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 156-64 — The margin by which the Patriots have outscored their opponents during their current 5-game road-winning streak.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think I'm probable. Day-to-day." — Bill Belichick when asked how he was feeling this week.

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