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."
"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."
"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."
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.