PHILADELPHIA - The list of things the Patriots needed to accomplish in their second game was long. The most important, however, were 1) Getting their house in order, and 2) Winning, to eliminate the tidal wave of negativity that had followed a 31-0 opening-day loss to the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots got thumbs up on both yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field. They left the sour taste of the Lawyer Milloy fiasco where it belonged - in the past. They put aside all of the nastiness surrounding their team, including ESPN commentator Tom Jackson’s declaration that “[the Patriots] hate their coach.” And they smacked the injury-ravaged Eagles with a 31-10 shellacking that evened their record at 1-1 and dropped the Eagles, the winningest regular-season team of the previous three seasons, to 0-2.
The coaching staff had a good game plan on both sides of the ball. Special teams were solid. Tom Brady came back from a four-interception performance with gaudy numbers - 30 for 44 for 255 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Deion Branch (six catches for 89 yards) and rookie Bethel Johnson (two catches, including a 17-yarder) had productive games, and the red zone king, tight end Christian Fauria, caught two TD passes.
“We moved on,” said coach Bill Belichick. “I thought it was a normal week of preparation. There were some things we screwed up in practice, but that happens every week. I just thought we played better today.”
The Patriots’ defense kept superstar quarterback Donovan McNabb, who heard chants of “AJ! AJ!” in reference to popular backup A.J. Feeley, stunningly under wraps. The crowd booed its team for about 90 percent of the game, the only roar coming when David Akers booted a 57-yard field goal with 10:48 remaining.
New England’s defense dominated the Eagles’ offensive line even though middle linebacker Ted Johnson missed the game with a broken foot. Free agent linebacker Rosevelt Colvin left early in the second quarter with a left leg injury, and rookie Eugene Wilson, who got a surprise start at free safety, had the wind knocked out of him in the first quarter but returned in the second half. Branch also was in the trainers room after the game.
The Eagles committed six turnovers, two interceptions by McNabb, one of them returned 18 yards for a touchdown by Tedy Bruschi late in the game. McNabb was a woeful 18 for 46 for 186 yards. He was sacked seven times.
Bruschi, a defensive cocaptain, said he had “an emotional week” after comments he made in the wake of Milloy’s release. Yet he said, “I wasn’t going to compromise who I am just because we were 0-1. I practice hard and I play hard. You see some guys who need a little bit [of motivation] here and a little bit there and you provide that for them . . . You bounce back, you get back on track, say we’re going to get out of Philly 1-1. Put blinders on, that’s all you want to do, and we did it.”
The Eagles’ offense could do very little as Philadelphia went to the locker room trailing, 17-7.
“We did a good job of containing [McNabb],” said Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour. “We gave them different looks, lining up in a 4-3 and a 3-4. We did this to confuse them and a lot of guys stepped up and made plays.”
Philly mistake No. 1: In the second quarter, big Ted Washington sacked McNabb for a 5-yard loss and Roman Phifer recovered after Washington jarred the ball loose at the Eagles’ 35. Four plays later Brady found Fauria for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 7:59 remaining in the second quarter, making it 10-7.
The big play on the drive was a 27-yard swing pass to Kevin Faulk, who was sprung loose by a missile-like block by Matt Light on linebacker Nate Wayne.
“I was just happy I got there,” said Light. “Kevin made a great read on that and made a long gain. It just made all the difference for us to get out to an early lead. We were able to leave all of the emotional things behind.”
Mistake No. 2 was made by punt returner Brian Westbrook, who muffed Ken Walter’s punt with Bethel Johnson bearing down on him with 3:03 remaining in the second. Johnson recovered at the Eagles’ 14, and it took just two plays for Brady to find Fauria for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 2:09 remaining in the half.
“[Fauria] always gets open,” said Brady. “He’s reliable with his route running, as a receiver. He’s got great awareness. When he’s on the field he makes great plays.”
On the Patriots’ first possession of the third quarter, they had the ball at their 48, and four plays later, Brady had them in the end zone again. First Brady hit Bethel Johnson with a slant for 17 yards. Then he threw a nice touch pass for 26 yards on which Branch made a nice over-the-shoulder catch, and the touchdown made for a 24-7 lead with 7:02 left in the third.
It was a game both teams desperately needed. As the sun set at The Linc, the Patriots had picked up their dignity, which had been left at Ralph Wilson Stadium the week before.