FOXBOROUGH - After Randy Moss flipped the switch on his personal highlight reel, snaring a 45-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Tom Brady out of the air with ease, the rejuvenated receiver handed the ball to a young boy in the first row of seats.
It was fitting because through three games the Patriots are making football look like child’s play.
For the third straight week, New England - and Moss - toyed with the opposition, as the Patriots overwhelmed the undermanned Buffalo Bills, 38-7, yesterday at Gillette Stadium in front of 68,756 fans, who saw Moss (five catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns) become the first receiver in NFL history to record three straight 100-yard receiving games in his first three games with a new team.
The Patriots (3-0) now have scored 38 points in each game, while punting a grand total of four times, twice yesterday. Chris Hanson might as well be in the witness protection program.
“It’s fun because it makes it easier on us,” said defensive end Ty Warren. “All we have to do is worry about getting off the field and let those guys do what they got to do and let the general, Tom Brady, take care of it.”
General Brady was on the bench with 8:15 left in the fourth. He was 23 for 29 for 311 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He completed passes to eight receivers, led by Wes Welker, who had six catches for 69 yards. Brady’s quarterback rating of 150.9 was a career best and is approaching the number of magazines that want him on their cover.
The ground game led by Laurence Maroney (19 rushes for 103 yards) racked up 177 yards, as New England outgained Buffalo in total yards, 485 to 193.
But it was No. 81 who was the man amongst the callow Buffalo defenders. With the Patriots, Moss has looked nothing like the puerile pass catcher who didn’t practice in Oakland and instead has resembled the receiving prodigy that burst on the scene in Minnesota.
Moss gave the Patriots a 17-7 lead at the half, when he beat Buffalo cornerback Jabari Greer on a slant pattern for a 3-yard TD with 1:17 left before the half.
After Sammy Morris extended the lead to 31-7 with a 4-yard run with 3:26 left in the third period, Moss delivered a masterpiece that capped a 98-yard drive and left normally stoic Patriots coach Bill Belichick bemused.
On second and 1 from the Buffalo 45, Brady dropped back, pumped once, and released a rainbow down the right sideline for Moss, who was blanketed by Greer. In full stride, Moss reached out and plucked the ball with his right hand, then used the left for guidance.
Cue the “SportsCenter” theme.
“When Brady let it go it looked to me like it was going to be an incomplete pass,” said Belichick. “... When the ball left his hand the last thing I was thinking was, `This is going to be a touchdown.”’
Moss had another 45-yard reception in the third quarter that set up a Jabar Gaffney 4-yard TD catch and made Moss the 19th player in NFL history to haul in 11,000 yards worth of passes. He finished the game with 11,103 on the career toteboard.
“I’d guard him with a prayer. I’d say, `Lord please allow him not to catch the ball on me,”’ said Ellis Hobbs. “That’s it. I don’t know, man. He’s a great receiver. He goes out there day in and day out and works hard. He feeds off us and we feed off him. He wants to be around winners and we want to be around winners too.”
The Bills (0-3) are still looking for the elusive winning formula.
Buffalo lost the ball and its starting quarterback on the opening possession. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork fell into J.P. Losman, hitting him with his forearm in the left knee, after Losman completed a pass to Marshawn Lynch on the first play.
Wilfork was called for roughing the passer, but Hobbs really roughed up the hobbled Losman two plays later, forcing a fumble on a blindside corner blitz. Jarvis Green recovered the ball at the Buffalo 35, leading to Stephen Gostkowski’s 24-yard field goal.
Rookie Trent Edwards, the only other quarterback on the Buffalo roster, replaced Losman, who was diagnosed with a sprained left knee, on Buffalo’s next possession. (The Bills are one of 10 teams in the league that only carry two quarterbacks.)
Edwards, a third-round draft choice from Stanford, led the Bills to the end zone, as Buffalo took a 7-3 lead with 2:44 left in the first on an 8-yard touchdown run by Lynch, who was Edwards’s rival at Cal.
The Patriots were in a San Francisco Bay Area-like fog for most of the first half until Ben Watson, who had his third touchdown catch in as many games, put the Patriots back on top with 5:08 left in the half.
New England was in scoring position on each of its first three drives, but only ended up with 3 points. The Patriots were stopped a yard short on fourth and 7 from the Buffalo 29 and Brady lost a fumble on a sneak on first and goal from the 3. The Patriots challenged the fumble, but it was upheld.
“We started off fast and we kind of eased off thinking that they were just going to roll it out there for us,” said Hobbs. “Eventually and thankfully we woke up in the mid-second quarter and we got back on track.”