The 2007 Patriots unleashed an assault on the NFL that garnered them recognition as the undisputed greatest offensive team of all time. They scored a record 589 points, Tom Brady threw a record 50 touchdown passes, Randy Moss had a record 23 TD receptions, they won their games by an average of 19.7 points, and they became the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season.
And their reign in the NFL offensive record book may last all of six seasons.
That’s because through four games, Peyton Manning and the Broncos are obliterating opponents, lighting up scoreboards and making NFL observers say, “The New England who?” The Broncos aren’t just 4-0 — they’re unquestionably the greatest 4-0 team in NFL history.
Brady and the 2007 Patriots scored 148 points in their first four games, as Brady threw for 13 touchdowns. The Broncos have 179 points — on pace for an absurd 716 — while Manning has thrown for 16 touchdowns.
The 2007 Patriots did have one especially dominant stretch during Weeks 7-11 in which they scored 181 points over a four-game stretch, but Manning and the Broncos are outpacing them in nearly every statistic.
“Well, it’s been incredible,” Brady himself said last week on Westwood One Radio. “They make it look so easy, and as we all know, there’s not an easy game in the NFL. But the way they’re performing is exceptional. It’s a credit to the players and the coaches and you can’t get off to a better start than what they’ve done offensively and certainly what Peyton’s done. But he’s done that for his entire career. Nothing really surprises me with him and his performances.”
Of course, the season is only a quarter old. And the Broncos haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of defenses — the Giants and Eagles are the worst in the league in points and yards allowed, and the Broncos’ four opponents (including the Ravens and Raiders) are a combined 4-12.
But Manning’s performance has been jaw-dropping, the Broncos are winning by an average of 20 points, and a “16-0 watch” has begun, with the Broncos set to face more soft defenses in coming weeks.
“I think the Broncos can do it,” CBS studio analyst Boomer Esiason said. “They go to Dallas this week, then Jacksonville, at Indianapolis will be interesting, then Washington and San Diego. They’re going to continue to put up major numbers, and they should not lose any of these games.”
One team that has a chance to ruin the Broncos’ perfect season: the Patriots, who host the Broncos in Week 12.
“I’m praying that when these two teams face off on [Nov.] 24th there aren’t that many significant injuries,” Esiason added. “And I can’t wait to see how Bill Belichick is going to try to defend what Peyton Manning’s doing right now.”
How do this year’s Broncos measure up against the mighty 2007 Patriots? We already mentioned how the Broncos are outscoring the Patriots, 44.75 points per game compared with 36.8 (for context, the Buccaneers and Jaguars haven’t scored 44 points all season).
Brady threw for 50 touchdowns, 4,806 yards (300.4 per game), and completed 68.9 percent of his passes. It’s still early, but Manning is on pace for 64 TD passes (with zero interceptions), 5,880 passing yards (367.5 per game), and is completing 75 percent of his passes. He also is averaging 9.4 yards per attempt (compared with 8.3 for Brady).
Brady had eight 300-yard passing games and zero 400-yard games, while Manning already has three 300-yard games and one 445-yard performance.
Manning is on pace to break Brady’s touchdown record, Drew Brees’s records for passing yards (5,476) and completion percentage (71.2), and Brady’s mark for fewest interceptions (4), and tie Brees’s mark for completions (468).
The Broncos are even running the ball better than the 2007 Patriots, averaging 119.3 yards per game compared with 115.6.
“It’s fantastic. They’re playing offensive football maybe as well as it’s ever been played,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, whose team hosts the Broncos Sunday. “As well as Peyton Manning has played for 15 years, at about the highest level you can play, I think he’s probably playing the best football he’s ever played over the first four games of the season. It’s remarkable to me.”
Don’t expect the fireworks to fizzle out Sunday, either. Manning is facing a Dallas defense coordinated by Monte Kiffin, who ran the Tampa-2 scheme for years with the Buccaneers — the same scheme Tony Dungy brought to the Colts, which Manning faced in practice every day.
“I’ve been studying the guy a long time — the guy is better now than he ever was,” Kiffin said. “There’s no look you can give him that he doesn’t know, not a guy that studies the game that hard.”
The common denominator between this year’s Broncos and the 2007 Patriots, of course, is receiver Wes Welker. He had 112 catches for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns with the 2007 Patriots, and is on pace for 104 catches, 1,064 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
But Welker was part of a two-man show in 2007 — he and Moss (1,493 yards, 23 touchdowns) were the only Patriots receivers with more than 50 catches or more than 700 receiving yards. This year’s Broncos have three players on pace for at least 96 catches and 1,000 yards (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Welker) and tight end Julius Thomas is on pace for 72 catches, 948 yards, and 16 touchdowns.
“I don’t know that I see a weakness anywhere,” Esiason said. “What Peyton is doing right now and with the players he’s doing it with and how he’s making it look so easy, I’ve never seen anything like it. The closest thing to it would be the Patriots of 2007.”
The Broncos still have two games each against difficult division opponents Kansas City (4-0) and San Diego (2-2), an interesting matchup against the Colts in two weeks (Manning’s return to Indy), and showdowns with the Patriots in late November and Houston in Week 16.
“It’s only the first quarter of the season,” cautioned former Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest, an analyst with the NFL Network. “Things can change. The NFL is funny at times.”
But the Broncos are also about to get star linebacker Von Miller back from a six-game suspension in a couple of weeks, and cornerback Champ Bailey from injury.
And the Patriots could have some company in the 16-0 crowd a lot sooner than anyone imagined.
“I admire it more so than anything,” Brady said. “I have so much respect for him and what he does. And obviously the guys he’s playing with are all on the same page, and that’s the only way that you can perform at such a high level.
“They’re going to be tough to beat. Any team that takes on the Broncos is going to need to play a great game and we’ve got them later in the year. We’ll see where we’re at at that point, but it’s been pretty impressive to watch thus far.”
cannot be quantified
Tom Brady, meanwhile, is off to a bit of a bumpy start. His 58.9 completion percentage would be a career low. He’s on pace for 28 touchdown passes, which would mark just the second time since 2006 that he would fail to crack 30. The Patriots’ offense is 21st in the NFL in scoring (22.2 points per game) and 30th inside the red zone (touchdowns on 37.5 percent of opportunities).
And yet for one observer, Brady’s performance through four games is right up there with Manning’s.
“What’s more impressive, what Peyton Manning’s doing or what Tom Brady’s doing? Because that’s my question that I’ve been asking every week,” said Boomer Esiason, the former Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback and a host for Sirius XM radio.
Manning is succeeding with an all-star cast around him (at least at the skill positions). Brady, meanwhile, has gotten the Patriots to 4-0 with a couple of rookies (Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson) and a punt returner (Julian Edelman) at receiver, and a couple of special teams types at tight end (Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan).
Brady’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but getting the “JV Patriots” to 4-0 might be one of his more impressive career accomplishments.
“I don’t want to say I’m amazed, because that’s too strong of a word, but it’s what I expect,” Esiason said. “You have one of the greatest quarterbacks that ever played, playing with young guys who have no idea what they’re doing out there, and he has to react to that and coach them on the field. And to have the success that he’s had, it’s really nothing short of what I would have expected.”
Team success is not
familiar to Collins
The Patriots will say to a man that their 4-0 record is nice, but they haven’t accomplished anything yet and still have a long way to go as a team.
All of that is certainly true. But at least one Patriot appreciates being undefeated, because he’s been on the ugly other side.
Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, the Patriots’ second-round pick, played for a Southern Mississippi team that went 0-12 last year, losing by an average score of 38-20. Prior to the Patriots’ Week 1 win at Buffalo, the last victory Collins had participated in was on Christmas Eve 2011, a 24-17 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.
“Of course, nobody wants to lose,” said Collins. “It feels way better. I was ready to get the bad taste out of my mouth, and here I am.”
Collins, taken 52d overall, had a dominant senior year despite his team’s woes, compiling 92 tackles (20 for loss) with 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. He said playing on a winless team may have even improved his stock in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators — he still played hard when it would have been easy to give up.
“For me, it wasn’t hard. I still had things to look forward to, and I wasn’t the kind of guy that was going to quit,” Collins said. “I wanted something positive to come out of the 0-12, so I did what I had to do.”
They’ve been money
through first quarter
ProFootballFocus.com analyzes every snap from every game, and came up with some interesting Patriots-related observations a quarter into the season:
■ Left tackle Nate Solder, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety Devin McCourty made the website’s first quarter All-Pro team. McCourty is one of three safeties in the league that has not missed a tackle. “There wasn’t a more consistent defender last season than Devin McCourty and he has started this season in the same vein with not a single negative game grade in run defense or coverage,” the website wrote.
■ Vince Wilfork is the star of the defense, but Tommy Kelly’s “run stop percentage” of 10.3 is nearly double that of Wilfork (5.7 percent).
■ Ryan Wendell is ranked 27th among 28 centers in pass blocking efficiency, Rob Ninkovich is fifth among 4-3 defensive ends in run stop percentage, and Talib has allowed one reception per 28.7 snaps in coverage, the best mark among NFL cornerbacks.
Patriots fans and media have argued endlessly about whether the team made the right decision to let Wes Welker leave this offseason and replace him with Danny Amendola.
One roster decision that hasn’t received nearly as much debate, but maybe should, is the Patriots’ decision not to re-sign Danny Woodhead, who bolted for the Chargers for a modest two-year, $3.5 million deal with $1 million guaranteed.
Woodhead, who scored 14 touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots, was a critical part of the Chargers’ comeback win over the Cowboys last week, gaining 86 total yards and catching two touchdown passes. For the season he has 90 rushing yards (4.7 average) and 22 catches for 162 yards.
“Danny’s funny because in a lot of ways he looks like a wide receiver the way he runs routes and the way he catches the ball,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “But he’s a heck of a running back, as you see. I know a lot of you heard me say how excited I was about him all offseason. He’s been everything I certainly expected and hoped for these first four weeks of the season.”
The Buccaneers did everyone a favor and finally released quarterback Josh Freeman on Thursday, a little more than a week after removing him from the starting job. The Bucs were unable to trade Freeman because of his onerous salary — the team paid the balance of Freeman’s 2013 salary, more than $6 million, just to make him go away — but suddenly Freeman could have a lot of suitors.
The Browns reportedly aren’t interested in adding him after Brian Hoyer tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Thursday night’s win over the Bills, but Freeman might not be out of work for long. A four-year starter and the Bucs’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (80), Freeman could be an attractive option for a team that loses its starter to injury or wants to bolster its depth chart.
And Freeman will be fairly cost-effective. As a fifth-year veteran, his minimum salary as defined by the collective bargaining agreement is $715,000, which prorated over the final 12 weeks equals $504,705.
Freeman likely won’t command much more than the league minimum for the rest of this year. But top-end backup quarterbacks still fetch $4 million-$5 million in free agency, and Freeman, still only 25, should have some suitors next spring.
Starting 1-3 isn’t ideal, but since 1990, 23 teams have reached the playoffs after starting 1-3, last accomplished by the 2011 Broncos. The 2001 Patriots won the Super Bowl after starting 1-3 . . . With three touchdown passes on Sunday, Matthew Stafford can join an impressive list of quarterbacks who have thrown 90 in their first six seasons: Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, and Carson Palmer . . . With a win on Sunday, Bill Belichick will surpass Chuck Noll for fourth all time in NFL coaching victories. Both have 209 . . . Tom Brady has 341 career touchdown passes, one behind Fran Tarkenton for fourth most in NFL history.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.