FOXBOROUGH - Pity the poor scoreboard operator next Sunday at the RCA Dome. He might end up with carpal tunnel syndrome by the time the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts are done dueling on the carpet.
That might be the only thing that can stop the Patriots from pointing puts on the board. For the second straight week, New England turned an NFL game into a glorified scrimmage, decimating the Washington Redskins, 52-7, yesterday at Gillette Stadium in front of 68,756 fans who had nothing left to do but chant, "Let's go Red Sox," in the fourth quarter.
The Redskins were in the game about as long as Joe Gibbs shook Patriots coach Bill Belichick's hand afterward, a millisecond. The Patriots led, 24-0, at halftime and 52-0 in the fourth quarter before Washington mitigated the embarrassment with a meaningless Jason Campbell-to-Chris Cooley touchdown with three minutes left.
New England (8-0) rang up a franchise-record 34 first downs and collected 486 yards of offense. Quarterback Tom Brady (29 of 38 for 306 yards) threw three more touchdown passes to bring his season total to 30, a career high, besting the mark of 28 he set in 2002 and equaled in 2004.
The stat-padding irked the Redskins (4-3). Twice the Patriots went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter, the first time with a 38-0 lead and the second with a 45-0 lead. Both times they ended up tacking on touchdowns.
"What do you want us to do, kick a field goal? It's 38-0. It's fourth down. We're just out there playing," said coach Bill Belichick.
Actually, that's exactly what Washington defensive end Phillip Daniels wanted the Patriots to do.
"They could run the ball. That's what most teams do when they get ahead like that in the fourth quarter," said Daniels. "They run the ball to knock the time off the clock. It's better to kick the field goal. I would be satisfied more if you kicked the field goal rather than throw the ball or go for it on fourth down. You've already got a giant lead and you still want to go for it on fourth down, to me, that's running up the score, no matter how you look at it."
The Patriots aren't interested in winning friends, just football games.
"If the backup guys are in, I'm sure coach wants them to go out and execute and make sure we get the job done," said cornerback Asante Samuel. "I don't think he's intentionally running up the score, not at all."
Maybe, Belichick just thought the points against Washington carried over next week to the Colts game.
Last team with the ball might win the midseason Super Bowl in Indianapolis. The last three weeks the Patriots have scored, in order, 48, 49, and 52 points. The Colts will not have the most explosive offense on the RCA Dome turf next week.
Not this time. The Patriots are averaging 41.4 points per game.
Give New England credit, at least it came up with a few new creative ways to pummel its opponent yesterday. After throwing five and six touchdown passes, respectively, in the last two weeks, Brady recorded the first two-rushing touchdown game of his career. Mike Vrabel caught another touchdown pass, his 10th on 10 career receptions, including the playoffs, and came up with three strip sacks, the last of which Rosevelt Colvin returned 11 yards for a touchdown and a 38-0 third-quarter lead.
Brady, who extended his NFL record for consecutive games with three or more touchdown passes to start a season to eight, did just as much damage with his legs as his golden arm, rushing four times for 14 yards.
There were no nifty jukes like the one he put on Chicago's Brian Urlacher last year, but Brady made each of his runs count. The first was a 3-yard touchdown on New England's opening drive - his first rushing TD since Dec. 11, 2005, against Buffalo.
The second was a 7-yarder on third and 6 from the 50, extending a drive just before the half that ended in Brady pantomiming a spike and instead lofting the ball up in the end zone for Randy Moss (three catches for 47 yards), who came down with a 6-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the half.
"Yeah, I tried it last week and I screwed it up, so I had to redeem myself this week," said Brady. "If you just throw it up to Randy, he usually catches it."
The third run was a 2-yard sneak on the opening drive of the second half that gave the Patriots a 31-0 lead. The fourth was a 2-yard sneak on fourth and 1 in the fourth quarter that kept alive a drive that ended with Brady's third TD pass of the game, a 2-yarder to Wes Welker, who was rewarded for the pounding he took all day going over the middle in hauling in nine balls for 89 yards.
"That's so unexpected to see Tom out there running because he's so deadly in the pocket," said defensive end Richard Seymour, who made his season debut. "Especially having that group up front that's been doing an awesome job, I think they're probably the best coached group in football with Dante [Scarnecchia]."
The Patriots demoralized Washington with a defense that forced four turnovers. The three fumbles Vrabel forced all led to New England points.
"You put him anywhere and he'll just play," said Seymour. "He's out there like a coach on the field. He's as prepared as anybody I've been around."
It wasn't a coincidence that New England's performance came a few hours after the Colts had improved their record to 7-0 with a 31-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
"Well, obviously they're a great team," Belichick said of Indianapolis. "They've won 12 in a row. They've beat us three straight, so there's no better team in football than the Indianapolis Colts. It will be a huge challenge for us."
The Redskins would tend to disagree.