FOXBOROUGH — The 16-0 banner might be gone, but a franchise familiar with coming close to perfection authored another spirited bid on Sunday.
Nine straight times the Patriots sent their offense onto the field, and nine straight times they produced points. Six touchdowns and three field goals made for a successful, stress-free day at the office for everyone but Ryan Allen, but he’ll be given a free pass. Technically, he’ll receive a grade of incomplete, because Allen’s punting services were never required, so dominant were the Patriots against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
The ninth consecutive score — a 1-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount, his third of the game — gave the Patriots 51 points, the total they would finish with in a 51-17 victory, their third straight to start the season. After getting the ball back with barely a minute left following a late Jaguars touchdown, the Patriots chose to send in backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who took two snaps, two knees, and ended the game. The only time the Patriots failed to score was the one time they weren’t trying.
Perhaps perfection was reached, then. All 10 times the Patriots had the ball, the goal was met. Points the first nine, then the victory formation.
The Patriots couldn’t have scripted a better Sunday. The weather made for ideal tailgate conditions, the Jaguars offered little resistance, and the Patriots rolled into their bye week with their most lopsided victory of the young season.
“We came out, worked hard all week, and executed perfectly on offense,” said running back Dion Lewis, who had 37 rushing yards and 30 receiving yards, and scored the game’s first touchdown on an 8-yard run. “We still have some things we’ve got to go over and try to work on, but we’re off to a good start.”
Team success drives the bus here, but the Patriots earned a pair of individual milestones on Sunday in beating the undermanned Jaguars (1-2). Tom Brady became the fourth player in NFL history with 400 touchdown passes, and Stephen Gostkowski now holds the league record for most consecutive extra points made. Going 6 for 6 has Gostkowski at 425.
Brady joined Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks in the 400 Club when he connected with Danny Amendola on a 1-yard scoring pass with 18 seconds left in the first half. It helped push the Patriots’ lead to 20-3, and was one of two touchdown passes on the day for Brady, who completed 33 of 42 passes for 358 yards. For the third straight game, he did not throw an interception.
Neither Brady nor Gostkowski was interested in discussing their milestone. But Bill Belichick took a minute at the end of his postgame news conference to offer his praise.
“That takes a lot of games, a lot of snaps to do that, and it’s certainly a tribute to both of them, the durability, longevity, and obviously consistent production that both of them have had,” Belichick said. “I feel really fortunate to have coached and had guys like that on our team, and those two guys in particular, they had a good day, as they’ve had for many, many days in their career.”
The offense piled up 35 first downs, matching the franchise record, established previously in a 31-21 win over Denver in 2012. The only times the Patriots failed to convert on third down (they went 11 for 14), the Patriots were close enough to kick a field goal, and Gostkowski was true from 46, 20, and 46 yards. He’s 7 for 7 on field goals this season, and 14 for 14 on extra points.
A shaky fourth quarter in the previous game at Buffalo (the Patriots’ 24-point lead was whittled to 5) put the practice emphasis all week on playing hard for 60 minutes. For the most part, the Patriots met the challenge; they had 471 yards of offense, and held Jacksonville to 293 yards, with 80 of those coming on the Jaguars’ final drive. By then the Patriots owned a 51-10 lead, giving reserves an opportunity to get game snaps, and starters a chance to watch from the sideline, health intact.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski barely played over the final 21 minutes but still went past the 100-yard receiving mark, catching four passes for 101 yards. Counting the playoffs last season, Gronkowski had scored at least one touchdown in eight straight games, a streak that ended Sunday. He almost caught Brady’s 400th touchdown pass on the Patriots’ first possession, but couldn’t pull in a first-down pass, then had a pass in the end zone tipped away by Davon House in the second quarter. It was an unusually light work load for Gronkowski; over the final five times the Patriots had the ball, he took the field for only four offensive snaps, all coming in short-yardage running situations when Blount scored his second and third touchdowns of the game, with three tight ends and lineman-turned-fullback Shaq Mason blocking.
Aside from cornerback Tarell Brown, the only Patriot who didn’t get much work was Allen, who didn’t punt in a game for the first time in his career. He certainly wasn’t complaining about the lack of repetitions.
“It never really works that way. This is kind of a once-in-a-blue-moon deal,” Allen said. “I’m ready when I get called upon, but if they never get stopped, obviously there’s no need to punt the ball.”
For the fifth time under Belichick, the Patriots are off to a 3-0 start, and this time they’ll have an extra week to savor it; the team has a bye in Week 4, and will next play on Oct. 11 at Dallas.
An offense averaging 39.6 points per game, and a defense that has five interceptions and 13 sacks this season will be forced to sit for a week.
That might not be the perfect scenario, with the Patriots firing on so many cylinders. But at 3-0, the record remains perfect. The quest continues.