ARLINGTON, Texas — The Patriots were expected to blow out the Cowboys with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant sidelined with injuries, and that’s exactly what happened in Sunday’s 30-6 victory.
For the fourth game in a row, the Patriots took care of business, just as they should have. There’s no “any given Sunday” with the Patriots. The Patriots don’t have let-down games, and don’t let inferior opponents hang around. Their games play out exactly as expected.
Some other quick thoughts and analysis from Sunday’s win:
■ The Cowboys may have exposed the vulnerability in the Patriots’ offense in the first half, attacking the offensive tackles with speed rushers and making Tom Brady hold onto the ball with press-man coverage. Greg Hardy absolutely owned Nate Solder in the first half with two sacks, a forced fumble, and another quarterback hit, and Brady was sacked five times in total in the first half, throwing for just 110 yards.
It’s obvious, but this would have been a much closer game if the Cowboys had a competent quarterback. Not many teams have a great pass rush, big press-man cornerbacks, and a good/great quarterback, but the Patriots may end up facing one in the playoffs.
■ The Pats didn’t really need Rob Gronkowski, who caught five passes for 67 yards and was shadowed pretty well by rookie corner Byron Jones. Gronkowski’s best contribution may have been staying in to block on some passing plays in the second half and helping out with the speed rushers. Notice we didn’t hear Hardy’s name at all in the second half.
■ What an unbelievable find RB Dion Lewis has been for the Patriots. He caught eight more passes for 59 yards and a touchdown, and added 34 rushing yards on six carries. He continues to show an impressive ability to break tackles, and you won’t see a better touchdown than his 10-yard catch in the third quarter, which he caught the pass with one hand then ducked under and powered through four defenders.
■ Speaking of great finds, DE/LB Jabaal Sheard certainly qualifies. He had two more sacks on Sunday to bring his season total to four in four games, and he only adds to the versatility of the defense with his ability to drop into coverage.
■ This could end up being a costly game for the Patriots, injury-wise. LB Donta Hightower left with a rib injury, and Solder with an elbow injury. Good thing coach Bill Belichick has been constantly rotating his offensive linemen all year. Marcus Cannon wasn’t cold when he came in off the bench.
■ Great job by the Patriots’ run defense to swarm to the ball on run defense, limiting the Cowboys to 100 rushing yards when everyone in the building knew they were trying to establish the run. The Cowboys were totally inept with Brandon Weeden running the offense, and had 134 total yards through three quarters before tacking on some garbage yards in the fourth quarter. Devin McCourty played more cornerback and in-the-box safety in this game, doing a nice job shadowing Jason Witten, who only had four catches for 30 yards.
■ The referees are getting too happy with these offensive pass interference calls. Keshawn Martin definitely threw a blatant pick, but Julian Edelman should not have been called for one, as he clearly had incidental contact with the defender in the middle of the field. Edelman got his revenge with a 59-yard touchdown a few plays later.
■ A quarter of the season is over, and the Patriots are 4-0, winning games by an average of 18.3 points. Brady is at the top of his game, the offense is steamrolling opponents, and the defense has been better than expected, particularly the secondary, which was a major question mark following the offseason departure of Darrelle Revis.
Next up: On to Indianapolis. This one could be a bloodbath.