FOXBOROUGH — To see Tom Brady a week ago was to see a picture of frustration, his late-night lament in the bowels of Detroit’s Ford Field betraying the sour mood of a man whose inability to ignite the Patriots’ normally combustible offense weighed heavily on his 41-year-old shoulders. That his concern was rooted not just in failed execution but faulty effort as well left this locker room leader challenging his teammates to start walking where they’d only been talking.
Who can forget Brady late last Sunday night saying pointedly, “There’s been a lot of talk about it in practice, and we’re going through it and watching the film and correcting stuff, it’s just not getting done on the field.” If the toll of a second straight loss was enough to get his ire up, the repetition of the same warnings he’d sounded a week prior in Jacksonville only made things worse. That no one had appeared to heed him — “We’ve got to have more urgency to do things right more often over the course of practice, games, and a matter of going out and executing,” he’d said after the loss to the Jaguars — left Brady looking not just weary, but leery too, unsure what this rebuilt Patriots roster was truly made of.
So to see Brady in the aftermath of Sunday’s 38-7 blowout of the Dolphins, to see him bounce into a postgame interview session in the wake of a 274-yard, three-touchdown passing day that was part of a complete and balanced offensive attack, wasn’t simply an exercise in the sake of appearances. What Brady saw Sunday, what the rest of the football world saw Sunday, was a return to normalcy in New England, where everything that felt so wrong for the past two weeks had taken a right turn back into familiarity. For Brady, that normalcy was found in his team’s effort, in a sense of urgency that seemed to take hold from first light Monday morning.
“Obviously, you can talk about a lot, but it’s what you do. What you say is important, but what you do is more important,” he said. “And I think we’ve got to do more doing and less saying and just get the job done. We did a good job of that today. This [Dolphins] team was 3-0. They played well, and it was a big division game for us at home.”
For all the talk about football truly starting after Thanksgiving or standings don’t matter when bye weeks haven’t even begun rolling across the schedule, the week-to-week life in the NFL demands that you stop and assess where you stand after each game. Argue all you want otherwise, but after two straight ugly losses, already two games behind the visiting Dolphins, the Patriots were dangling on the edge of danger.
And now, for another week (at least a few more days until the Colts roll in on Thursday night) they aren’t. They stepped back from that edge in a huge way, reminding us all that Miami is a team the Patriots routinely beat in Foxborough, that Ryan Tannehill is a quarterback who routinely fades as stakes get higher, that the AFC East is a division that routinely fails to loosen the decades-old stranglehold the Patriots have on the standings.
There they were on defense pushing the Dolphins off the field on their first possession, an opening 22-yard strike from Tannehill to Kenny Stills representing one of the longest plays Miami would have all afternoon. There they were on offense immediately after, engineering a 74-yard drive that would stall at Miami’s 2-yard line, but at 6:37 long would set a time-of-possession tone starkly in contrast to a week ago, and would at least end up with points in the form of Stephen Gostkowski’s 20-yard field goal.
There they were in the second quarter racking up 21 more points, the first touchdown coming when Brady found a wide-open Cordarrelle Patterson down the left sideline and saw Patterson make one devilish move to his right and sail into the end zone, becoming the 70th NFL player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady and match a record held by Vinny Testaverde.
There they were on defense, watching Kyle Van Noy steal a fumble from Tannehill and hand it over to his offense at the Miami 22, and there they were one play later, watching James White sprint up the middle of the field for a 22-yard touchdown. And there they were one possession later, marching 85 yards across 5:31 to set Brady up for a 9-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett. Put it all together and there they were with a 24-0 halftime lead, on the way to a no-doubt win with four different touchdown scorers (rookie Sony Michel added a fourth-quarter TD run), 449 yards of offense (to Miami’s 172), 75 offensive plays (to Miami’s 45), and a 26-11 first-down advantage made even more attractive by its 10-rushing, 13-passing breakdown.
So here they are, back in familiar territory, drawing high enough praise from their coach that you knew all those protestations of too-early-to-worry-about-us were hiding some actual concern.
“The credit goes to the players,” Bill Belichick said. “We’ve got great leadership on our team. Everyone stepped up in all the different phases. They went out there and made the plays. They did it on the field today.
“They deserved the win because of the way they performed. I’m fortunate we have players like that, who were able to take that challenge and respond the way they did on the practice field and put it out on the field on Sunday. It’s a group of hard-working, tough guys and they showed it today.”
“No panic,” veteran safety Devin McCourty said. “Tom just said as he was going into the shower, ‘It’s a great feeling to be 2-2.’ You don’t come in expecting or wanting to be 2-2 to start the season, but I thought the way we just battled the whole week, guys coming out, Bill talked about practicing harder, flying around, guys not feeling sorry for themselves. I thought we did that and I thought that led us to coming out here and playing well.”
Otherwise known around here as back to normal.