Thanks to Moss, Patriots could shatter points record
Randy Moss could be the deciding factor in the Patriots breaking the all-time season scoring record, Greg Garber writes.
That high-pitched cackle screeching in from the cellular satellite via Rome can only belong to Dennis Green.
Funny, but he doesn't sound like a nervous man.
The five highest-scoring NFL offenses since 1933:
1. 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 556 points: QB Randall Cunningham had 34 TD passes, 17 to rookie Randy Moss and 12 to Cris Carter in this Brian Billick-coordinated offense. Robert Smith (1,187 yards rushing) and a stout defense helped the Vikings to a 15-1 regular-season record before they lost in the NFC title game to Atlanta, 30-27, in overtime.
2. 1983 Washington Redskins, 541 points: QB Joe Theismann threw for 29 TDs, supported by WR Charlie Brown (78 catches, 1,225 yards, 8 TDs) and RB John Riggins (375 carries, 1,347 yards and 24 TDs). The Redskins won 14 of 16 regular-season games, but lost in Super Bowl XVIII, 38-9, to the Raiders.
3. 2000 St. Louis Rams, 540 points: One of the most explosive, well-balanced offenses ever, drawn up by Mike Martz and led by QB Kurt Warner. His targets: RB Marshall Faulk (1,359 rushing yards, 18 TDs; 81 catches, 830 yards, 8 TDs), and WRs Isaac Bruce (87 catches, 1,471 yards, 9 TDs) and Torry Holt (82 catches, 1,635 yards, 6 TDs). Rams went 10-6 and lost in the wild-card game.
4. 1999 St. Louis Rams, 526 points: The only team on this list to win a Super Bowl -- XXXIV, 23-16 over Tennessee. Same cast as above, coordinated by Mike Martz in Dick Vermeil's last year as head coach.
5. 2004 Indianapolis Colts, 522 points: QB Peyton Manning set the current league record with 49 TD passes -- 15 to Marvin Harrison, 12 to Reggie Wayne and 10 to Brandon Stokley. RB Edgerrin James added 334 carries, 1,548 yards and nine TDs. The Colts went 12-4, then lost to the Patriots, 20-3, in the divisional playoffs.
-- Greg Garber
"We're having a great time," Green said Tuesday. "We saw the Coliseum today, we're heading to the Vatican tomorrow, then fishing [for marlin] in the Mediterranean on Thursday."
And you thought he was busy taping the next Coors Light commercial.
Green, most recently the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2004 to '06, is visiting Italy for the first time with his wife Marie, but he also holds a lofty place in history. His 1998 Minnesota Vikings scored more points -- 556 -- than any NFL team ever. That record finds itself in jeopardy; the 6-0 New England Patriots are on pace to score a staggering 613 points.
"You look at New England right now, and the AFC East is not a strong division [Jets, Bills, Dolphins are a combined 2-15]," Green said. "Man, I think they're going to score a lot of points. They definitely have a chance."
People are already starting to wonder if the Patriots, who won three of four Super Bowls but fell short of the ultimate game the past two seasons, will run the table in the regular season, then win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years.
If they do, Randy Moss -- the link to these two high-octane offenses -- could be the deciding factor. Green, amid much controversy, made the well-traveled Marshall wide receiver the 21st overall choice in the 1998 draft.
"When Green Bay added Reggie White [in 1993], it was the final piece to the puzzle, one more ingredient that pushed them over the hump and won them a championship [in 1997]," Green said. "Randy Moss gives them that extra deep threat that could push them over the top this year."
The Patriots have scored at least 34 points in each game and are averaging 38.3 points per game, a field goal more than those 1998 Vikings. At this pace, they would score 77 touchdowns, seven more than the record of 70 set by the 1984 Miami Dolphins.
Likewise, quarterback Tom Brady is in position to break all kinds of records. He has thrown 21 touchdown passes, in contrast to only two interceptions, and has completed 72.5 percent of his passes. By maintaining his ludicrous numbers, Brady would break the all-time season records for touchdown passes (56, shattering Peyton Manning's 2004 total of 49), completion percentage and passer rating (128.9, ahead of Manning's 121.1).
The Patriots are far deeper.
"Yeah, that is fair to say," said Smith, now a college football analyst for ESPN. "For starters, I think they're in much better position at quarterback. Secondly, they have a lot more intermediate threats."
Think back to the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory, over the Rams, at the end of the 2001 season. Brady's running back was Antowain Smith and his leading receiver was Troy Brown. The winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri was set up by completed passes to Brown and little-used tight end Jermaine Wiggins and backup running back J.R. Redmond. In the next two Super Bowl wins, Brady's only high-caliber offensive weapon was wide receiver Deion Branch.
Contrast that with today's embarrassment of riches: Moss (40 catches, a league-high 610 yards and eight touchdowns), Wes Welker (38 for 386), Donte' Stallworth (19 for 316), tight end Benjamin Watson (18 catches, 222 yards and five touchdowns) and running backs Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, who are averaging better than 4.5 yards per carry. (Morris reportedly will miss a month because of a chest injury suffered in the 48-27 Week 6 win over Dallas.)
The Patriots, incredibly, acquired all but Maroney and Watson in the past offseason. Playing behind an excellent offensive line -- from left to right: Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur -- New England lines up in the spread offense and sees which two or three players opposing teams will honor with extra attention. Then, Brady goes to the other guys.
"It's part of the game plan," Brady told reporters after the Patriots thumped the Cowboys. "We do different things each week. Whatever you see in film that might work gets put into the game plan. I wish we would have hit a few of them."
He probably was referring to two home run balls to Moss that didn't connect. Still, with Moss drawing a lot of double coverage, Welker caught 11 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. After Moss cleared 100 yards in each of the first four games, Watson burned Cleveland for another 100-yard game, along with two touchdowns. Stallworth had seven catches for 136 yards and a touchdown at Dallas.
Despite those goofy numbers, the running game has been more than merely complementary. Hard as it is to believe, the Patriots have run the ball only two fewer times than they have passed (202 vs. 204) -- an exceptional balance similar to that found in all three Super Bowl seasons. When the talented Maroney sat out with a groin injury, Morris put together back-to-back 100-yard games against the Bengals and Browns.
New England's defense has a hand in this, too. The unit is ranked No. 2 in total yards allowed (256.7) and No. 1 in lowest percentage of third-down conversions allowed (30.6 percent). More stops give the offense more possessions.
"It's a symbiotic relationship where we feed off each other," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said after the Dallas game.
This was all achieved without end Richard Seymour, arguably the Patriots' best defensive player. More bad news for the rest of the league: Seymour may well return this week after a six-week stay on the physically unable to perform list following offseason knee surgery.
Smith, the old Viking, was asked if he was worried about losing the all-time scoring record to the Patriots.
"No," he said, laughing. "It doesn't make me nervous at all. Really, it's fun to watch.
"If they stay healthy. they should break the record. To tell you the truth, I'd be surprised if they don't."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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