Perfect storm brewing for Brady, Patriots' offense
With Tom Brady carving up opposing secondaries with surgical precision, New England kept its perfect season intact by throttling the winless Dolphins.
MIAMI -- With his powerhouse team up by 28 points and cruising to a seventh straight win, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemingly invoked his own mercy rule against the Miami Dolphins, replacing quarterback Tom Brady with backup Matt Cassel four minutes into the fourth quarter.
On his third snap, Cassel, throwing into the left flat, was picked off by Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, who returned the interception 36 yards for a touchdown to cut New England's lead to 42-21.
Back into the game came Brady -- and back down the field promptly went the Patriots, with the quarterback culminating a four-play, 59-yard possession with his sixth TD pass of the afternoon, a 16-yarder to slot receiver Wes Welker.
So, a little bit of overkill, hustling Brady back onto the field with a lead that still appeared insurmountable -- especially against the most hapless Miami team in recent memory?
"One more turnover and it's a 14-point game in the middle of the fourth quarter," explained a terse Belichick, who bristled at even the slightest suggestion that the high-scoring Patriots might have gone out of their way to pour it on against their longtime division rival in a 49-28 beatdown. "I was at the game. ... Don't tell me about leads in this league."
As far as fretting over dwindling leads, though, the league's best coach might not have many occasions this season to become familiar with the notion of being in a tight game. Not if the New England offense, with Brady uncannily distributing the ball like a basketball point guard and carving up opposing secondaries with surgical precision, continues to play at the remarkable level sustained through the first seven games.
New England is one point shy of averaging 40 points per game and is on pace to score 638 points, which would shatter the league record -- currently held by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556) -- by nearly 15 percent. The league record for touchdowns in a season, 70, is held by the 1984 Dolphins, and the Patriots are on pace to score 82.
They did what they wanted to, when they wanted to do it, and how they wanted to do it.
--Miami LB Zach Thomas on the Patriots offense
And then, of course, there is Brady. With 27 TD passes in seven games -- 11 in the last eight quarters -- he's on pace for 62, which would break Peyton Manning's single-season mark by 13, or nearly one more touchdown pass per game.
Yet, in his postgame interview, Belichick termed his quarterback's performance, which included five TD passes and 291 yards in the first half, "pretty good."
The Patriots' remaining opponents had better hope Brady doesn't ever go beyond Belichick's downplayed definition of a superlative.
"Some guys might have like, what, a career game?" noted New England wide receiver Donte' Stallworth when asked about Brady's otherworldly exploits. "Tom, he had like what would be considered an entire career by some guys, in what was less than a game. For one half, it was unreal, man. He started hot and he stayed hot the whole time."
Indeed, with Brady completing 21 passes in 25 attempts for 354 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions against an embarrassingly overmatched Miami secondary -- especially at the safety position -- the New England quarterback registered a perfect 158.3 efficiency rating.
And, fittingly, this Patriots' offense appears to have become the football personification of the perfect storm: an astonishingly accurate quarterback (73.8 percent completion rate, 137.9 efficiency mark, at least three touchdown passes in every game and a quarterback rating of 100-plus in every outing); a big-play arsenal of wide receivers led by Randy Moss (44 catches for 732 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Welker (47 catches for 524 yards); and a head coach seemingly motivated by the spy video camera incident earlier this season.
The Pats, who host Washington next Sunday before their much-hyped game at Indianapolis on Nov. 4, have scored on the opening possession of every contest. Excluding "kneel-down" series at the end of halves or games, New England has now scored on 42 of 70 possessions for the season. And the Pats have been blanked in just two of 28 quarters -- the third quarter of their Oct. 7 game against Cleveland and the third quarter here Sunday.
Holding the Pats scoreless for one period, however, was of little consolation to a Miami team that fell to 0-7 for the first time in franchise history, and which has what Taylor said were "a lot of issues," although he declined to elaborate.
The Pats' 42 first-half points Sunday were the most in team history. And the 49 total points were the most surrendered by Miami since a 51-45 overtime win against the New York Jets in 1986. It was the most ever allowed by the Dolphins in a home contest.
"Let's face it," Dolphins 12th-year middle linebacker Zach Thomas said, "they did what they wanted to, when they wanted to do it, and how they wanted to do it. I mean, they've been a great team, and [Brady] has been a great quarterback for a long time. But now they've taken it to an even higher level. I mean, what comes after 'awesome,' you know? They're going to be really hard to beat. Really hard."
As far as going 16-0 to finish what would definitely be a perfect storm type of season, it was notable that Don Shula was in attendance Sunday for the first time this season. One has to wonder what was more unsettling to the former Miami head coach -- watching the dismantling of a Dolphins team that has too few playmakers and too much age on the defensive side, or the specter of the Patriots possibly joining his 1972 Dolphins as producers of an unbeaten season.
Of course, in a New England locker room where even the youngest players have taken on Belichick's persona in never taking pleasure in even the most dominating performance, no one dared acknowledge the possibility of 16-0.
"To see us making big plays like that, if you're a lineman, you can't help but be excited," left offensive tackle Matt Light said. "But, nah, it's not perfect.
"At least not yet."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.