EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 21, 2008

Schizophrenic Pats resume roller-coaster run by smothering Denver

Schizophrenic Pats resume roller-coaster run by smothering Denver

On Pro Football

Hector Longo

FOXBORO — At some point this season, the New England Patriots will assume an identity. You hope.

Until then, schizophrenia equals playoff contender when it comes to Bill Belichick's boys, fresh off of last night's obliteration of a listless Denver Broncos outfit, 41-7.

There is no middle ground with these Matt Cassel-led Patriots.

They walked out of the same locker room, sporting the same uniform colors as the group that was humbled here by lowly Miami just 29 days ago.

This time, though, New England throttled Denver in a most thorough display. The Pats ripped the heart, if one actually existed, out of the Broncos early and dumped a quart of alcohol in the open wound by exacting 257 rushing yards from the lifeless Denver carcass.

"It's one game. We need to continue to move on," said corner Ellis Hobbs. "Statement games are every week. Developing your identity is every week."

Not with the Patriots so far.

As it stands, with the Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East at 5-1 and the Pats securely entrenched at 4-2, Belichick's mission over the next four to six weeks becomes harnessing this team's strengths, that is the things they've done well in Weeks 2, 4 and 6, while threshing away the wretched horrors of Weeks 3 and 5.

A domineering running game — see Sammy Morris' 16-carry, 138-yard performance in the first half last night — would seem to be the perfect jumping-off point.

Heck, neither Pats' personality, with 26 sacks surrendered in six games (five more than the entire 2007 season), why not line it up with both tight ends in the game and smack someone with Morris?

The last back to hit the hole with such combustability in this town was Corey Dillon in 2004. Morris and Co. weren't about to let dreary Denver hang around.

"We knew we could run on them, well we assumed we could," said Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, who spent the better part of the night pancaking defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. "We saw other teams do it. We feel like we can run it most nights, and we got it going.

"That's just the best. Run the ball, run the clock down, get in and out and go home."

Like no other weapon in football, now that the Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss dynamic has been shelved for at least a season, a devastating running game is the great equalizer in football.

Don't believe it? Look at Tennessee where journeyman Kerry Collins has the Titans at the top of the game, 6-0. The Titans pound people.

Belichick might enlist the power game to stabilize this wildly diverging football team. It could be the gridiron lithium for this club's split personality.

Home or road, indoor turf or outdoor slop, attack on the ground. Pummel people.

Easy, right? Well, not so fast.

Morris went down sometime near halftime with what the team termed a "knee" injury. He never returned.

With Laurence Maroney's injury-induced vacation extending the duration of the season and Lamont Jordan still not healthy, New England is now reliant on a free-agent rookie, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a pair of complementary types in Heath Evans and Kevin Faulk.

That group won't confuse many folks with Chris Johnson and Lendale White in Tennessee.

Regardless, New England enthusiastically got after it here in an important game, considering the standings, the schedule ahead and last week's dismal showing in San Diego.

Belichick gets high marks for, as Hobbs said, "cutting them loose."

"In four years that I've been here, I've never heard Bill say just cut it loose and have fun," added Hobbs. "Jumping around, slapping each other, making plays, that's a great feeling. That was the biggest thing, we had fun tonight."