IRVING, Texas -- All week, the New England Patriots insisted this was just another game. Well, it wasn't.
In a rare battle of 5-0 teams, the New England Patriots stomped the Dallas Cowboys as badly as everyone else they've faced this season, winning 48-27 Sunday behind a career-best five touchdown passes from Tom Brady.
Although the Patriots put up their most points in 23 years, the game wasn't as lopsided as the score indicates -- which is what makes this victory so impressive. They won by three touchdowns despite giving up their most points of the season and trailing in the second half for the first time all year.
"The reality is we got a win on the road and we're 6-0. That's what is important," Brady said. "Any time you win you're doing just fine. It's another step in the process. We have to continue to make improvements."
Brady was 31-of-46 for 388 yards. His five TDs tied a franchise record and gave him an NFL record with at least three in each of the first six games of the season. However, he was sacked as many times (three) as he'd been all season; on one, he lost a fumble that Dallas returned for a touchdown.
What made his performance special was the way he responded to that third-quarter deficit: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. The last score came with 19 seconds left, a 1-yard run by first-year running back Kyle Eckel that Brady celebrated with two huge fist pumps.
That's about all the celebrating this team is willing to do, especially when coach Bill Belichick comes away saying the Patriots "were lucky to hang in there."
"There will probably be a couple of lashes waiting for us," Randy Moss said. "I'm not saying we're unstoppable, we just work hard at what we do."
The Cowboys (5-1) were off to their best start since 1983 and were eager to see how they stacked up against the league's elite. Now they know they can compete, but still have a ways to go. The next 10 games will show whether that might be good enough in the NFC.
"Hopefully we'll see them down the road," said Terrell Owens, referring to a possible Super Bowl rematch. "We just have to regroup. There's no confidence lost in the locker room."
Dallas trailed 14-0 before gaining a first down. The defense provided the first touchdown, Jason Hatcher's 29-yard return of Brady's fumble, then Tony Romo threw a touchdown to T.O. just before halftime and another to Patrick Crayton early in the third quarter, putting the Cowboys up 24-21.
New England was trailing for the first time since the second quarter of Week 3 and had two starting offensive players in the locker room with injuries. But the Patriots still had Brady.
He answered with a 77-yard, 10-play drive for a go-ahead touchdown, then threw a long touchdown pass to Moss on his next snap. It was wiped out on replay, but New England still managed a field goal on that drive, a season-best 45-yarder by Stephen Gostkowski. Donte Stallworth broke things open on the next series with a 69-yard touchdown catch. Dallas wound up allowing its most points since Philadelphia scored 49 in November 2004.
"It's almost a blessing in disguise," cornerback Terence Newman said. "It's the sixth game of the season, not even halfway done yet. So that just gives us incentive to work that much harder."
Brady did much of his early damage on third downs, converting six of his first seven. Over the first three drives, he threw for 144 yards -- 116 on third downs. That included his first two TDs.
He now has an NFL-best 21 touchdown passes, putting him in position to challenge Peyton Manning's league record of 49.
"That's not what this team is about," Brady said. "Individual records are based on opportunities. What I get excited about is team records."
Wes Welker caught 11 passes for a career-high 124 yards and two touchdowns. Stallworth had seven catches for 136 yards. Moss turned six catches into 59 yards, his first a 6-yard touchdown, and Kyle Brady had the other TD grab.
Romo avoided the turnovers that nearly upended Dallas against Buffalo on Monday night, but was out of rallies. He was 18-of-29 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, with a late interception. He also came away with a big ice pack on his left, non-throwing, shoulder.
"I thought he managed the whole thing well," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "He wasn't impatient when they got out ahead. He kept playing and plodding along and making good decisions."
Owens caught six passes for 66 yards and Crayton had five catches for 46 yards. Marion Barber rushed for 47 yards, with several runs that helped bring alive the Cowboys in the second quarter. He also had a 2-yard gain in the third quarter that started at the Dallas 10 and nearly ended in a safety until he broke several tackles. He might have turned it into a touchdown if the last defender hadn't gotten him.
The Cowboys were hurt by their continuing trend of slow starts and by racking up 12 penalties, including one that wiped out a fourth-and-1 conversion on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Dallas was driving for a possible tying touchdown, but wound up punting - and never threatened again.
Notes: New England hadn't scored so many points since hanging 50 on Indianapolis in November 1984. ... Moss improved to 7-0 against the Cowboys, with six TDs in three games at Texas Stadium. ... The Pats are the first road team to win one of these matchups of teams 5-0 or better. Home teams had been 3-0-1.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.