The question of the day was how could a depleted New England secondary possibly stop one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL? The answer was young guys stepping up, creative coaching and, oh yeah, scoring 40 points themselves.
Earthwind Moreland, Randall Gay, Dexter Reid -- and Troy Brown -- were some of the names stepping up on defense. Brown had a pass defensed a few tackles and even a touchdown when time allowed him to play some offense. Even Mike Vrabel had a touchdown, showing the New England coaching staff will do anything, use anyone, it has to to win. And they did it by the score of 40-22.
"I'm really proud of our football team," head coach Bill Belichick said. "I thought that those guys did a tremendous job today. It's really hard to come in here and win. There are so many guys who stepped up and made big plays and came through for us. It's probably as complete a team victory as I've ever been around. Those players really stepped up and played like we know they can play today."
Tom Brady was 18 of 31 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. David Givens had another 100-yard receiving day and Corey Dillon had 112 yards on 25 carries and a score.
For the Rams, Marc Bulger was 23 of 33 for 285 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Corey Dillon and Tom Brady did most of the work on New England's first score, a 42-yard field goal by Vinatieri. Dillon was good for 17 yards rushing and Brady had a beautiful spinning escape from Rams would-be sackers, finding Patrick Pass for 23 yards.
After holding the Rams on third down with Troy Brown in at cornerback during St. Louis' first series of the game, the Patriots went three and out but got a huge break when Shaun McDonald muffed Josh Miller's punt. Lonie Paxton recovered for New England on the Rams 28.
Asante Samuel had left the game during the previous series with an arm injury.
After an 18-yard gain to Brown, New England could get no further than the Rams 10 and settled for a 31-yard field goal after Brady was sacked for a 3-yard loss by Ty Jackson.
That made the score 6-0.
With Samuel out, Earthwind Moreland, just activated from the practice squad, was forced into action at cornerback opposite Randall Gay. Dexter Reid was getting serious minutes at safety and Brown was coming in to cover slot receivers on passing downs. Despite the obvious inexperience manning key defensive positions for New England, the first quarter ended with Jarvis Green sacking Marc Bulger for a 4-yard loss on third and 13.
After Kevin Faulk fair caught the subsequent punt on the 6-yard line, Brady dropped back to pass on first down and was strip sacked by Damione Lewis. Leonard Little fell on the ball in the end zone and just like that, the Rams were on the board and ahead, 7-6.
Brady then engineered a nice drive that ended with a Vrabel touchdown catch from 2-yards out. The linebacker/tight end made a nice play on a little rainbow that Brady put in the left back corner of the end zone. Vrabel managed to keep a knee in bounds and the Patriots had its 6-point lead back at 13-7. On the drive, Brady converted a third and 10 with a 12-yard pass to Faulk and Dillon had 31 yards on the ground.
"We run those plays in practice and he always comes back and tells us he's open," Belichick said. "He had to get his feet down and make a nice catch there on the sideline. Tom [Brady] made a great throw and that was a big-time catch."
St. Louis bounced right back with a touchdown drive of its own capped by an 11-yard Bulger to Isaac Bruce score. The big play came on second and nine from the Rams 41 when Brandon Manumaleuna broke free from his tight end spot down the middle of the field. By the time Rodney Harrison tracked him down, it was a 48-yard pick up to the Patriots 11.
A 50-yard bomb to David Givens set up the next Patriots score, a 45-yard field goal by Vinatieri. The Patriots began the drive on its own 22 after a false start penalty. The Givens catch came on first down and essentially made up the entire drive.
The Rams took over as the first half approached the two-minute warning and began to pick up chunks of yards with passes to Tory Holt for 15 and 22 yards.
After Bulger tried a little trickery by pretending to walk towards the sideline while the direct snap went to Faulk for only a gain of 4, the Rams were facing a third and 11. Bulger dropped back but saw no one open and took off from the pocket with Willie McGinest in pursuit.
McGinest caught up to the Rams quarterback and forced Bulger to fumble. Jarvis Green recovered close enough to the sideline that the play went immediately into review with the upstairs officials. The ruling on the field stood and New England was first and 10 on its own 28 with 1:02 left in the half.
A very weak -- even from a Patriots perspective -- roughing the quarterback call on the Rams moved the ball to the 43. After two incompletes, Brady hit Patten for 20 yards and again for 14. But the closest New England could get was the Rams 18 and with no time left, Vinatieri hit a 36-yard field goal to end the half at 19-14, Patriots.
Tedy Bruschi sacked Bulger for a loss of 9 to thwart the Rams first series of the second half. The Patriots drive that followed ended with a little Patriots sleight of hand, more successful than the Rams earlier attempt.
When Vinatieri lined up for his fifth field goal attempt of the day, apparently his team became a little tired of not scoring touchdowns. Instead, Vinatieri took the snap and threw to an open Troy Brown for the score and a 26-14 lead.
"It's just the play we thought might have a chance," Belichick said. "Troy [Brown] and Adam [Vinatieri] executed it well. It's hard down there on the goal line to see [how] everybody is deployed."
Joe Andruzzi left the field banged up on the play but returned later in the game.
That lead grew to 33-14 when Willie McGinest tipped a pass that Bulger tried to force into coverage on the next series. Roman Phifer came up with the interception and returned it 29 yards to the Rams 21. Four plays later Dillon eluded DeJuan Groce on his way to the end zone from 5 yards out.
The third quarter ended with the Rams threatening. Bulger had converted a huge fourth and nine from his own 45 with a 17-yard pass to Bruce. Faulk converted a third and five with a 7-yard gain to the Patriots 16-yard line. Two plays later Bulger hit Holt in the end zone with Moreland in coverage. Down by 13 points, the Rams went for the 2-point conversion with Faulk up the middle and he bulled his way in to make the score 33-22 with 14:13 left to play in the game. New England challenged whether or not Faulk actually crossed the plane of the goal line but the call on the field stood.
With the fans back into the game, the Rams defense held Brady and the offense to three and out deep in Patriots territory. St. Louis took over after Miller's punt on its own 40. But the Rams were its own worst enemy allowing Bulger to be sacked for 9 yards and Grant Williams being flagged for holding that negated a third down conversion by Faulk.
Asante Samuel returned to action on the series.
The Rams defense had really done nothing to this point to prove it could effectively stop the Patriots from chewing up clock and that's exactly what New England did going 64 yards in 5:29, ending with a 4-yard pass to Bethel Johnson in the end zone. David Givens kept the drive alive with yet another acrobatic first-down catch on third and 6 from the Rams 45. Patrick Pass had a nice run on a screen pass for 19 yards down to the Rams 10. On the scoring play, Brady ran play-action on third and goal from the 4 and hit Johnson down the middle.
It looked like St. Louis made it 40-28 on the next series with a Bulger to Kevin Curtis pass but the Patriots challenged the rulling as it was clear on replay that Curtis stepped out of bounds before he reached into the end zone with the ball. New England won the challenge and that was big for a number of reasons. Not only did St. Louis fail to score in five more tries, the clock was run down to just over two minutes left to play.
That was the ballgame as all New England had to do was run the ball out and with Brady keeping for a first down, New England had its seventh win on the season against one loss.
"That's what a team is about," Belichick said. "Everybody being prepared and doing their job and when you get called on, step up there and come through. I think it just goes across the board tonight. We got a lot of big plays from a lot of people."