FOXBOROUGH – And it wasn't even that close.
The heretofore struggling Patriots offense put up 59 points, 432 yards passing, and nearly 200 yards rushing. Tom Bradythrew 6 TDs, five of which came in the second quarter alone. Laurence Maroney, subbing for the injured Sammy Morris, gained 123 on the ground, including a 45-yard galloping score.
Defensively, New England caused five turnovers and held their opponent the scoreless – all in a freak, unexpected snowstorm in the middle of October.
And yet, it seemed like things were much worse for the throwback Tennessee/Houston Titans/Oilers in this AFL Legacy Game.
The officials even appeared to take pity on Tennessee when, late in the fourth quarter, Titans backup QB Vince Youngappeared to be sacked for a safety in his own end zone. Mercifully, the refs ruled that his forward progress had been stopped at the two-yard line. It wasn't, but, really, who's going to argue with that call given the circumstances?
Trailing 10-0 after one quarter, the Titans simply surrendered – dramatically so – in the second. Their receivers couldn't catch passes, their running backs couldn't hold onto the football, and their quarterback often had difficulty completing the exchange from center. Multiple Titans turnovers led to touchdown after touchdown after touchdown for the Patriots. Literally and figuratively, things just snowballed on Tennessee. They were ineptitude personified today – the likes of which you rarely see in pro football.
If you're a Patriots fan, you should enjoy this win. Snow games at Gillette are always memorable and the Pats always win them. This one will certainly be hard to forget.
But you should also ask yourself several questions.
What does this win say about these Patriots?
"We came out and we just executed … Ran the ball well, Tommy threw it real well and the receivers got open and made plays," center Dan Koppenoffered afterward.
No doubt, but have the Patriots permanently corrected their offensive inefficiency, or were they effectively playing against the snowflakes, given that the porous Titans defense, which was starting a pair of rookie corners, seemed to give up in the first half?
"When you're playing well, you want to continue to play well," added RB Kevin Faulk, who caught one of Brady's TD passes. "I hope we can be consistent."
With starting ball carrier Fred Taylorout indefinitely and the extent of Morris' injury unknown at this point, can Maroney handle the bulk of the carries for the foreseeable future? And was New England's success in the passing game, despite the slick conditions, an indication that all is well with Brady and his receivers?
On the other side of the ball, what does this game say about the defense? They played inspired football all day against a Titans offense which, aside from RB Chris Johnson, looked after one quarter like it wanted to board it charter and fly back home to sunny, warm Nashville.
Junior Seauprovided a spark, recovering a fumble in the second half in his first game back in Foxborough. However, the mysterious deactivation of an otherwise healthy LB Adalius Thomas(he wasn't listed in this week's injury report) raises eyebrows. Without arguably their most versatile linebacker, the Patriots returned to their traditional 3-4 defensive front.
"We just went with the players we thought would have the bigger role in the game," head coach Bill Belichickexplained cryptically in his post-game press conference, calling the return to the 3-4 "a game-plan thing."
Belichick also decided to start rookie Darius Butlerat right corner in place of veteran Leigh Bodden, who'd held down the job since training camp and had been playing steady, if unspectacular, at the position. Butler, playing with a heavy heart after learning that a former college teammate had been stabbed to death overnight, managed to focus on his job and even notched his first NFL interception. Is Butler a playmaker in waiting, or was he simply in the right place at the right time?
Fact is, we may not know the answer to any of these questions for at least another month. Next up on the Patriots schedule, the 0-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A bye week follows, and then a crucible of games: home against division rival Miami, then three primetime road games in four weeks at Indy, New Orleans, and Miami, with a rematch against the Jets sandwiched in between.
That stretch, and not today's 59-0 stunner, should give us a better read about exactly what kind of Patriots team this is.