FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands and there’s a good chance the New England Patriots will score — a lot.
More, in fact, than any other team.
Ball at their own 13-yard line? Three plays later they score a touchdown. Even further back, at the 6? That touchdown drive took all of eight plays. And that was just a small amount of the 45 points they scored in each of their last two games.
“We’re just trying to get the ball in the end zone. That’s what our job is,” Brady said matter-of-factly on Wednesday. “We don’t go out there to punt.”
With Brady throwing an NFL-leading 27 scoring passes, the Patriots are averaging 31.6 points per game, nearly three more than the second highest scoring team, the Philadelphia Eagles, with 28.7
They’ve done it with two rookie tight ends and two free agent running backs all making the first contributions of their pro careers. At wide receiver, Deion Branch was obtained after the fourth game and Brandon Tate played just two games as a rookie last season.
They’ve done it against two of the NFL’s stingiest defenses — 39 points against Pittsburgh when the Steelers were ranked fourth and 45 against New York last Monday night when the Jets were ranked third.
Can the Patriots, tied for the NFL’s best record at 10-2, do it on Sunday at the Chicago Bears, leaders of the NFC North at 9-3, who are ranked third this week?
“We’ll see,” coach Bill Belichick said. “In the end, it comes down to execution by our players. If they block and throw and catch and run, we’re going to score. If we don’t, then we probably won’t.
“There are no plays that you can put on paper and just say, ‘OK, hey, here are five touchdowns, go out and just line up here.'”
It almost seemed that way the past two games, when the Patriots scored on 14 of their 21 possessions — 12 touchdowns and two field goals.
In a 45-24 win at the Detroit Lions, the Patriots got touchdowns on their last five drives, not counting a game-ending possession on which Brady kneeled down twice. Then, in a 45-3 rout of the Jets, the Patriots scored three touchdowns and a field goal on their first four drives.
On those nine consecutive drives when they tried to score, and did, Brady completed 19 of 23 passes for 360 yards and six touchdowns. And he hasn’t thrown an interception in seven games.
“You can see him do a lot of miraculous things,” said Branch, who caught three of those touchdowns, “but that comes with the front line doing their job. It takes a lot of guys doing their job in order for Tom to do his. He’s doing a great job. He’s doing what we need him to do.”
Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight week and a buzz is growing about his MVP chances. But he doesn’t want to hear about it.
“That,” he said, “is really the last thing on my mind.”
He’s played the Bears just twice, the last time in 2006, so he’s had plenty of studying to do. As a rookie in 2000, Brady didn’t play in Chicago’s 24-17 win at Soldier Field.
“I went to the game,” he said. “I was eating nachos, I think.”
In 2002, he started against them in Champaign, Ill., and trailed 27-6 in the third quarter. Then, showing the comeback skills he would go on to display so often, he led them to a 33-30 win. His totals for the game: 36 completions in 55 attempts for 328 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“That was pretty special,” he said.
The Patriots beat the Bears again four years ago, 17-13. The next season, the Patriots went 16-0 and set an NFL record with 589 points. Then they won two playoff games but lost the Super Bowl 17-14 to the New York Giants.
But this high-scoring season doesn’t remind Brady of that one.
“We’re not even close to that,” he said. “I think it’s an entirely different team and style than what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
That team had Randy Moss setting an NFL single-season record with 23 touchdown catches. Brady set his own league mark with 50 scoring passes. Wes Welker, who caught 112 passes that year, is the only wide receiver, tight end or running back from that team still making offensive contributions this year.
The Patriots have scored on nearly half their possessions this season, 57 of 122, including 42 touchdowns and 15 field goals. They’ve scored in each of the last 14 quarters — a span of 3½ games — and been held scoreless in just nine of 48 quarters.
Different players stepping in and producing is nothing new to running back Kevin Faulk, a 12-year veteran who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game.
“I think it’s been that way around here as long as I’ve been here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happens, what goes on throughout the course of the year. A guy has to step up, do his job and be ready to go.”
When Faulk was hurt, the Patriots signed Danny Woodhead, another small back who can make darting runs and gain yards after short passes. When Moss complained about his contract, Belichick traded him to Minnesota and obtained Branch from Seattle.
“The coaches did a good job of putting the right guys in the system,” Branch said. “It’s easy to do a lot of things when you’re playing with Tom. You’ve just got to go out, do as he says, and I think everything will be OK.”