FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It wasn't the call you'd expect on third-and-17. Yet when Tom Brady got the instructions on his headset from New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during the third quarter on Sunday, it came with a message of assurance.
"I think we can get this," McDaniels told Brady.
McDaniels wasn't talking about some deep throw on a seam route to tight end Rob Gronkowski, or a crossing pattern to Wes Welker, or a 9-route to Brandon Lloyd.
He called a running play, an outside zone run to Danny Woodhead. On third-and-17.
"They were in a pretty light personnel grouping," Brady said after the Patriots smashed the Denver Broncos 31-21 on a damp, nippy evening at Gillette Stadium.
"Woody found the crease and once he gets going, he's got some blockers ahead of him, he's tough to bring down."
Woodhead darted around left end, cut back inside and gained 19 yards to keep another long touchdown drive alive. Capped by Brady's 1-yard dive, this one chewed up 16 plays, to go with scoring marches of 12, 14 and another for 16 plays.
The Woodhead run also epitomized the punch and confidence the Patriots have developed with their newly-fashioned rushing attack.
Paced by Stevan Ridley's career-high 151 yards on 28 carries, New England hammered Denver for 251 yards on 54 rushes. That's back-to-back weeks of at least 200 rushing yards for New England, something that's never happened with Brady at quarterback.
In fact, the Patriots haven't put up 200 yards in consecutive games since 1978 (when Sam "The Bam" Cunningham was the leading ballcarrier).
This seems more astonishing to be occurring now, during an era when wide-open passing attacks are dominating the NFL landscape -- and the Patriots possess one of the league's most lethal arms in Brady.
But the Patriots have suddenly gone old-school with a No. 1-ranked offense that leads the league in scoring and yards and set a franchise record with 35 first downs in manhandling the Broncos.
Through five games, the Patriots have actually had more rushing plays (191, including kneel-downs) than pass attempts (185).
"We just try to go out there and move the ball and score points," said coach Bill Belichick, whose team is averaging 33 points per game.
"That's what we try to do. Sometimes we run it, sometimes we pass it, sometimes we do a little of both, sometimes we do more of one than the other, but we try to go out there and move the ball and score points. That's our offensive philosophy."
Brady was sharp enough for the marquee matchup against Peyton Manning, but he didn't have to carry his unit with his arm as his fellow Hall of Fame-bound quarterback tried to do with the Broncos.
Manning, still trying to regain rhythm in his comeback from the four neck procedures that caused him to miss last season, passed for 345 yards and three TDs, with no picks and a 116.2 passer rating. But he missed on a few throws that could have produced big plays.
Brady, meanwhile, threw just 31 passes. On the game-sealing drive late in the fourth quarter, he connected with Wes Welker (13 catches, 104 yards) for a key third-down completion to to help kill the clock.
Yet for the most part, Brady's throws -- primarily short or intermediate passes -- were sprinkled within the larger context of wearing down Denver's defense.
Even with the 54 runs and throwback connotations for a unit aiming to be more physical, the Patriots played up-tempo, new millennium football, too, with Brady engineering a no-huddle attack for much of the game.
Generally, the no-huddle offense is associated with the type of relentless passing that teams employ in two-minute periods. Yet the Patriots used it Sunday to key the rushing game, with Brady often handing off while in the shotgun.
Like last week, it was another twist of the take-what-the-defense-gives-you mindset.
"We're getting a lot of nickel defense," said Brady. "When they put little guys out there, we have to take advantage of it. I think we're definitely playing a more physical style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it."
Balance is the ticket -- and this could be quite scary for upcoming opponents.
Remember, Brady's the man who set an NFL record with 50 TD passes in 2007. While it's obviously a different scheme than the one that had Brady flinging it deep to Randy Moss, the new look to the running game -- last year's top rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis left during the offseason as a free agent -- complements other significant tweaks.
Last season, the Patriots killed teams with their double tight end monsters, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And during the offseason, they added Lloyd amid numerous attempts to land new outside receivers.
Yet it's also apparent, as Belichick mentioned, they want versatility.
On Sunday, Hernandez was inactive with an ankle injury. Gronkowski caught just four passes, and Lloyd had three receptions.
No worries. They just went another route, running the football.
"You just can't drop back and throw it 60 times every game," Brady said. "You have to be balanced."
And a lot more dangerous.
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