By Gregory Hunt
In their first-ever appearance at AT&T Stadium, the New England Patriots overcame a slow start on offense Sunday afternoon to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 30-6. It was New England’s fifth consecutive victory over Dallas dating back to 1999. The victory improved New England’s record to 4-0, one-half game ahead of the New York Jets for first place in the AFC East. Five weeks into the 2015 season, the Patriots are one of six NFL teams that remain undefeated (Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers). It’s the first time in NFL history that so many teams have stayed undefeated so late in the season.
The New England offense didn’t have a particularly dominating performance, but it still found a way to put 30 points on the board despite giving up five sacks of quarterback Tom Brady in the first half. It was the first time in Brady’s career that he had been sacked that many times in one half. Thanks to some halftime adjustments, New England didn’t give up a single sack in the second half, despite losing tackle Nate Solder to an elbow injury. Brady eventually passed for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and he even scored a rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak.
As usual, wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski were big contributors. Edelman made only four catches, but he broke several tackles on one of them for a 59-yard touchdown. On another catch that went for 16 yards, he made a move on Dallas’ Morris Claiborne that made the Cowboys’ cornerback trip and fall to the ground. Gronkowski’s biggest highlight was a 33-yard catch featuring a brutal stiff arm to Dallas rookie cornerback Byron Jones.
Running back LeGarrette Blount had a solid game with 74 yards on 13 rushes, and he somehow looks much quicker than he looked for the Patriots last year. However, the standout running back was Dion Lewis, who caught eight passes out of the New England backfield to help negate the Dallas pass rush. He showed incredible elusiveness in breaking three tackles on a 10-yard touchdown reception in the 3rd quarter.
The New England defense played its most complete game of the season — it didn’t give up a single touchdown, and it held Dallas to three-and-out on six of its first seven possessions. It gave up a total of only 59 yards in the first half, which allowed the Patriots to take a 13-3 lead at halftime. By getting the Dallas offense off the field so quickly time and time again, this likely led to the fatigue of the Dallas defense.
Linebacker Jamie Collins show blazing speed throughout the game, He ended up leading the team in tackles with 10 and he was also created with a forced fumble that was recovered by linebacker Jonathan Freeny. The only reason Collins wasn’t created with a sack of Dallas quarterback Brandon Weeden was because it was negated by a holding penalty on defensive end Jabaal Sheard. For good measure, cornerback Logan Ryan had a second-half interception.
Special Teams: A
In was a near-perfect day for the New England special teams. Thanks to the kicking of Stephen Gostkowski and the punting of Ryan Allen, the average starting field position for Dallas was its own 18-yard line. Gostkowski also made three field goals, including one from 57 yards which tied a franchise record held by Adam Vinatieri. Gunner Matthew Slater, who seems to make at least one spectacular play on special teams every game, made an impressive tackle of Lucky Whitehead on a Dallas punt return.
Once Dallas’ pass rush turned out to be more effective than anticipated, the New England coaching staff switched to a short passing game that proved to be very effective. Credit must also be given to some personnel changes on defense that resulted in a much-improved job of stopping the rushing game. The Patriots are an extremely versatile team that can figure out a lot of different ways to beat an opponent.
Next week, the Patriots will play in prime time when they face the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, but the team has won both of those games thanks to the play of 40-year-old backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Luck is reportedly on the mend, but there’s no word on whether he will be available to play against New England.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.