The Patriots took advantage of a shorthanded Cowboys squad on Sunday afternoon, setting a new franchise record in the process.
New England pulled away from an overmatched Dallas roster in the second half in Arlington, Texas, cruising to a 30-6 victory and a fourth straight win to start the season. The 30 points scored by the Patriots (4-0) gave the team 149 points scored through its first four games, setting a new franchise record for the team’s offense.
Tom Brady paced the historic offense by throwing for a pair of touchdown passes and running for one more on a sneak at the goal line. The veteran quarterback was efficient for much of the afternoon, overcoming a potent Cowboys (2-3) pass rush to complete 20 of 27 pass attempts for 275 yards.
Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis both caught touchdown passes in the second half, with each player delivering a sensational run after the initial catch, eluding multiple defenders on their way into the end zone.
Despite the eventual impressive output by New England’s offense, the first half was a battle of the defenses. Without the injured Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ offense was stifled by New England, going three-and-out on six of their eight possessions in the first half.
The Patriots’ offense was not much better initially, as Greg Hardy (two sacks) and the rest of the Cowboys’ defensive line wreaked havoc by sacking Brady five times in the first half. Ultimately, the Patriots’ offensive line tightened up and kept Brady upright in the second half, which allowed New England to pull away for the win.
Three things we learned:
1. Dion Lewis has become one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets
Mere days after signing a two-year extension with the Patriots, Lewis made the franchise’s investment in him look worthwhile. The shifty running back caught a career-high eight passes for 59 yards against Dallas, highlighted by a 10-yard one-handed touchdown grab in the third quarter.
The 25-year-old also added 34 yards on the ground, but his value in the passing game is proving to be a pivotal component of New England’s stellar offensive attack. On a day where Brady saw limited time in the pocket, Lewis was a reliable outlet. He was targeted on 11 of Brady’s 27 passing attempts and regularly churned out valuable yardage in the open field.
2. The Patriots’ offensive line made Brady and the offense look vulnerable
There aren’t too many items you can nitpick when a team is 4-0, but protecting a 38-year-old sufficiently is one of them. That didn’t happen in the first half against Dallas, as Brady was sacked five times, which is the most the future Hall-of-Famer has ever been taken down in one half.
The constant pressure made the Patriots’ offense look lackluster for a few first half drives, and Brady was unable to find his usual weapons in Rob Gronkowski and Edelman downfield. The bigger concern moving forward has to be limiting the amount of free shots on the franchise quarterback. Few things could derail the Patriots’ season at this point, but a big hit on Brady in the wrong spot would be one of them.
3. Jaball Sheard and the defensive line steps up
Following the departure of Vince Wilfork this offseason, the defensive line has been a bit of a question mark for the Patriots through the team’s first three games. The run defense has been a bit leaky at times, and young prospects like Dominique Easley and Malcolm Brown have been relatively underwhelming.
Newcomer Jaball Sheard and the rest of the defensive line silenced the critics on Sunday. The former Cleveland Brown tied a career-high with two sacks, including a pivotal takedown of Brandon Weeden that eventually led to a Cowboys punt and a Patriots’ score in the closing moments of the first half. Overall, Dallas compiled just 264 yards of total offense on the day, in large part thanks to New England winning the battle in the trenches.