Watch Video: First quarter grades: Pats earn an ‘A’.
A 4-0 start for the New England Patriots isn’t all that surprising considering their recent success. Their level of dominance, however, could not have been predicted.
Off to arguably the most impressive four-game start in NFL history, the Patriots look to keep their perfect record intact Sunday when they face the surprisingly potent Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium.
Already one of the league’s elite teams, the Patriots added several key pieces during a busy offseason and those moves appear to have elevated them to the top of the NFL.
New England (4-0) won its first two games against the New York Jets and San Diego by identical 38-14 scores before beating Buffalo 38-7. The Patriots failed to score 38 points for the first time this season Monday night at Cincinnati, but their performance was no less dominant in a 34-13 win.
The 148 points New England has scored is the highest four-game output in franchise history, surpassing the 146 achieved by the 1962 team in the first four games of that season. The 100-point differential is also the largest of any single-season four-game stretch in team history.
One of four unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL, the Patriots are 4-0 for the first time since 2004, when they opened 6-0. They finished 14-2 that season before winning their third Super Bowl in four years.
Despite his team’s dominance, coach Bill Belichick sees room for improvement.
“We’re still leaving some stuff out there,” he said. “I think every team at this point in the year is improving and that’s what we need to do. I’d like to think we’re going to be a better team. We should be.”
Brady is off to the best start of his career, leading the NFL in completion percentage (79.2), touchdown passes (13) and quarterback rating (134.7) while throwing only two interceptions.
He is the third player in league history to throw for three or more TDs in each of the first four games of the season. If he can do that again Sunday, he would match Steve Young’s record set in 1998 of three touchdowns in each of the first five contests.
Moss had nine catches for 102 yards and two TDs against the Bengals, making him the first player to have 100 yards receiving in each of his first four games with a new team.
Moss is the league leader in receiving yards (505) and touchdown receptions (seven). He had 11 TD catches the previous two seasons combined with Oakland.
“He was a great player before he got here,” Brady said. “He’s still a great player. He adds a lot to this offense.”
As good as they have been through the air, the Patriots have seen their ground game be just as effective, ranking third in the NFL in rushing yards (628). Top running back Laurence Maroney missed Monday’s game with a strained groin, but eight-year veteran Sammy Morris carried 21 times for 117 yards.
“Sammy does a good job,” Belichick said. “He has good vision on those inside runs. He has good balance and he’s tough. I thought he made some real good cuts out there. He did a great job.”
New England could be an even stronger team Sunday with the return of hard-hitting safety Rodney Harrison, who missed the first four games after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
“I’m just looking forward to adding to this team and being a part of it again,” Harrison said.
This will the first game for Browns coach Romeo Crennel against New England, where he was defensive line coach from 1993-96 and defensive coordinator under Belichick from 2001-2004.
Possibly more surprising than the Patriots’ perfect start is Cleveland splitting its first four games. The Browns haven’t been above .500 after their first five game since they were 3-2 in 2001.
If not for a last-second blocked field goal against Oakland on Sept. 23, Cleveland could be 3-1 and tied for first in the AFC North.
Whatever quarterback controversy existed in Cleveland earlier this season has been put to rest by Derek Anderson, who has thrown for 964 yards and ranks fourth in the NFL with nine TD passes.
Anderson threw for two touchdowns and Jamal Lewis ran for one against his former team as the Browns surprised visiting Baltimore 27-13 on Sunday.
“We’re going to turn some heads this year,” Winslow said.
A high-scoring offense is a rarity for the Browns, who haven’t had an offense finish a season ranked in the league’s top 15 since 1987.
This season, Cleveland is 11th in total offense, 10th in passing and 15th in rushing. The Browns have scored 24 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 1989.
“This year, offensively speaking, we believe we can bounce back from anything,” center Hank Fraley said. “Anything that goes bad, we can overcome it.”
Cleveland’s defense, however, ranks 31st in yards allowed (427.5 per game) and will be facing a versatile and explosive Patriots offense.
New England has won three straight and five of the last six meetings against Cleveland. The Browns haven’t won a road game against the Patriots since Oct. 25, 1992.