Coming off one of the most dominating performances in NFL history, the New England Patriots hope to show the fans at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday some of the league’s best football.
Their opponent, however, has been playing some of the worst.
Tom Brady(notes) hopes to lead the Patriots to another decisive victory over a winless opponent as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carry a 10-game losing streak across the Atlantic Ocean for the NFL’s third annual London game.
Coming off major knee surgery, Brady hadn’t been his typically sharp self through the season’s first five games, but he finally flashed his MVP form in the Foxborough snow last Sunday.
Looking like the player who threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes during a 16-0 regular season in 2007, Brady carved up Tennessee’s defense for 380 passing yards and six touchdowns - including three to Randy Moss(notes) - before he was removed early in the second half.
New England’s 45-0 halftime lead was the largest in NFL history, and its 59-0 win matched the biggest blowout since the AFL-NFL merger 39 years ago. Brady’s five touchdown passes in the second quarter were the most in one period in league history.
“Every week we’re learning something more about ourselves and what we can do,” Brady said. “There’s no doubt a game like this can give you a lot of confidence.”
The Patriots (4-2) took over sole possession of the AFC East lead, and they may not need nearly as flawless an effort to beat the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay (0-6) was 9-3 last season before losing its last four games and missing the playoffs, and it is still searching for its first win under new coach Raheem Morris.
Morris, whose 27th-ranked defense has allowed 28.0 points per game, didn’t seem optimistic about his team’s trip to London, which will count as a home game for the Bucs and could help New England get its first road win in its third try.
“You’re obviously happy to take your game international and make it a bigger game than it already is,” Morris said. “At the same time, you’re going to play a team that just scored 59 points.”
“(Patriots coach) Bill Belichick is not going to take it easy on us,” Morris added. “He just played an 0 and whatever team (last Sunday), and the score was 59-0. Now he’s going to play another one. I’m sure Bill Belichick is licking his chops. And, he should be.”
There were plenty of positive signs for Belichick’s offense against the winless Titans, including a season-high 123 yards and a touchdown from running back Laurence Maroney(notes), who may have to carry more of the load again with Sammy Morris’(notes) status in doubt.
Morris suffered a knee injury last Sunday and Fred Taylor(notes) is still recovering from ankle surgery. Backup BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) had 67 yards on seven carries against the Titans, and he could help New England on the ground against the Bucs’ 31st-ranked run defense.
Carolina exploited that weakness in a 28-21 win at Tampa Bay last Sunday, rushing for 267 yards. The Panthers’ game-winning 16-play drive included 15 runs, killing most of the final nine minutes of the game.
“The results right now are disappointing,” Morris said. “But to see people start to grow and develop into what they can become are pretty encouraging.”
The Patriots looked like a finished product against the Titans, as Moss totaled 129 receiving yards while Wes Welker(notes) caught 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. New England was overwhelming even though rookie Sebastian Vollmer(notes) was replacing injured left tackle Matt Light(notes).
The team’s defense - without healthy scratch Adalius Thomas(notes) at linebacker and with 40-year-old Junior Seau(notes) back in the lineup - was also impressive, holding the Titans to 186 total yards, including minus-seven passing.
Belichick hopes his team can harness the momentum at Wembley, but he didn’t seem fascinated by the trip.
“I’m sure it’ll be something we’ll all remember,” Belichick said, but “I’m just trying to coach a team. I’m not trying to solve the world’s problems.”
Brady was more excited to make the trip to Wembley, the longtime home of the English national soccer team. The stadium was rebuilt in 2007 and hosted games between the Giants and Dolphins that year and the Saints and Chargers last fall.
“It’s not too often that we fly east to play a game,” Brady said. “And to play in Wembley Stadium, it’s as historic a stadium (as there is) in the entire world. I think our team is all very excited for that.”
Brady has said he is a fan of English soccer - specifically Manchester United, the club that has won the last three Premier League titles and is owned by Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer.
United will play a key match at Liverpool earlier Sunday, hours before Glazer’s American franchise tries to end its longest losing streak since a league-record 26-game skid from 1976-77.