<
>

Cassel, Moss power Patriots to convincing blowout of Broncos

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The team Tom Brady used to lead to dominant wins finally showed up.

The Patriots played like the club that had a perfect regular-season record last year as Matt Cassel, in his best game since taking over for the injured quarterback, threw three touchdown passes, Sammy Morris ran for 138 yards and New England routed the Denver Broncos 41-7 Monday night.

On defense, they forced five turnovers. And on special teams, Wes Welker's 44-yard punt return set up Randy Moss' second touchdown catch.

"The main focus was to really play a
complementary game," Moss said, "special teams, offense and defense. And I think we did that tonight.

"When we put all three of those things together, this team is very, very scary."

That team had been very, very inconsistent -- solid one week, shaky the next. Nothing like the Brady-led steamroller that won eight games by at least 20 points and two by at least 30 last season. Only a last-minute touchdown in a 17-14 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants kept the Patriots from going 19-0.

"We played with a lot of emotion," said Brandon Meriweather, who had one of the two interceptions off Jay Cutler. "We've got a lot of little things to still fix."

New England (4-2) finished with 257 yards rushing. Denver (4-3) lost for the third time in four games.

"In front of the nation, we didn't show up tonight," cornerback Dre' Bly said. "It's embarrassing."

Against the NFL's worst pass defense, Moss' two touchdowns doubled his total for the season. That's still far short of his NFL record of the 23 last season he caught from Brady, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in this year's opener.

Still, it was a solid comeback for him, and his team, after last week's 30-10 loss at San Diego.

Coach Bill Belichick followed that with some tough practices.

"He really put it to us this week," Moss said. "Hopefully, he can let up Wednesday."

New England led 20-0 at halftime and 34-0 before Cutler connected with former Patriots tight end Daniel Graham for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 13:21 left in the game.

"They outplayed us from the first snap of the game," Graham said.

Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished the scoring with his first touchdown on a 1-yard run.

"I love the other running backs. They're like my brothers," he said. "I just wanted to continue to pick up where [Morris] left off."

Cassel was sacked six times and the Patriots lost Morris and safety Rodney Harrison to knee injuries, but they still posted an easy victory over Denver, which had won five of its last six games at New England. The Patriots gave no update on the extent of the injuries.

The Broncos, who are off next weekend, lost brothers Boss and Champ Bailey to injuries in the first half. Linebacker Boss Bailey hurt his knee and cornerback Champ Bailey injured his groin.

"Standing on the sidelines, you can see that the sense of urgency was not there," Champ Bailey said.

Cutler missed the final series of the half with a finger injury but returned for Denver's first possession of the third quarter. He appeared to be hurt on the first play after the opening kickoff when he hit his throwing hand on the helmet of tackle Vince Wilfork on a pass that sailed wide.

Cutler, third in the NFL in yards passing entering the game, was 17-for-26 for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Cassel, who took over for Brady, finished 18-for-24 for 185 yards. The three touchdowns matched his total for the first five games.

"I'd like to think that I continue to grow each and every week," Cassel said. "The more you run this offense, the more comfortable you become."

He threw touchdown passes of 13 and 27 yards to Moss and a 6-yarder to Welker that made it 34-0 late in the third quarter.

But the Patriots really ripped through the Broncos with their running game. With Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan both sidelined, Morris beat his career high for yards on just 16 carries, including a 4-yard score, all in the first half.

Green-Ellis took over after that and rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries.

"Oh, goodness," Cassel said. "If we run the ball like that, we'll be in good hands."

Stephen Gostkowski kicked first-half field goals of 31 and 40 yards after backup running back Andre Hall fumbled on his only two carries of the game. LeKevin Smith recovered the first fumble after Denver went from its 27-yard line to New England's 32 on the first series of the game. Rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo recovered the second.

The Broncos also committed two costly 15-yard penalties on an 84-yard drive capped by the first of Cassel's two TD passes to Moss, the 13-yarder that put the Patriots ahead 20-0 with 44 seconds left in the half.

Cassel's six sacks brought the Patriots total to 26 for the season. They were sacked 21 times all last season.

Game notes
Cutler was sacked twice, matching his total for the first five games. ... Belichick improved to 3-5 against Mike Shanahan's Broncos since Belichick became coach of the Patriots in 2000. He doesn't have a losing record against any other team. ... Moss's 129 total touchdowns are eighth in NFL history. His 128 touchdowns receiving are fourth, two behind Cris Carter.