FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The toughest part of New England's trip to Old England might have been getting home, and even that journey wasn't as rough as feared.
The Patriots beat the brunt of Hurricane Sandy into Boston on Monday one day after routing the St. Louis Rams 45-7 in London. They landed at Logan Airport at about noon, having moved up their departure before the heaviest rain and wind struck the area.
"I can't believe we got on that bird," linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted.
They did and returned safely, and in first place in the AFC East, with the best offense in the NFL.
"We knew how important this was to us," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said of the win. "Going into the bye week at 5-3 and winning two key games to get us going, we are right where we want to be."
The Patriots had a good time in London, some of it centered around Rob Gronkowski.
At a fan event in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, the fun-loving tight end spiked a microphone at the urging of a voice in the crowd. On Sunday, he imitated the stiff-legged walk to mimic a local tourist attraction — "a British palace guard," he said — after one of his two touchdowns, then spiked the ball on the Wembley Stadium grass.
All nice memories for the Patriots as they head into their bye week.
Then they'll prepare to play another team they crushed away from home, the Buffalo Bills. That was a 52-28 win in the fourth game of the season in which they scored touchdowns on six straight second-half drives.
On Sunday, the Patriots scored on their first six drives — five touchdowns followed by a field goal.
They also dealt another blow to St. Louis, breaking its NFL record with their 17th consecutive game with at least 350 yards on offense. The Rams set that from 1999-2000. The next season, the Patriots beat St. Louis 20-17 for the first of their three Super Bowl championships.
If they match their league-leading 447.5 yards per game for the rest of the season, they'll overtake the Rams again, this time for second most yards in a season with 7,160. Only the New Orleans Saints, with 7,474 last year, gained more.
New England rolled over St. Louis even though tight end Aaron Hernandez missed the game when his right ankle injury flared up after playing the last two games following three games on the sidelines.
The defense was pretty good, too, much better than in its previous two games — a 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and a 29-26 overtime win over the New York Jets.
It allowed another big play in a rash of them this season — a 50-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Chris Givens on the game's first series, covering 80 yards.
"I think early in the season, that kills us, giving up a big play. Then we (would) put our heads down, give up another one," safety Devin McCourty said. "I thought we did a good job (Sunday) of putting that play past us, then playing great defense after that."
The Patriots held the Rams to no points and 246 yards the rest of the way as they avoided late-game problems that have plagued them.
"Everybody stuck together," Wilfork said. "It feels good finally to put one game together as a team, doing a lot of things correctly, just playing good football all the way around. It is just a stepping stone. Guys can see that when we play together, and don't hurt ourselves, we can be a dangerous football team."
The Patriots, throughout Bill Belichick's previous 12 years as coach, have been a better team in the second half of the season; they were 16-0 the last two years.
"We blocked well. We threw the ball well," he said. "We gained some yards in the running game, scored in the red zone, didn't turn the ball over. So it's good execution offensively. A lot of good things there."
With quarterback Tom Brady near the top of his game, a much improved rushing attack led by Stevan Ridley, a dangerous pass-catching corps and a young offensive line that's getting better, the offense is humming.
The defense remains mediocre. The pass rush is a problem, but the move for the last two games of McCourty from cornerback, where he struggled, to safety, where he's been solid, has helped.
"They put me back there, put me in charge of making sure everyone knows what they're doing," he said. "I felt I did a better job this week than last week. Things started to slow down for me back there."
Two rookies, safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, also are progressing with increased playing time. The Rams' 219 yards passing were the second fewest the Patriots have allowed this year.
They only face two of the top 10 rated quarterbacks, Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans, the rest of the year.
For now, the Patriots can get a breather during their bye week, enjoy their lead in the AFC East and hope to play even better after their 38-point victory.
"Obviously we're disappointed in our record so far. We have a high standard," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "If we play our best football, we feel we can win any game."
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