Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For at least one game and one night, the New England Patriots rediscovered the joys of domination.
"We had a lot of things to hang our hats on tonight coming from all three units," Patriots receiver Randy Moss said. "We put it together. I think that when we put all three of those together this team is very, very scary. "
Who saw that coming? The Patriots were coming off a game in which the San Diego Chargers turned New England's secondary to cinders. The Broncos showed up with the NFL's third-ranked passing offense but might as well have scheduled an autumnal New England drive instead of a football game.
A loss would have dropped the Patriots two games behind the first-place Buffalo Bills, but they ended up winning their first home game since the season opener.
Bill Belichick, so robotic he packs WD-40 in his shaving kit, surprised his players in the two days before the game by telling them to have more fun.
"In the four years that I've been here, I've never heard Bill say 'Go out there, cut it loose and have some fun,' " cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "We were jumping around, slapping each other, this and that. That's a great feeling out there. That's a great look out there. We had fun tonight."
There was a lot for a Patriots fan to be excited about. But there was also plenty of cause for concern.
Three reasons the Patriots have figured it out
1. Revitalized running game: The Patriots have problems at running back, but they figured out a way to churn out rushing yardage anyway.
So, old pro Sammy Morris had the best game of his nine-year NFL career, and he didn't play a down in the second half. Morris rushed for 138 yards, the Patriots' highest first-half total since Robert Edwards amassed 166 in December 1998.
And when Morris went out of the game with a knee injury of indeterminate severity, the Patriots kept plowing onward. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (65 yards) and Kevin Faulk (50 yards) broke off several nice runs.
The Patriots finished with 257 rushing yards, their most since December 1985.
"We knew we could run on them," guard Logan Mankins said. "We assumed we could. We saw other teams do it, and we feel we can run the ball on most nights. The backs hit the holes hard. You give them a little crease, they're going to hit it."
2. Cassel, Moss connect: For only the second time in his last 31 games without Tom Brady as his quarterback, Moss had two touchdowns. The only other time it happened in that stretch was in the 2005 Oakland Raiders' season finale. Kerry Collins was the quarterback.
Matt Cassel had his first three-touchdown game. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 185 yards and no interceptions for a 136.3 passer rating.
"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. There's a lot of details that you have to be on top of if you want to be successful."
3. Defense makes big plays: The Patriots' secondary rebounded from a duck-and-cover performance to shut down Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and two of the NFL's leading receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.
The Patriots forced five turnovers -- three fumbles and two interceptions.
The Broncos came into the game having given up only two sacks. The Patriots recorded three sacks Monday night.
Cutler finished with a 64.3 passer rating, less than half of Cassel's.
Three reasons the Patriots haven't figured it out
Two potentially devastating losses occurred during the game. We don't know how serious the knee injuries to safety Rodney Harrison and Morris are.
Harrison was carted off the field after medical personnel immobilized his right knee at the end of the third quarter.
Said Belichick: "It doesn't look too good" for Harrison.
"He means a lot," Patriots safety James Sanders said. "He is a future Hall of Famer. He is one of the best to play the game. He has taught me a lot since I've been in New England. He means a lot to me as a football player and a friend.
"I don't know his status now. If he misses time, we will miss him."
2. Too many sacks: The Broncos sacked Cassel six times, drivi
ng up the season total to 25. The Patriots gave up only 21 sacks all last year.
"We still have some problems in pass protection," Mankins said. "We'll get that straightened out. Well, we better get it straightened out, or it's going to be a long year."
3. Tough schedule: The Patriots' upcoming opponents don't provide any easy marks. Next up are the resurgent St. Louis Rams at Gillette Stadium. The Rams, under new coach Jim Haslett, have won two in a row against perceived NFC East powers.
"We all saw what St. Louis did to Dallas this weekend," said starting right tackle Mark LeVoir. "They're back on track. They're a good team. We've got to get ready to go for them."
The Patriots are programmed not to talk about anything beyond the next game, but that won't stop us from listing their opponents. After the Rams, the schedule through November includes the Indianapolis Colts, Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.