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Sunday, October 4, 2009
Updated: October 5, 9:01 AM ET
Patriots improve in red zone

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH -- Leave it to quarterback Tom Brady to sum up the Patriots' success in the red zone on Sunday in the simplest of terms.

"We got it in three times and [Baltimore] got it in twice," Brady said. "And that was the difference."

Indeed, the Patriots cashed in with three touchdowns out of five trips to what had previously been better described as the dread zone, and that helped New England escape with a 27-21 triumph over the Ravens at Gillette Stadium.

Brady could surely identify that New England's 60 percent efficiency in the red zone this week is far better than the 30.8 percent mark the Patriots boasted over their first three games of the season, striking pay dirt on 4 of 13 trips inside the 20, including a mere 1-of-8 over the previous two weeks.

And Sunday's game got off to a frustrating start when, after recovering a game-opening fumble at the Ravens' 12, the Patriots settled for Stephen Gostkowski's 10th field goal of the season.

(Here's some more quick math for you: Gostkowski is still on pace to break the NFL record for field goals -- 40, set by Neil Rackers in 2005 -- and challenge the mark for most field goals attempted -- 49 -- with 11 field goals in 12 attempts at the quarter mark of the 2009 campaign).

But the Patriots can hang their hats on the fact they not only scored three red zone touchdowns on Sunday, but did so against a Ravens squad that entered the game atop the NFL in red zone defense.

Even still, these never-satisfied Pats weren't ready to pat themselves on the back.

"We made some good plays out there, but we had some opportunities to really put the game away and we didn't do that, which I'm a little bit frustrated by," Brady said.

Added tight end Benjamin Watson: "It was a lot better, but we still have a ways to go. We're not as efficient as we want to be, but we're building."

It was Brady who might have pushed the Patriots' offense over the red zone hump, but not with his arm. Brady carried the ball on two consecutive plays early in the second quarter, including a 1-yard touchdown run off a quarterback sneak.

Randy Moss, who hauled in another of those red zone scores with a pivotal, 14-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, credited Brady with providing that spark.

"We put a point of emphasis just to go out there and execute because we've been shooting ourselves in the toes," Moss said. "I think Tommy Boy started it off with that quarterback sneak on the first touchdown and that's what really got us started. We did some good things out there."

Yet Moss & Co. will walk away talking about the ones that got away. Like a 15-play trek that found the Patriots at the Baltimore 9 midway through the final quarter. Already boasting a three-point advantage, a touchdown likely would have put the game out of reach.

But Brady misfired on back-to-back passes and a fake field goal attempt was dashed by an illegal motion penalty, forcing Gostkowski back onto the field to boot it for real.

"We did some things well and we did some things bad, but that's going to happen every game," said guard Logan Mankins. "I think we did better in the red zone than we have in the past, so I think we're improving offensively."

Which is exactly what the Patriots' mantra has been in recent weeks, with players dubbing the offense a "work in progress." For those that were expecting 2007-type production, Brady has preached patience.

On Sunday, the Patriots seemingly acknowledged the Joey Galloway experiment has been a disaster so far, making the veteran a healthy scratch as he continues to be unable to get on the same page as Brady.

Meanwhile, Wes Welker, absent the past two weeks with a mystery knee ailment, showed just how valuable he is to this offense by catching a team-high six passes.

But here's another encouraging sign for the Patriots: improved ball distribution. One of the hallmarks of the Brady era has been his ability to spread the ball around, and he found nine different receivers in Sunday's win.

Brady's also finding a comfort level with his running backs, as eight of his 21 completions went to members of his backfield. What's more, New England found balance, running the ball 30 times (even if it was for 85 yards, an average of 2.8 yards per carry) and throwing it 32 times.

"If teams are going to take away some of the passes and double-cover our guys [in the red zone], we've got to find ways to run it in and we did," said Brady, alluding to both his touchdown run and another by Sammy Morris. "Those were big plays."

With Sunday's success the Patriots improved to 7-for-18 overall in the red zone, which works out to 38.9 percent.

They'd like to see that number climb next week.

"I think we are building and getting more confident every time we go out there," said center Dan Koppen. "We just need to keep building on this and keep getting better at the things we are doing well and improve on the things we didn't do as well. I think all the guys are on the same page. The communication is getting better and everyone is seeing the game in the same set of eyes."