Tom Brady didn’t have to throw much or especially well for the New England Patriots to get their sixth straight win.
He figures to play a bigger role when they go for their seventh.
One week after they relied on the running game — 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns by Jonas Gray — in a 42-20 win over Indianapolis, the Patriots face the NFL’s top-ranked run defense on Sunday when they meet the Detroit Lions.
And Brady is determined to play better than he did in the first half against the Colts when he threw two interceptions with no touchdowns and completed just 10 of 19 passes for 84 yards.
“When you’re there at halftime and I didn’t play as well as I’m capable, then I’ve got to do a better job,” Brady said Wednesday. “It always starts with me, and that’s where my focus is. Hopefully, I put together four quarters of good stuff this weekend, not just two.”
He rebounded in the second half, leading touchdown drives on the Patriots first four possessions — two scoring passes and two short runs by Gray.
New England (8-2) ran more than it passed for just the third time this season — 45 running plays and 30 passes.
“Whether we’re balanced or not, we’ll do whatever’s going to get us a win,” tight end Michael Hoomanawanui said.
With the Lions (7-3) allowing a league-low 68.8 yards rushing per game, the Patriots best route to success should be through the air. That means their vastly improved offensive line might not do as much of what it prefers, block on running plays.
“It’s just the mentality of linemen,” left guard Dan Connolly said. “We like the physical nature of football and you get that more in the run game.”
The Lions also have an outstanding pass defense, the fifth stingiest in the NFL, and have given up the fewest overall yards and points in the league.
“These guys do a great job on first down,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They create more negative runs than any other team in the league. They get teams in a lot of second- and third-and-long situations. Those are usually not only very difficult, but that’s also where they get some turnovers, too, strip-sacks and tipped balls and interceptions.”
The Patriots, though, have been getting offensive contributions from more players as the wins have piled up.
Brady looked to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski for most of his passes early in the season. Since then, Brandon LaFell and Tim Wright have been targeted more often, and Gronkowski’s contribution has grown after a slow start coming off knee surgery.
“The more of those guys that can be involved, the better we’re going to be as an offense,” Brady said. “Who knows who it’s going to be on a particular week? You really have to see how the game plays out, and if things are working like they were last weekend, then you’ve got to stay with it.”
On the first possession at Indianapolis, Gray ran four times for 30 yards and a touchdown. On the second, he ran just once for 20 yards before Brady threw an interception on the next play.
New England has routed the other three AFC division leaders, 43-17 over Cincinnati and 43-21 over Denver before the 22-point win over Indianapolis.
Next up is the co-leader of the NFC North.
“Last week doesn’t mean anything, so I don’t really care about that,” Belichick said. “That has no impact on the game. What we have to do is figure out how to play against Detroit and it’s hard. They’re good at everything.”
Defensively, at least.
On offense, the Lions are 21st in yards gained and tied for 30th in rushing. Only six teams have fewer points.
But the way their defense has dominated, they don’t have to score a lot.
“They’ve got a lot of guys up front that make big plays,” Connolly said. “They’re definitely disruptive.”