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Brady throws four TD passes as Patriots rout Vikings

Oct 31, 2006 - 4:58 AM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Maybe Tom Brady's receiving corps isn't too bad, after all.

Eschewing their vaunted running game, Brady passed for a season-high 372 yards and four touchdowns as the New England Patriots cruised to their fourth straight win, a 31-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Brady extended his perfect record indoors, improving to 10-0 in domes and 19-1 on artificial turf as the Patriots moved to 6-1, their second-best start since Bill Belichick became coach in 2000.

"There's a reason (Brady's) an All-Pro. He can pick you apart," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.

With the loss of his top two wideouts - Deion Branch and David Givens - from last season, Brady and the Patriots have relied on the tandem of running backs Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney to carry the offense early in the season.

Not so on Monday night. The Patriots played much of the game in four-receiver sets and attempted only eight running plays through the first three quarters, after which they led, 31-7.

"That was fun. That was fun," Brady said. "We are making progress. We still left some plays on the field. Rather than try to pound it on those two big guys (300-pound tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams) in there, we decided to throw the ball."

Belichick said the Patriots stayed with the pass because of the Vikings' success against the run this season.

"We didn't feel like our running game would be successful against their scheme," Belichick said. "We felt like throwing the ball and spreading them out was the best way to handle them.

"The amount of pressure they gave us kind of dictated the number of times we were in those various sets."

Childress agreed with Belichick's assessment of the game plan.

"If you can duplicate it, it's a blueprint to go after the Vikings," the first-year coach said. "My hat's off to them. They did a great job. They're a good football team. We're a good football team. We didn't play well tonight.

Brady was 29-of-43, completing passes to 10 different receivers, including five receptions of at least 20 yards. Conversely, Maroney rushed just five times for 25 yards and Dillon gained five yards on three carries.

The seventh-year quarterback carved up Minnesota's defense in the first half, leading three lengthy scoring drives in building a 17-0 lead at the break.

The Vikings (4-3) allowed more total yards in the first half alone than they had permitted per game (277.8) through their first six contests.

Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel, both in their first seasons with New England, had big games along with tight end Ben Watson. Caldwell and Watson each had seven catches and a touchdown and Gabriel had five receptions for 83 yards.

"We wanted to spread it out. That is what we practiced and that is what we did," Watson said. "It is very gratifying to execute like this or whatever the game plan is."

The Patriots set the tone on the first drive of the night. Brady was 6-of-6 for 94 yards, culminating with a six-yard scoring pass to Caldwell. The big play was a 45-yard pass to Gabriel on 3rd-and-10 to the Vikings 41.

The Vikings had a chance to even the score in the final minute of the first quarter. But on 3rd-and-5 from the 5, Brad Johnson floated a pass well over the head of Mewelde Moore and into the waiting arms of safety Rodney Harrison at the goal line.

From that point on, the Vikings' offense was practically non-existent. Johnson finished 20-of 33 for 185 yards and three interceptions, while leading rusher Chester Taylor managed just 22 yards on 10 carries.

Moore provided a brief spark for the Vikings when he returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown to slice the deficit to 17-7 with 10:36 remaining in the third period.

It didn't last long. Maroney, who starred at the University of Minnesota, returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to the 21.

Three plays later, Brady hooked up Troy Brown in the end zone from seven yards out to hike the advantage to 24-7 with 9:03 left.

Brady completed the aerial assault with five seconds to play in the third, hitting rookie Chad Jackson for a 10-yard TD pass for a 31-7 bulge.

"We wanted to play the game on our terms and I think we did that," Patriots center Dan Koppen said.

Minnesota's offensive futility was best exemplified early in the fourth quarter. Brooks Bollinger replaced Johnson at quarterback and was sacked on three consecutive plays.

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