New England quarterback Tom Brady looks across the field during the second half of an NFL game against the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium, in London, Sunday.
LONDON — The Patriots showed that old England is their domain as well.
After the Patriots gave up an early 50-yard scoring play, Tom Brady responded by leading five straight touchdown drives Sunday and New England (5-3) ran over the St. Louis Rams 45-7 in the NFL’s annual regular-season game at Wembley Stadium.
“I hope they enjoyed the game today, all the fans,” Brady said, “I know it got out of hand there, but that’s how the Patriots like it. So it was a fun game for us.”
Yes, for one night at least, the Pats — Expats on this occasion— were back to blowing away opponents. According to Brady, though, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“We’ve got a long way to go. ... We certainly haven’t played our best football yet,” he said. “Coach says the season doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving, and it isn’t even Halloween yet.”
This offense is looking quite scary, though.
New England had at least 350 yards of total offense for the 17th straight game, breaking an NFL record set by the Rams in 1999-2000, back when Kurt Warner was leading “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
This was arguably the greatest show put on by a team in London since the NFL started staging regular-season games here in 2007 — or at least the most dominating. New England gave the British crowd a first-hand look at the league’s top-ranked offense.
Brady led four straight touchdown drives for a commanding 28-7 lead by halftime, and then hit Brandon Lloyd for a 9-yard score to start the third quarter.
Brady passed for 304 yards with four touchdowns and tight end Rob Gronkowski caught eight passes for 146 yards and two scores. Lloyd also had two touchdown catches, while Stevan Ridley ran for 127 yards and a score as the Patriots put themselves atop the AFC East heading into their off week.
The Rams (3-5), who also will be off, are last in the NFC West after losing two in a row.
The Rams struck first when Sam Bradford hit Chris Givens with a 50-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game — exactly the kind of statement the team hoped to make to ruffle the favored Patriots.
But St. Louis, which arrived in London on Tuesday, three days before the Patriots, to get better adjusted to the time difference, was the team that looked jetlagged the rest of the way.
“You can’t ask for a better start to the game. First time we touched the ball we go down and score,” Bradford said. “It just all fell apart from there.”
After the Rams took the lead, Brady led a 78-yard drive to tie the score with a 19-yard pass to Lloyd. On their next drive, coach Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth down at the 1-yard line, and Shane Vereen broke into the end zone.
It was the only fourth down the Rams forced until the middle of the third quarter, when the Patriots had to settle for a 26-yard field goal to make it 38-7.
In between, Brady hit Gronkowski on a 7-yard touchdown pass and Ridley had another 1-yard run into the end zone 10 seconds before halftime.
Gronkowski celebrated both his touchdowns with theatrical spikes to fire up the crowd, doing a high-stepping strut before the first one to mimic a local tourist attraction. That led to questions about what the move was called, a Changing of the Gronk, a FrankenGronk, or what?
“That was a `Palace Guard,”’ the tight end joked.
Even Brady was a bit perplexed.
“I don’t know what the hell he was doing on that first one,” Brady said. “I was trying to get out of the way. He needs some work on that.”
St. Louis only had one other scoring opportunity in the first half, but botched the snap on a 52-yard field goal attempt.
Givens’ touchdown gave him a reception of at least 50 yards for the fifth straight game, a rookie record, but he left temporarily with a toe injury and only managed two more catches after returning. Running back Steven Jackson was also largely shut down, finishing with 23 yards on seven carries. Bradford was 23 of 31 for 205 yards and added an interception in the fourth quarter before being replaced by backup Kellen Clemens near the end.
“It’s embarrassing the way we played tonight,” Bradford said. “Just embarrassing.”
New England became the first team to win two games in London, having beaten Tampa Bay here in 2009. As expected, the Patriots also had the majority of crowd support from the 84,004 fans at Wembley, despite the Rams being the designated home team.
That, however, didn’t stop backup quarterback Ryan Mallett from getting booed when taking a knee to run out the clock — one of the few aspects of the American version of football the British crowd didn’t seem to appreciate.
Belichick had no complaints about the atmosphere, though.
“The stadium was great,” he said. “Playing on grass is always good. ... It’s good to see the jerseys muddy, grass stains. Guys picking up dirt out of their facemasks, stuff like that. We don’t see a lot of that back in the States.”
NOTES: The Rams had originally agreed to return to London in 2013 and 2014 but pulled out of the deal. ... The NFL will stage two regular-season games in London in 2013 for the first time. ... The Patriots didn’t punt until 2:36 left in the third quarter. ... Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola missed his third straight game with a right shoulder injury. ... Flamboyant London Mayor Boris Johnson addressed the crowd before the game, saying he was proud to welcome “this glorious descendant of rugby union football” to Wembley.
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