Column

NFL Week 12: Tom Brady and Patriots playing like a powerhouse afire

Tom Brady and New England suddenly look like the surest thing in an unpredictable NFL season, improving to 9-2

With Oakland winning and Arizona losing — two of the oddities from Week 12 — about the only sure bet in the NFL these days is that the New England Patriots are going to come through. And come through big.

That was the case again Sunday, as the Patriots made light work of the league's No. 1 defense in throttling the Detroit Lions, 34-9, to collect their league-best seventh consecutive victory.

It was the third week in a row the Patriots knocked off a division leader, having blown out Denver and Indianapolis in their two previous games.

To many, the story line is as tired and grating as Bill Belichick's monotone, but there's no escaping the truth: Tom Brady & Co. remain the team to beat. At 9-2, they are guaranteed their 14th winning season in a row.

"This team is dialed in very well, and we execute well," said Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, a pivotal player in a defense that in successive weeks has made Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford look positively ordinary. "It's panning out for us."

Perhaps the biggest test comes Sunday when the Patriots play at Green Bay in what could be a Super Bowl preview.

But even the smoking-hot Packers had their hiccups Sunday, just getting past Minnesota, 24-21. The Patriots barely have been challenged since their wake-up call in Week 4, when they were on the wrong end of a 41-14 beat-down by Kansas City.

New England averaged 20.0 points in its first four games, and 39.6 in its last seven.

"They were able to move the ball, score touchdowns on us and we got a little settled down there for a while right after the half, but they still were able to handle us pretty well," Lions Coach Jim Caldwell said.

And the Patriots are moving the ball in all kinds of ways. A week after running the ball for 244 yards against Indianapolis, they threw it 53 times against Detroit.

"Whatever it takes, we're going to try to figure out, whatever it takes," Brady said.

Perhaps the best example of the Patriots' finding different ways to win was the tale of running back Jonas Gray. He had an incredible breakout game against the Colts last week, running for 201 yards and four touchdowns. He earned AFC offensive player-of-the-week honors and made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Then, on Friday, he overslept and missed practice.

His totals Sunday? Zero yards, zero touches, zero snaps.

Gray learned a hard and literal lesson: You snooze, you lose.

Return to normalcy

A week after both Super Bowl teams lost, Seattle and Denver responded with victories Sunday.

The Seahawks bounced back from a defeat at Kansas City with a commanding 19-3 victory over Arizona, playing the kind of defense that won them a Lombardi Trophy in February. The win put to rest, at least temporarily, the notion the Seahawks are beginning to unravel.

"There was something that was missing," Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "There was a subtle difference there and I feel like today we kind of found it. We talked about it throughout the week. Like I said, just trusting each other, respecting each other and going out there and playing for each other.

"I definitely felt it today."

It was only the second loss of the season for Arizona, which still has a two-game lead in the NFC West. It didn't help quarterback Drew Stanton that he was without security-blanket receiver Larry Fitzgerald, inactive for the first time in seven years, or that Jaron Brown dropped a catchable ball in the end zone in the first half.

Denver also rebounded Sunday, but it was a much closer game. The Broncos mounted a fourth-quarter comeback by scoring touchdowns on three consecutive possessions, then hung on for a 39-36 victory over Miami.

In bringing his team back from an 11-point deficit, Manning recorded his NFL-record 51st game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. It was his first game-winning drive since directing a comeback over Washington on Oct. 28, 2013.

"We definitely earned a victory against a good football team today but we've got to keep it going," said Manning, whose team plays at Kansas City next Sunday night. "We can't win one and have a fall-off."

Behind Manning on the list of fourth-quarter/overtime comebacks are Dan Marino (47), Brett Favre (43), John Elway (40) and Warren Moon (35).

Home sweet home

Seattle's Russell Wilson has emerged victorious 20 times in 22 home starts. That ties him for the fewest starts needed to reach 20 regular-season wins at home. The other three quarterbacks to accomplish that feat are Atlanta's Matt Ryan, St. Louis' Marc Bulger and Dallas' Danny White.

Many, many happy returns

The first score of the day Sunday came on the first play of Philadelphia's home game against Tennessee. Eagles rookie Josh Huff ran the opening kickoff back 107 yards for a touchdown. It was the 10th return touchdown of the season for Philadelphia — two runbacks each on kickoffs, punts, blocked punts, interceptions and fumbles.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 1976 Denver Broncos were the only other team since the 1970 merger to have 10 return touchdowns in the first 11 games.

"We talk about starting fast," Eagles Coach Chip Kelly said, "but you can't start faster than that."

Blake's mistakes

Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles didn't look like a rookie earlier this season. Now, it's as if someone tapped him on the shoulder and whispered the news in his ear.

Bortles has been tentative and inaccurate lately, on Sunday completing 15 of 27 passes for 146 yards and no touchdowns. The Colts sacked him four times and intercepted him once.

Cheese wheels

The Packers have been around a long time, so it's quite a feat to make history for them. Nevertheless, running back Eddie Lacy has done it.

Lacy rushed for 125 yards with a touchdown and scored a receiving touchdown in the victory over Minnesota. He's the first Packers running back to record at least 100 yards from scrimmage and a receiving touchdown in three consecutive games.

Welcome back

The Cleveland Browns got All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon back after his suspension was shortened from a full season to 10 games under the terms of the new drug policy. He played a significant role in Cleveland's last-second 26-24 victory at Atlanta.

"How did I hold up? Pretty good," said Gordon, who had eight catches for 120 yards. "The adrenaline will keep you going."

Meanwhile, running back LeGarrette Blount resurfaced in New England five days after he was cut by Pittsburgh. He rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns in the rout of the Lions.

"I was prepared for anything," said Blount, who played for the Patriots last season. "I came in and they told me, 'Just be prepared for whatever we use you for.' So, I just made sure I was ready."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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