EAST RUTHERFORD, N. J. - Bill Belichick's rock-solid defense played to its reputation yesterday, but it was the New England Patriots' suddenly vibrant offense that sent a shiver through the rest of the AFC.
Propelled by some provocative play-calling by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and that proud defense, the Patriots crushed the New York Jets, 44-7, at the Meadowlands to start the season 2-0 for the first time in Belichick's three-year coaching tenure.
A year ago, the Patriots' offense was limited by the inexperience of quarterback Tom Brady and a shortage of big-play receivers. Yesterday, New England showed the passing game is once again in good hands.
"We've added guys who can do different things," Brady said after throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. "We're trying to get everybody involved. One thing Charlie is best in the league at is when he finds talent, he finds ways to utilize those guys ... whether it's Cam Cleeland or [Christian] Fauria or Kevin Faulk."
Brady completed 25 of 35 passes against the Jets. Seventeen completions went to wide receivers and eight went to new players.
Despite a short week - the Patriots played last Monday night - and a driving rain, New England rolled up 432 yards and scored on six straight possessions.
Belichick said one of his biggest objectives this season was to get more production out of his Super Bowl offense. Toward that end, he signed tight end Cleeland and wide receiver Donald Hayes as free agents and drafted tight end Daniel Graham and wide-out Deion Branch.
Cleeland caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the second quarter, and Branch scored in the fourth on an electric 49-yard catch-and-run.
"I think we've been able to move the ball better, certainly than the first two games we started with last year," Belichick said. "We've been able to get more points."
The Patriots have piled up 775 yards and 74 points in their first two games, including 343 and 30 against Pittsburgh in the opener. Against a rebuilt New York defense, they had four scoring drives of more than 60 yards. That included a franchise-record 19-play field-goal drive just before the half.
Weis kept the Jets guessing all day. He called a direct snap to Faulk with Brady in the shotgun formation for one first down. He had Brady sneak the ball for another from the spread formation. And Weis had Brady fake a quick screen left and hand the ball to Faulk, who scampered 25 yards for another first down.
"It's all part of our scheme," Brady said. "We're kind of taking what they give you. One thing about our team, if you're a defense, it's hard to cover everything."
The defense did its part, too. Tebucky Jones not only stripped quarterback Vinny Testaverde of the ball on a safety blitz to start the second half, but he also retrieved it and went 24 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0.
After the second of Adam Vinatieri's three field goals, former Jets safety Victor Green intercepted Testaverde at his 10 and went 90 yards for a touchdown.
Unlike Brady, who was never even pressured, Testaverde was under fire from the Patriots' relentless blitz. He was sacked three times and didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until the final four minutes of the third quarter.
"The only reason he got to the receiver then was we got a soft zone going," said safety Lawyer Milloy.
NOTES: The Patriots have won a franchise-record eight straight games in the regular season dating to last year. ... Linebacker Willie McGinest deflected three passes and had a sack. ... Former Raven O.J. Brigance, signed last week by the Patriots, had one tackle and one assist on kick coverage teams.