FOXBORO — A perspiring Vince Wilfork ate up the limelight much like he attacks his dinner. He didn't want it to end.
Tom Brady, in his matching gray slacks and sweater with his carefully combed hair, watched from one wing of the podium. Deion Branch, casual in an untucked shirt and long hair, laughed on the other side.
Sunday was a good time to be a New England Patriot.
Drew Bledsoe was a very humble and classy figure at the halftime ceremony Sunday celebrating his induction into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.
What an afternoon to be any kind of Patriot at Gillette Stadium — current, former or even just a fan.
It is only week two of the 2011 season, as Brady and coach Bill Belichick and all the Patriots remind us, but the numbers for Brady and this ridiculous Patriot offense are piling up. Unless the NFL's high injury attrition rate attacks Foxboro, there is no reason to think this is going to change.
You thought Brady was good while torching Miami for 517 yards last Monday night?
How about this? He had 240 yards by halftime Sunday while hitting on 20 of his first 23 throws. Two of those went for touchdowns.
He finished with 423 yards against the highly-regarded Chargers, completing 31 of 40 throws, three for touchdowns. It seems everywhere he looks these days, a New England receiver is running free.
There is an embarrassment of riches in Foxboro, tailor made for the passing world the NFL has become.
With the spotlight on this record-setting offense, it's easy to overlook the defense. Well, most of the time.
You can't really overlook Mr. Wilfork. When he wants to speak, there's no stopping the 6-2, 300-and-whatever pounder (he's listed at 325). When he grabbed the podium Sunday night, he didn't want to let go.
Wilfork couldn't contain himself after getting his first career interception, a play on which he read his keys correctly on a screen, stepped in Philip Rivers' passing lane, reached up and deflected the ball, caught it and took off.
Thirty-five yards later, San Diego running back Mike Tolbert ran Wilfork down. It was one of the game's pivotal plays, with just nine seconds left in the half, and set up a 47-yard field goal and a 20-7 halftime lead.
What a sight. What a play.
The best description, short and succinct, came from Patriot defensive end Andre Carter. "The run was ugly, the pick great."
For one day we shall put aside Brady's numbers, and with them Deion Branch's eight catches for 129 yards, and the two touchdowns from Rob Gronkowski and the others from Aaron Hernandez and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Allow Wilfork the stage.
It's not often a defensive lineman steps up there, and Sunday Wilfork used it for all he could.
"Anytime you get your hands on the ball you always think about scoring, as a defensive player," he started.
Did you need oxygen, he was asked. "No. I am a well conditioned athlete," he joked.
He was asked why he didn't line up sometimes at tight end, as rookie tackle Nate Solder did.
"You talk to Bill about that. Like I said, we always talk smack about who is the better athlete, defense, offense, you name it. I think I put the defense ahead of the offense right now. I think the offense was ahead because of Troy Brown playing some defense, and actually coming out with some picks. But I think I pushed us back ahead."
Belichick used part of his interview to extol the virtues of his large defensive lineman on this most unlikely story.
"Vince is a tremendous athlete," Belichick said. "People don't realize how good his hands are, but he can throw it, catch it, catch punts. He wanted to return punts after we put him back there when he was a rookie in training camp."
Rivers was still shaking his head, giving Wilfork all the credit for his football brains and his athleticism.
"There was no way I could ever see him coming," he said. "I'd throw that one again every time. He made a great play — I don't know if that was something they looked at."
Aside from Wilfork's clutch play and post-game standup routine, the defense did do the job. Yes, it allowed San Diego 470 yards, and 10-of-12 third-down conversions. But it also came up with a second-quarter goal-line stand, two picks and two fumble recoveries. It was the definition of the bend-but-don't-break philosophy.
Whether that works in the long term is to be determined. Sunday, it worked.
Next Sunday, it's on to Buffalo and the rampaging Bills. Wilfork's got the taste now, though, and that's a danger to anyone or anything in front of him. Especially a bison.Click here to order Vince Wilfork’s proCane Rookie Card.