EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 22, 2011

Pats 'D' has time to make its run

Bill Burt

FOXBORO — Consider last night as Week 1 of an 11-week long journey.

While the Super Bowl in Indianapolis happens to exactly coincide with the end of that journey, that's only part of it, getting there. The other part, particularly on Route 1 in Foxboro, is winning. And if you believe most of America, that is next to impossible.

The Green Bay Packers, the defending champions, are for real. They have the best player, in quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, and they are playing with a confidence most of us in these parts can recall.

They have that swagger.

As for coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots, well, they are currently in their comfort zone. They are where they've always seemed to do their best work.

Under the radar.

They are 7-3 after last night's 34-3 drubbing of the undermanned Kansas City Chiefs, but let's be honest — not many football gurus are concerned about your favorite team. They point to the Patriots defensive backfield and, well, you can't argue with them.

Most of those guys they are pointing to are practice squad-level guys, maybe backups at best, from schools like Southern Methodist, South Carolina State, UMass Amherst and Eastern Kentucky.

The beauty of these opinions is that they don't matter. Super Bowls are not won before Thanksgiving. Nobody knows that better than the 2007 Patriots.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are 1. and 1a. among the AFC teams to beat, so they say. And apparently either one of them, or even the Patriots, are expected to be easy fodder for the Packers.

As for what we learned about the Patriots last night against the Chiefs? Not much. But it bought the Patriots, particularly their defense, another week of on-the-job training.

The three points allowed, given the fact that the Chiefs, which were 27th in points scored (15.7) coming in and they were without their starting quarterback — ex-Patriot Matt Cassel is out of the year with an injury to his throwing hand — isn't a cause for celebration. But at some point, you have to wonder if the best is yet to come.

Cornerback Kyle Arrington, a turnstile for much of his career as a fill-in on the right side of the field, is starting to look like a legitimate cover guy. At some point, we're going to have to acknowledge his NFL-leading eight interceptions (he had two more last night) aren't a fluke.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo appears to have found a personal comfort zone as the "other" middle linebacker, roaming more and acting on instinct.

The best part of this all is that two weeks from now, the odds are good that the Patriots best safety (Patrick Chung), cornerback (Devin McCourty) and linebacker (Brandon Spikes) will all be back in the lineup and James Ihedigbo, Antwaun Molden and Gary Guyton will return to backup duty.

Sure, injuries aren't good. But sometime,s guys like Arrington are asked to find another level, because of necessity, and they get there.

"Injuries are part of the game," said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "Sometimes that forces other guys to step in. Sometimes guys rise to the occasion. It seems that's happening around here."

Sure the Patriots have a lot of proving to do beginning this coming week in Philadelphia. The Eagles may be a dysfunctional 4-6, but they beat the New York Giants in the Meadowlands and even without Michael Vick they have as much talent as any team in the league.

And even if they were to beat Indianapolis, (at) Washington, (at) Denver, Miami and Buffalo, to finish at 13-3 or 12-4, everybody knows that the games in January trump them the other 16.

But something tells me that Belichick is spending 30 minutes each morning, probably alone, maybe at about 5:30 a.m., looking at Packers' film, plotting his moves at containing Rodgers and that offense ... just in case.

There is time, a lot of time, now 10 weeks and counting to pull it off.

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