EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 2, 2012

The Drive and how Pats have finally hit their stride

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — If the New England Patriots make it to New Orleans and then finally get that elusive fourth and career-defining Super Bowl, my guess is nobody will bring up yesterday’s nondescript fourth quarter in Miami. And that would be a mistake.

That’s true, yesterday’s ugly game in south Florida, in which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looked only slightly above average, produced a memory worth remembering.

The Patriots ran out the clock. Literally and figuratively.

I will call it The Drive. Sure, the record books won’t be redone. The Patriots didn’t clinch anything special, other than another AFC East division. There wasn’t any spectacular catch, interception return or 60-yard field goal.

What transpired in the fourth quarter was much more important than a SportsCenter highlight.

The Patriots, playing subpar on offense, were ahead, 20-13, with 8:28 remaining in the game. The Patriots have been there before the last few years, including a recent Super Bowl (last year!).

Brady was not looking like Brady. The opposing team was getting lots of pressure on him — four sacks in just over three quarters. And, well, running out the clock or getting another score in those conditions has been the exception rather than the rule.

The difference is that this year, almost since the opening bell in early September, the Patriots have committed to pounding the football. That means running the ball when the other team knows you are running.

Sure, Brady is an MVP candidate with 27 TD passes, four interceptions and the second best QB rating (105.2) in the game, barely behind Discount Double Check Rodgers in Green Bay (105.6).

But we might surmise that a lot of his success this year, beyond his obsession with winning and precision, has been the Patriots balanced attack on offense.

Enough with the prose and back to the action ... The Patriots drove from their own 20 and expended 16 plays and 7:17, finishing it off with a field goal and 10 point lead.

The best part, though, was the way they did it. Brady threw three passes, all short completions, and back Stevan Ridley ran it 10 times for 46 yards. Shane Vereen had another carry for eight yards before Brady, rather than go for the TD at the 2-yard line, basically dived on the ground to give his kicker a straighter shot.

Over that time, the Dolphins, ranked seventh in rushing yards allowed (97.7) and fifth in rushing yards per carry (3.7), used up all of their timeouts, killing any chance of a comeback.

The much-maligned Patriots defense has already earned the “tough” moniker, forcing a league-leading 18 fumbles. Well, yesterday in Miami, the Patriots offense deserved to be called tough. too.

It’s good to know Brady has some help, lots of help. Beating the Patriots has become a whole lot tougher because they are tougher.

Email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.