EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 17, 2011

Out of this Pats' win, a defense is born

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

FOXBORO — Mark it down. At 7:04 of the third quarter, Patriots defensive end Andre Carter works the corner on a Dallas rookie offensive tackle, defeats the block and sacks Tony Romo.

It was a four-point play - the difference between an almost certain touchdown and Dan Bailey's chip shot field goal - and more importantly marked the birth of the 2011 New England Patriots defense.

Forget all the numbers, good and bad, through the first five-and-a-half games. Yesterday was the first day of the rest of this defense's life.

I think

Much of New England will strut like roosters, chests puffed out ready to bump the nearest guy in a "Wilfork 75" jersey. The Super stoppers are in place, you will hear.

You're all crackers. James Ihedigbo, Kyle Love, Gary Guyton and Kyle Arrington et al just aren't there yet.

But honestly, there were signs yesterday. Remember, the goal is not to take down a shell-shocked Tony Romo in October. Your eyes must be on Aaron Rodgers in February. What happens then?

Bill Belichick now has 10 weeks or so to take this group from where we stand right now to a legit February force. The road is long.

At least yesterday, the guys across the way seemed to be impressed.

"I don't deal with numbers, they're a great defense," said Miles Austin, who despite a pair of bad drops caught seven passes for 74 yards.

New England did come in ranked 32nd in pass defense and total yardage. But Dallas tight end Jason Witten says changes in the past couple of weeks turn those statistics into lies.

"They're a lot better than that. (The bad numbers were built) early in the year when they were playing a lot more man coverage. They're doing a lot better job with their zone coverage, getting more pressure with their front four. You can see the difference."

I know, you're all pointing to last week's win over the Jets and the seven straight 3-and-outs "forced."

Seriously, in each of those circumstances, it was Jet failure, not Pats' playmaking.

Yesterday here, we got both, beginning with Carter. Look, when the opposition chooses not to block you, any NFL player is going to make a play. But Carter beat his man squarely and delivered.

It's a start.

Carter and Ihedigbo blew up the strange screen call on the Pats' 10 to backup tight end Martellus Bennett. And a blitzing Brandon Spikes couldn't help but blow up Romo's shovel pass to force a field goal, late in the fourth.

That was this defense.

"Week to week as long as you're getting better, that's all you can ask," said linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

Championship mettle? Not yet. But there is reason to celebrate.

Yesterday, a defense was born. And the Pats are again in that chase to February.