FOXBORO — What a difference a week makes.
The New England Patriots went from being crushed to sitting in the catbird seat in just one week. They not only took care of the New York Jets, but they got some help in Kansas City and Oakland Sunday.
After taking a deep breath and checking the standings, you realize the Patriots are right where they need to be. And a lot of that came to fruition at Gillette Stadium Sunday.
Here are 10 reasons to feel good about the Patriots' place (not the mega-mall on Route 1) heading into Thanksgiving week:
1. No Colts hangover.
The Patriots and Jets both desperately needed to win on Sunday, for similar reasons — mental anguish. But it was the Patriots who played angry from the opening snap. While it's too early to shun the devastating loss to the Colts as insignificant (home-field advantage in playoffs still at stake), it's not too early to say the Patriots put the mental part of the loss behind them.
2. Maroney has ears.
Patriots running back Laurence Maroney showed his disdain for the criticism — he's a dancer, not an NFL running back — by getting out of Dodge before the locker room opened to the media. But Sunday's game was one of his best as a Patriot. He only had 77 yards, but they were 77 very physical yards. Not only did he score two touchdowns, but he ran over two Jets defensive backs on two of his 22 carries. The fact that Bill Belichick stuck with his running back after his second fumble in two weeks, spoke volumes of his importance. Fred Taylor is expected back soon. But if Maroney runs like he did on Sunday, he will be the go-to guy.
3. Somebody on 'D' made plays.
Frankly, it was about time somebody like Leigh Bodden, who had three interceptions, made a game-changing play, specifically his first 53-yard return for a touchdown. It put the Patriots ahead, 7-0, for good. It was a trait of all three Super Bowl champions ('01, '03 and '04). Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas need to follow suit. They are on this team for that reason.
4. Edelman is No. 3.
Julian Edelman couldn't outrun Joey Galloway, the guy he replaced on the roster as the No. 3 wide receiver, but he sure outplayed the ex-Patriot. Edelman has obviously watched Wes Welker closely, especially his quick footwork. With Moss handling the deep stuff, Edelman adds another dimension to the passing game with Welker over the middle.
5. Destiny in Pats hands.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals blew it on Sunday, particularly the "Bungals." They both basically did what the Patriots did against the Colts — they choked. The Steelers (6-4) lost to the Chiefs and the Bengals (7-3) lost to the Raiders. It basically means that the Patriots have destiny in their own hands. The Chargers are also at 7-3, but they will play the Bengals. It appears the Patriots would win a key tiebreaker if tied with both teams — winning margin. The Patriots can get the No. 2 seed and first-round bye if they win out.
6. Pressure on Saints.
Other than playoff position and several tie-breaking opportunities, the Patriots don't have the most to lose Monday night when they play in New Orleans.
The Saints are seen as the best team in the NFL and they are undefeated. We all know the ramnifications of those two facts. The Saints are the most complete team in the league, barely ahead of the Colts. They have had a few interesting wins, including the comeback victory in Miami. But they haven't faced an offense like the Pats and Brady. The Pats will be 3 or 4-point be underdogs, which isn't a bad place to be.
7. A bright Light returns.
The Patriots will get a boost to their offensive line when Matt Light returns. Forget about the controversy referring to where he is going to play — left tackle in place of the surprising Sebastian Vollmer or right tackle in place of starter Nick Kaczur. The fact that the Patriots have another very good linemen to add to their collection is a wonderful problem to have.
It means the Patriots can survive an injury to its offensive line in December.
8. Brady is Brady.
Forget about the stats (five straight 300-yard games in four wins), but look at him getting up off the turf after some big hits.
Brady had a nice seven-yard scramble at the end of the third quarter, getting caught from behind. But he bounced right up as if nothing happened. His left knee has not been an issue since he was gingerly moving around much of September. His injury last fall is not a story any more, which is quietly very good news.
9. No Moss, no problem.
Randy Moss can be stopped (or contained) and the Patriots can win, which was the case on Sunday. Welker has been upgraded to superstar status recently and makes for an interesting matchup the rest of the season. Moss is Brady's key receiver in the end zone, but Welker and Edelman have grown in importance, too, especially in moving the chains.
10. December is almost here.
This is the Belichick month. Since 2002, the Patriots are 25-3 in December. That isn't great, it's Hall of Fame material.
The Patriots have played their best football this time of year, which has something to do with their four Super Bowl appearances. Even last year, with Matt Cassel at quarterback, the Patriots swept the month.
E-mail Bill Burt at email@example.com.
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