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December 14, 2009

Far from perfect, Patriots defense does enough

FOXBORO - It wasn't a Picasso.

Heck, it might not have been the work of a star student at the Art Institute of Boston. But, in the end, it was enough.

While it was hardly a masterpiece, the New England defense had just enough to finish off a 20-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers yesterday.

Make no mistake, these are not the Patriots that won Super Bowls with defense, sporting Pro Bowl playmakers like Ty Law and Tedy Bruschi all over the field. But if New England has any chance of contending this season, it will be with workmanlike performances by the defense, like the one it turned in yesterday.

"We didn't play great," said Patriots safety James Sanders. "But we did enough to win. That's what we needed, and maybe this is something we can build off of."

It's safe to say the defense had scuffled in recent weeks.

The Pats allowed 407 total yards to the Indianapolis Colts and 480 yards to the New Orleans Saints. Those two teams feature the NFL MVP frontrunners: quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

But more disturbing was the 416 yards allowed to the Miami Dolphins last week. That included 335 passing yards by Chad Henne, who entered the season as the Dolphins' backup.

Even worse than the statistics — much worse — were the fourth-quarter, game-winning drives surrendered to both the Colts and the Dolphins.

The Pats' defense wasn't just struggling. It was simply overwhelmed.

"We made some adjustments going into this week," said Pats linebacker Jerod Mayo. "In the previous few weeks we have had a number of communication problems. We didn't want that to happen today, and it didn't. We wanted to get on the same page."

Fear — and more than a few boos — filled Gillette Stadium when the defense showed all-too-familiar sloppy play late in the first quarter when Steve Smith flew down the field and grabbed a 41-yard touchdown pass from Panthers backup QB Matt Moore.

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