EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 28, 2009

Did Patriots finally get their identity?

Bill Burt

Bring on the Steelers. Bring on the Chargers. Bring on the Colts. In that order.

And heck, while we're at it, bring on the Eagles, Vikings or Saints, too.

It could get very exciting around here, which isn't a bad thing considering the strange and surprisingly dull season (on the field).

And all it took was one measly game in which the Patriots looked like the good old December Destroyers of Patriots Past.

The Patriots were awesome yesterday. They really were as they beat Jacksonville 35-7 at home to clinch the AFC East.

I don't remember the last time I said they were awesome, excluding the snow bowl win over the Tennessee Titans.

They needed some semblance of a great game and they got it against the usually decent Jaguars. Their was something at stake for both teams: a playoff berth.

But the Patriots and all of their expectations really had more at stake. Tom Brady, Randy Moss, the power game and the entire defense needed to bring their A games.

Check, check, check and check.

Which was the most impressive? It's a tough call.

Brady was near perfect: 23-for-26, 267 yards, 4 TDs.

That is not too far off his 26-for-28, 262, 3 TDs in the opening round playoff tilt in January 2008 against Jacksonville.

While Wes Welker continued moving-the-chains (13 receptions, 138 yards). And Moss finished job with three TD receptions, all of which looked very easy.

The Patriots tallied 197 rushing yards divided between four running backs.

And defensively, the Patriots, led by Jerod Mayo, were every bit as good as the aforementioned stars of the day.

The point is the Patriots of 2007, particularly on offense, are a thing of the past.

We can talk all we want about the mighty offense, but the Patriots we grew to admire were the kind of team that could shut down the best offense in the league one week and then make mincemeat of the best defense in the league the next one.

That exact scenario happened in January 2005 when the Patriots did exactly that to the Colts (20-3) and Steelers (41-27) before nipping the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.

Are these Patriots on a par with that eventual Super Bowl champion? Definitely not on paper, but possibly in spirit.

Before yesterday, the Patriots hadn't scored more than 30 points in a game since beating the Jets 31-14 on Nov. 22.

The 20-10 score over the Panthers two weeks ago and the 17-10 win in Buffalo last week is more like it.

It's about winning, ugly, especially this time of year.

The irony is that yesterday there was nothing ugly about it.

Several Patriots were faced with a challenge, including coach Bill Belichick, and they looked like champions. Best of all, they had fun doing it.

These Patriots are not good enough to rest on these laurels. Not with the foes the possibly could be facing when it all gets seroius on Wild Card Weekend.

But if they can play anything like we saw yesterday, which centered around mental and physical toughness, they can have a lot of fun.

Throw the stats away, as impressive as they were. The fact that the Patriots fumbled the ball on their goal line on their first drive (Laurence Maroney) yet they didn't implode.

Maybe that's their identity. Maybe the style points have disappeared and it is all about winning again.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.