It’s almost unfair. It is unfair. In a down year for most NFL teams, the New England Patriots are finding their stride late in the year, like they always do. It sure did not look like it five weeks ago, when the Seattle Seahawks came into Foxborough and punched this team in the mouth. They did not look good when the score was 13-10 after three quarters of play against the now 1-13 San Francisco 49ers. So when did it turn around?
Three weeks ago, at MetLife Stadium, with two minutes remaining in the game against the rival New York Jets, Tom Brady throws a touchdown pass to rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell to put the Patriots up 5 points. The defense needed to make a play. A defense that has failed to make plays all season long, prior to that game, needed to seal the win. Free agent acquisition Chris Long made the play, stripping quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a sack, and the Patriots recovered.
Next week, the Los Angeles Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff came into town, coming off a game where he threw for three touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of over 100. The Patriots defense made Goff look like he was a high school quarterback, notching four sacks on the rookie and picking him off twice. The Rams offense, by no means, is a decent offense. Allowing 97 total yards of offense through 56 minutes of play though, is no small achievement.
The next week was the real test. The Baltimore Ravens, coming off of a dominating 38-6 win over the Miami Dolphins, were coming into Foxborough, a place they have never feared. The number one defense, looking to get revenge on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs two years ago. Tom Brady & co. looking to get revenge on the team that warned the Colts about the possibility of the Patriots using under inflated football. It was supposed to be a dog fight game, as both teams are fighting for playoff positioning.
It was not even close. The final score may have indicated otherwise, but Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater made that possible, as their special teams gaffes pulled the game within 6 points. The Patriots offense struggled on the ensuing possessions, as they punted after gaining one first down on two possessions. The defense held up though, allowing only one field goal on the next two Ravens’ drives. It was time for Brady and the offense to make a play, and they made the play of the game. Brady found Chris Hogan down the middle of the field for a 79 yard touchdown, and the Patriots took care of business.
The next week was no small task either. The New England Patriots played the Denver Broncos, at Sports Authority Field. Brady’s record at Denver prior to this matchup? 2-7. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware still haunt Brady, after combining for 3 sacks, the last time they met for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. The Broncos defense, while not at the all-time great level they were playing at last year, is still a top defensive unit. It was game on.
For the first time since November 28th of 2004, the Patriots won a game when Tom Brady completed 50% of his passes, threw for under 200 yards, had a passer rating under 70 with 0 touchdowns. They had lost 7 straight, prior to Sunday’s win, under those conditions. The Patriots were able to win by running the ball, playing shutdown defense and control the clock. Dion Lewis rushed for 95 yards on 18 carries, the defense did not allow points on 11 of Denver’s 12 drives (including five straight 3 & outs to start the second half) and won the time of possession battle 34-26.
The offense, even without Gronk, is still capable of putting up 30 points against the number one ranked defense. The defense, while not as talented as other top defenses in the league, is first in points allowed/game. They have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. In a down year for almost every team in the National Football League, the New England Patriots truly do look unstoppable.