FOXBOROUGH -- Just a few seconds after Richard Seymour raced 68 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown with a Drew Bledsoe fumble in Sunday's 31-17 Patriots victory over the Buffalo Bills, the camera panned the sideline at Ralph Wilson Stadium to capture a telling scene.
There was a joyful Tom Brady embracing offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
The Brady-Weis relationship likely will go down as one of the most important in this football generation. In some ways, this is the old chicken-and-egg question: Which has made the other successful? Weis has had a magic touch with Brady, grooming him to replace Bledsoe and then growing with him in an offense that may be the best unit on this Patriots' team, surpassing the defense.
Brady is a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, but history will accurately portray the Patriots as a defensive team first and an offensive one second. He's never been forced to duplicate Peyton Manning's experience with the Indianapolis Colts or Bledsoe's with the Patriots of the late '90s, which relied on the star quarterback to make big plays because the defenses simply couldn't win games on their own.
But with the Patriots' defense vulnerable at times, it's a legitimate question to ask after three good offensive performances: Is the offense leading the team, or is the defense?
"It's an interesting topic," said Patriots cornerback Ty Law. "I'm not sure you're going to get anyone to say anything about that one around here. That's one thing I'm sure of. I will say this, they do go hand in hand. In some games the defense is better and in some games the offense is better. But to say who's better, that's up to the critics to decide."
Matt Light, who had a productive game at left tackle Sunday, said, "I don't think about it at all. Listen, I think we've improved every year we've been here. I think we continue to do what we do, but we've done it a little better this season. I think the big thing we do is adapt pretty well.
"We've been thrown a lot of curveballs. We had curveballs last year when guys were hurt up front. We had receivers hurt and we came out of that all right. Then in the offseason you lose people and people have been injured through Week 3. I think we're pretty resilient."
There's no denying that Sunday's win was sealed with Tedy Bruschi forcing Bledsoe to fumble and Seymour's subsequent touchdown run. But Brady and the offense made huge plays. The offense pulled the Patriots even at 17, just 1 minute 15 seconds after the Bills had taken a 17-10 lead. Then Brady & Co. broke the deadlock with an impressive 80-yard drive early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had four drives of 60 yards or more, scored three touchdowns, and added a field goal.
It seems Weis has taken his offensive creativity to new heights, challenging Brady as never before. The Patriots are averaging 27 points per game, third in the league, and also are third overall in offense. The defense ranks 12th overall and is 22d against the run.
The changing face of the offense is due in part to the addition of Corey Dillon, who has given the Patriots their best running threat since Curtis Martin, providing an added play-action component.
The improving offensive line is another major factor. The unit protects its quarterback like no other line in the league.
Brady took a lot of hits from the Bills, who blitzed on 42 of the Patriots' 56 offensive plays, but the Bills never sacked him. He often beat the blitz with stellar throws, including a 44-yard reception by David Givens on first and 35 on the first series of the game, leading to a 15-yard touchdown run by Dillon.
Even Bill Belichick liked that one.
"You start getting into some of those first-and-35s, that was big to get out of that kind of situation," said the coach. "It was a really nice play Brady hit Givens on, and then it was a good play there after that. Tom very alertly brought the team up to the line and got the ball snapped. I don't know if it would have been reviewed or not or what would have happened, but we were trying to prevent that and he did a good job with it."
Belichick said Brady also did a good job beating the blitzes.
"I think he has always been pretty good at that," Belichick said. "Tom has good pocket presence. He has a good feel for where the rushers are, where the pressure is, and how to slide. He is not an elusive Michael Vick type of guy, but he has good quickness and can slide in the pocket and can feel the pressure and still deliver the ball.
"Being able to see that in addition to recognizing the blitz and knowing if he is hot or if it is picked up, and he has time to stand in there and throw, that is all part of the quarterback decision-making process on those plays."
Law knows how good the offense is; he covers it in practice. And while there is a tremendous in-team competition that defensive line coach Pepper Johnson fuels on a daily basis, Law says the practices are beneficial because the intensity level and the quality of receivers prepare him for the opposition.
"Our receivers are very tough to cover," Law said. "We have such a variety of receivers, that you can pretty much get the look you want in practice during the week, which is a tremendous thing to have. If I'm covering a guy like Eric Moulds, I'll go to Givens. If I'm covering a little scatback guy, I'll [ask] Deion [Branch] and [David] Patten to give me that look. If I'm playing a tall receiver, I'll go to P.K. [Sam] and say, `I'm going to need you.' So I have my pick of the litter.
"When they go out there against other defenses, it's awfully tough for guys to defend these guys. They're fast, they're smart, and that relationship between them and Tom has just gotten better and better every year."
Nobody here is going to answer the question directly.
But it has become a worthy debate.