The bye week comes at a great time for the Patriots, given their injuries and their inconsistent play all season.
The Patriots have given fans a bit of everything this season. The glass is half-empty, half-full and has a couple of scratches on it. Tom Brady has had plenty of reasons to smile this season. But is he satisfied? Probably not. Take it from No. 12 himself: "I think [there are] a lot of things I that we can do better" he told reporters this week. And what's in that glass has ranged from beer and champagne to Maalox and Pepto-Bismol.
On the half-empty side is the defense and, more specifically, the secondary. The Patriots addressed that problem - they hope - by picking the hard-hitting and suspended-for-one-more-week, 6-foot-1 Aqib Talib, which will be nice considering the current band of smurfs are not getting the job done. While this will likely drive passes toward rookie CB Alfonzo Dennard, it's hoped Fonzie might spend the bye week watching the "Turn Your Head Around On Pass Coverage" video. Devin McCourty has been exiled to the safety position - his next move might be toward parking-lot attendant when Pat Chung returns.
While the Patriots' offense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in total yards per game, the running game needs to be more consistent. The Patriots are running the ball 45 percent of the time, much more than last season, but at times it doesn't carry nearly the effect or impact that it should. While Danny Woodhead seems to be the back of choice when it counts, it's going to be up to Stevan Ridley to emerge as the key back and hold on to the ball at the same time. Ridley's best games this season are usually the Patriots' best games - as they've won three of the four games when he's broken 100 yards.
It was refreshing to see Josh McDaniels and Brady working together to stretch things out and get aggressive last week - specifically when the Patriots scored from the 19 on a 3rd-and-1 when Brady hit Brandon Lloyd alone in the end zone and New England's decision to go for the end zone on 4th-and-1 when the score was tied at 7-7. Result: touchdown Shane Vereen. Rob Gronkowski's first TD catch, which resulted in the "Changing of the Guard Spike' took advantage of the Rams' inability to play press coverage on Gronk and Brady's ability to exploit that glaring deficiency.
Brady has been brilliant and bothersome this season. His performance against the very compliant Rams in London was 2007-esque. It helps when he isn't sacked and barely touched. Brady continues to be the best quarterback in the league when he feels comfortable in the pocket and is given time to throw. He's shown some jitters this year - especially against the Ravens and Seahawks - but still had the Patriots in position to win in both of those games. Brady is so good that when he isn't on his game 100 percent, it becomes glaringly obvious and often costly for the Patriots.
Brady can't do all by himself or hasn't done enough by himself, depending on your perspective. Twice in this decade, Brady has walked off the field during a Super Bowl with the lead and less than 3:48 to play. But even that wasn't enough to win either one of those games. Clearly, Brady is not the problem with this team - nor has he ever been since he took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
The Patriots should be rested and ready next week when they resume hostilities against the Bills in Foxborough. Most of the nagging injuries should be resolved by them. Looking ahead at their schedule, their biggest challenge will be a three-week stretch in December when they face the Dolphins in South Florida, followed by the Texans and 49ers at home. That's a bit tougher task than the Patriots faced at this point last season, when they were able to coast after losing to the Giants 24-20. That defeat also left them at 5-3 before they ran the table all the way to Indianapolis. As the Giants so amply demonstrated last season - just getting to the playoffs is all that matters.
The Patriots have an outside shot at the No. 2 seed in the AFC (the loss to Baltimore will be costly there), but their best and most realistic hope would be a playoff berth as AFC East champs, as the division remains theirs to lose.
If they manage to do that, it would be time to full up the glass and raise a toast.
Here are this week's rankings. We'll update them each week on Saturday during the season:
1. Falcons (7-0; 1): Matt Ryan is third in passing (103.0 rating) in the NFL with 2,018 yards passing, 17 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.The Falcons remain the lone undefeated team in the NFL. Are we sure he really played at Boston College?
2. Texans (6-1; 2): Sports Illustrated cover jinx alert - at least in my mailbox.
3. Giants (6-2; 3): Speaking of Boston College success stories: middle linebacker Mark Herzlich has a chance to get back in the starting lineup thanks to an injury to chase Chase Blackburn. At least we don't hate everyone on the Giants.
4. 49ers: (6-2; 5) The 49ers asked the NFL to review the fourth-quarter incompletion to Michael Crabtree Monday night that prevented Alex Smith from 19-for-19 against Arizona Monday night, which would have set an NFL record for the most-accurate game passing in NFL history. Let the re-counts begin.
5. Bears (6-1; 6): Richard Dent said this week that the Bears of the 1980s could have won even more Super Bowls if it weren't for Mike Ditka's mismanagement of the quarterback position. The Patriots of the 1980s would have won more Super Bowls if it weren't for Richard Dent's mismanagement of their quarterback.
6. Ravens (5-2; 4): Bryant McKinnie denied a story that he was being sued for allegedly piling up $375,000 at a string of South Florida strip clubs, calling it "BS." And that was just from his days at the University of Miami.
7. Patriots (5-3; 8): Brady and Randy Moss both reverted to 2007 form last week.
8. Packers (5-3; 10): 24-15 win over Jacksonville re-iterates why they call it "gambling" since the line was 14.5 points.
9, Broncos (4-3; 15): Time for Brady to step up and buy 20 or 30 Papa Gino's to keep pace with Peyton Manning.
10. Steelers (4-3; 18): Commuting for day from Pittsburgh to New Jersey on Sunday due to lack of available hotel space. Let the excuses begin
11. Vikings (5-3; 9): Visit Seattle this week, where the noise and mayhem have created 113 false-start flags since 2005 - half of those coming against the Patriots three weeks ago.
12. Dolphins (4-3; 17): If the Heat's bandwagon is a 2012 Porsche, the Dolphins' bandwagon is a 1985 Buick LeSabre.
13. Colts (4-3; 22): Play host to the Dolphins this week with winner gaining edge for top wild-card spot in the AFC.
14. Rams (4-4; 19): Began bye week about six minutes into Sunday's loss to the Patriots.
15. Seahawks (4-4; 7): Something you'd never see tweeted by Belichick, if he ever tweeted:
2 days and counting...SEA!!!! HAWKS!!!!— Pete Carroll (@PeteCarroll) November 2, 2012
16. Cardinals (4-4; 11): Amassed a total of seven yards rushing in Monday night's loss the 49ers. Arizona is only third team in history to start 4-0 before going 0-4.
17. Cowboys (3-4; 12): You sure that isn't the Patriots...
The Dallas Cowboys are still the most loved/hated team in the NFL. In that way, they're still America's Team.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 1, 2012
18. Jets (3-5; 13): Never a dull week. Trade rumors swirled around Tim Tebow. Meanwhile, Tebow and new gal-pal Camilla Belle were "spotted holding hands and touching" at a Jacksonville night spot. Will Camilla get to second base before Tebow gets a first down? Stay tuned.
19. Eagles (3-4; 14): Andy Reid is standing behind Mike Vick, an powerful endorsement considering no one is standing behind Reid - and if they did - you wouldn't be able to see them.
20: Lions (3-4; 25): The fur will fly when they face the Jaguars this week.
21. Redskins (3-5; 16): Mike Shanahan said it's time for the Redskins veterans to "step it up" this week. A loss to 1-6 Carolina this week and fans in Washington might want to give Shanahan the boot.
22. Buccaneers (3-4; 24): Showed some promise with win over Minnesota last week and have emerged as a potential wildcard team in the NFC, along with about 12 other teams.
23. Bills (3-4; 26): At least they're no longer last in the AFC East.
24. Chargers (3-4; 20): When Antonio Gates caught a 14-yard yard TD pass from Philip Rivers on the opening drive Thursday, it snapped a streak of six straight quarters without a touchdown. Beating the Chiefs should only count as half-a-win.
25. Bengals (3-4; 21): Once the feline of choice in the NFL, the once "team to watch" in the AFC is about to lose its fourth-straight game once Pizza Boy and Broncos take care of them this week.
26. Titans (3-5; 23): Against the Bears this weekend, look for them to be cut to size once again.
27. Raiders (3-4; 30): Each team in the AFC West is guaranteed two wins a year because they get to play the Chiefs twice.
28. Saints (2-5; 27): Drew Brees is having a great year - when it comes to commercials.
29. Chiefs (1-6; 27): Wonder how the Patriots won anything with Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel on the payroll?
30. Panthers (1-6; 28): Marquee matchup between Cam Newton and RGIII - too bad for Newton the rest of the Panthers plan on showing up, too.
31. Browns (1-6; 31): Face the Ravens this week in what could be the most lopsided 10-9 loss in the history of football.
32. Jaguars (1-6; 32): There was a glimmer of hope this week in Jacksonville that favorite sort-of-son Tim Tebow might be headed back to town via a trade before those rumors were snuffed. On the bright side, the Waffle House is always open.
As always, let us know what you think. Join our in-game Patriots-Bills fan chat next week and bring your own Buffalo wings. Post your thoughts here, on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page or e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @realOBF.
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