Pass tense

When Bill Belichick went out and brought Randy Moss to New England in the spring of 2007, the general consensus was that he was finally giving Tom Brady something to work with following a season in which the Patriots quarterback enjoyed the likes of Doug Gabriel and Reche Caldwell as his main wide receiver threats. Following a heartbreaking loss to the Colts in the 2006 AFC title game, perhaps the Patriots were trying to become what Indy took all the way to a Super Bowl title – an aerial, offensive force that would exhibit Brady’s immense talents, too often lost in the shadow of Peyton Manning hype.

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In reality, it could be these 2010 Patriots that are truly reminiscent of that ’06 Colts team.

That Colts team famously was unable to stop the run, at least up until it was trounced for 375 yards on the ground by the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14. Then, like a wedding at Cana, everything changed in an instant. The Colts didn’t allow another 200-yard game the rest of the season, and in the playoffs allowed a grand total of 331 yards over four games. It remains to this day one of the great statistical anomalies in football history.

Until…maybe now.

Heading into last night’s showdown with the Jets, the Patriots’ pass defense was a joke, despite the team’s 9-2 record. Only the Texans have allowed more passing yards this season than have the Patriots, a remarkable 3,322, a 276.8 average. Cold Hard Football Facts’ Defensive Passer Rating shows there has only been one other Patriots team worse in that category: the 1972 team that went 3-11.

Last night against the Jets: 149 yards, far and away the lowest number allowed in any victory this season (New England surrendered only 174 yards to the Cleveland Browns, yet were torched by Peyton Hillis in a loss last month).

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As Monique Walker writes today, “New England now has 23 takeaways this season. Underscoring how big those have been: in their 10 wins, the Patriots are plus-19 in the turnover battle; in their two losses, they are minus-5.”

The defense has been opportunistic, which helps explain how the Patriots are winning with such porous pass defense. But last night, they were opportunistic and effective. With four games remaining, could the Patriots’ fatal flaw suddenly become a strength? Tough to say definitively, especially with showdowns against quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yeah, I said it. 

One game, sure. But if the dreams around here are big – and after last night, why shouldn’t they be – it’s an area of concern the Patriots can hardly take with them into January. Last night was a nice step. 

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