Two weeks. Two very different Patriots teams.
In getting embarrassed by the Browns in Cleveland two weeks ago, New England simply couldn't do anything right. Offensively there was no running game and Tom Brady's passing attack could just never get "in sync." Defensively Peyton Hillis ran for more than 180 yards while rookie Colt McCoy found the openings he needed when he needed them to maintain balance. There Patriots made mistakes everywhere, including special teams errors. It was the ultimate team loss and clearly New England's worst game of the season.
Fast forward seven days to Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
The battle of 6-2 teams was supposed to be a huge test for a young New England team looking to bounce back. It did just that.
Brady came out on fire on the way to his first 300-yard passing day of the season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis did something nobody had done all season, found plentiful running room against a stout Steelers front. A defense that couldn't stop a mouse a week earlier stalled Rashard Mendenhall early. The front seven set a physical tone, pressured Ben Roethlisberger and made more than enough plays to earn the big road win.
It was the ultimate team victory. Considering the competition, it was probably New England's best game of the season.
What's the story? Which game does Patriots head coach Bill Belichick think is closer to what his young, developing, evolving team is in 2010?
"Well, each week is its own new week, so we'll see. It starts all over again today," Belichick said Monday, as he wrapped up film review of the Steelers win before turning his attention to Sunday's meeting with the Colts in Foxborough.
"When it comes down to us and the Colts, it's the team that has the best week of preparation, that's able to execute the best on Sunday, that's able to take advantage of the other team's mistakes (and) take advantage of the opportunities that are out there - that's the team that will come off the field victorious. I don't know what that will be. I know we have a lot of work to do. Hopefully we'll be able to do a little bit more than they will, but that will be tough because they're a team that prepares well, (that's) well-coached (and that has) a lot of outstanding players. They have a lot of smart players. You really have to work hard to gain an advantage, so that competition will be all week."
Belichick knows why he fielded two very different teams with very different results in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. And how two very different work weeks led to dramatically different outcomes.
"For all the reasons I just said. Everything: all the preparation, the practice execution, the execution level on the game, the alertness (and) the awareness to situations. There were a lot of good situational plays in (Pittsburgh) from our standpoint that I thought we executed pretty well," Belichick said. "That makes a difference -- being able to complete a pass on third-and-20 to get the ball into field goal range to kick a field goal even though you don't get the first down. Those end up being big plays in the game."
If New England (7-2) gets those on Sunday at Gillette Stadium against Peyton Manning in the latest installment of the rivalry with the Colts (6-3), it will have a good chance to continue to establish itself as one of the better teams the NFL has to offer in 2010. If not, it could get ugly, even if not quite as ugly as it was in Cleveland.
In a crazy NFL season the Patriots have proven over the last two weeks that not only is there a fine line between winning and losing, but a fine line between being the team getting its butt whooped and the one laying the butt whooping.
This report courtesy The Sports XChange
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