Patriots Defense Improved Against Dallas

A late game-winning drive by QB Tom Brady would not have been possible if New England's defense had not risen to the challenge.

   The Patriots head into the bye week with a 5-1 record, sitting alone atop the AFC East, mostly because of one of the most prolific offenses in the game thanks to the Tom Brady-led passing attack.

   But following Sunday's 20-16 win over the Cowboys, New England's defense also heads into the week off with a bit more confidence. After opening the year with seemingly game after game allowing opponents to put up 500 yards of total offense, the Patriots' defense has shown improvement leading up to the bye.

   Three weeks in a row the Patriots have held the Raiders, Jets and Cowboys to 19, 21 and 16 points respectively after giving up 21 or more in Weeks 1-3.

   The Patriots held Dallas to just four of 12 on third down (33 percent), just one of three in the red zone (33 percent) and gave Brady the extra chances he needed to turn in the fourth-quarter comeback to pull out the 20-16 victory that came thanks to an 8-yard touchdown to Aaron Hernandez with just 22 seconds to play.

   It was a complementary victory that the Patriots have been building toward. Something the defense hopes will become more common in the weeks and months ahead.

   As bad as things got in the first month for the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense, the doubters outside Gillette Stadium didn't lead to doubters inside the defensive meeting rooms.

   "Never," safety Patrick Chung said. "Once you doubt and start listening to everybody else, that's when your defense goes downhill. We never doubted. Let everybody say what they're going to say, we're going to play good football. We're going to continue to try to play good football."

   In fact given the short offseason, turnover on personnel and schematic alterations, the defense was preparing itself for adversity as early as August.

   "The main thing we said from day one, before the season even started, we had a meeting as far as what we wanted to do, what we wanted to be as a defense, and I think the main consensus was that we wanted to stick together," cornerback Kyle Arrington recalled.

   Now it looks like the defense is building toward something that's at least competitive if not near dominant.

   "The offense did a great job in the beginning of the season helping us out," linebacker Brandon Spikes concluded. "We struggled at the beginning of the year. It's about getting better. You are either getting better or you are getting worse."


   LINEUP WATCH: Chad Ochocinco continues to struggle not only to make an impact on the Patriots' passing game, but now to simply get on the field. In the last two weeks heading into the bye, Ochocinco basically only saw the field in a couple hurry-up drives. Otherwise, New England's base set remains two tight ends and two receivers - Deion Branch and Wes Welker. Ochocinco has just nine catches in six games, and was shut out in the win over Dallas.

   BY THE NUMBERS: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have earned 116 victories together as a coach-quarterback tandem. The total ties the NFL record set by Dan Marino and Don Shula for the most wins by any coach-quarterback tandem since the NFL merger in 1970.

   --T Sebastian Vollmer missed his fourth-straight game and fifth of the season with a back injury. Vollmer, who had back surgery in college at Houston, played in Week 2 but otherwise has been out of action early in the year.
   --CB Ras-I Dowling, who's been banged up throughout the bulk of his first couple months in New England much the way he was in college at Virginia, was inactive against the Cowboys with a hip injury.
   --S Josh Barrett missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury.
   --QB Ryan Mallett was the only healthy scratch among New England's inactives against the Jets, while S Sergio Brown was inactive with a chest ailment.
   --LB Jerod Mayo missed his second game of the season with a reported MCL sprain in his knee that could force him to miss as much as a month although he did return to the practice field last Friday on a limited basis.
   --WR Julian Edelman missed his second game of the season with an ankle injury.
   --DB Sterling Moore was active for the first time in New England after being activated from the team's practice squad.

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