Patriots Report Card vs. Cowboys

The Patriots somehow manage keep the momentum going, and Sunday night was no exception. TheInsiders weigh in on the team's performance, what went well, and what didn't go so well...

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Tom Brady completed a career low 44 percent of his passes against a defense that allows a league-low 49 percent completion percentage. It was the third time in his career the normally high percentage passer completed less than 50 percent of his throws, but he was victimized by three drops, one of which came on a long pass downfield. Despite the low percentage, the Patriots won the game through the air and hit two big plays that set up nine of the team's 12 points. The Patriots came in prepared for Dallas' steady diet of blitzes and when Brady read blitz, he called for maximum protection and went deep. He connected with Deion Branch for 46 yards to set up a field goal and with David Givens for 58 to set up a touchdown. Daniel Graham had a pair of drops, one on a flea flicker in which he got hit just after the ball arrived on what would have been a difficult catch. On the day, Brady connected on 15-of-34 passes for 212 yards, but he was sacked only twice against a defense that gets after the quarterback. He made solid decisions and took care of the football in a low scoring game in which turnovers proved critical. New England played without starting wideouts David Patten and Troy Brown and lost Givens in the second quarter to a leg injury. Eight different receivers caught passes as Brady spread the ball around and made Dallas defend the entire field. But the lack of offensive weapons could be the team's undoing.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The Patriots ground attack has gone backwards in recent weeks. The only thing that has kept it from becoming extinct is a Patriots defense that keeps scoring down and keep the Patriots options open and allows for a fairly balanced attack, at least in the play calling. The Patriots ran 25 times against a stingy Cowboys defense ranked No. 1overall and No. 3 against the run. Antowain Smith ran tough and hard, but still managed just 51 yards on 16 carries while Kevin Faulk ran eight times for 11 yards. Smith has received the bulk of the work the last two games as the coaches seem to be making a switch toward the power back as opposed to the shifty Faulk, who they might feel could wear down given the amount of carries he's had as opposed to past years. Smith powered his way to his second rushing touchdown of the season from 2 yards out as the Patriots tried to get physical against a fast, but smaller opponent. Dat Nguyen was huge for the Cowboys and Smith said after the game that he felt like Nguyen was everywhere.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter completed 20-of-36 passes for 210 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions, but even those numbers are misleading. On the last play of the first half with the ball on the Dallas 33, Carter threw short to fullback Richie Anderson who ran 37 yards before being tackled to end the half. He also added 47 meaningless yards with less than 2:00 remaining in the game and his team trailing by 12 points. He did his best to avoid mistakes, escaped pressure and threw some balls away, but the Patriots forced him into a couple of costly errors. The first came with Dallas trailing 9-0 when Carter ran a waggle to his right, but was pressured by Willie McGinest. His pass to tight end Jason Witten was off the mark and Ty Law intercepted the deflected pass at the Patriots 19 to thwart the Cowboys best scoring chance of the night. Tyrone Poole's third interception of the season set up the Patriots final points, another Adam Vinatieri field goal, and Law had a meaningless interception on the final play of the game. The Patriots applied solid pressure and forced Carter to move around and make plays on the run, which he did not do well enough. New England broke up eight of his passes with good coverage.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- New England knew it had to stop Troy Hambrick first and foremost and it did just that, limiting the big back to 41 yards on 16 carries. It also stopped him on consecutive short-yardage plays at midfield in the fourth quarter, stopping him for no gain on third-and-one and for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-inches. Tedy Bruschi shot through to make the big fourth down stop. Quincy Carter ran for 33 of the Cowboys 84 total rushing yards on six scrambles, none of which were designed runs. Dallas came in averaging 133 rushing yards per game and finished 49 yards below that. New England's front seven got a boost from the return of Ted Washington, who started at nose tackle for the first time since Week 3.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Patriots punter Ken Walter's job security has to be tenuous at best. He is punting horribly, mis-hitting more kicks than he connects on. His gross average on eight punts was, well, gross at 34.6 yards as he often failed to even reach the return man. Fortunately, he got some nice bounces and the Patriots punt coverage was excellent, as was their kickoff coverage. Zuriel Smith returned two punts for 8 yards and Dallas averaged 20 yards on its four kickoff returns. Kevin Faulk and Tyrone Poole filled in for the injured Troy Brown on punts and averaged 13.3 yards per return. Kicker Adam Vinatieri hit both of his field goal tries, chip shots from 23 and 26 yards, but did have an extra point blocked by Flozell Adams.

COACHING: A New England had two weeks to prepare for the Cowboys and while it didn't light up the scoreboard with an undermanned offense, it did have a solid scheme to account for the Cowboys blitzing and it paid off with some big pass plays. The concern coming in had to be Dallas' top ranked defense and the Patriots did just enough to win. After watching Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe and Washington's Patrick Ramsey get pummeled by the Cowboys defense the last two weeks, the Patriots were obviously prepared to handle the pressure and forced Dallas out of that part of their game with the big plays. Defensively, the Patriots focused their energy on stopping Troy Hambrick to make Quincy Carter beat them through the air. One they had a fourth quarter lead and Carter had to throw in comeback mode, he made the mistakes the Patriots hoped for. Penalties continue to be a problem that must get cleaned up, but this was a well-coached game by Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, who faced the pressure of taking on their former boss.

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