Thanks to Sunday's hard fought 20-10 win over the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium the Patriots ride a little wave of momentum into the bye week. One week after rallying the troops to dominate the Bengals in Cincinnati, New England avoided the potential letdown by improving to 4-1 atop the AFC East with the win over Miami.
One of the biggest reasons for that momentum is a New England defense that's suddenly creating turnovers on a regular basis, including two forced fumbles against the Bengals and two interceptions and one forced fumble to key the win over Miami. The Patriots struggled to turn the ball over in the first three weeks of 2006, the lone turnover coming on a Tedy Bruschi Hail Mary interception against the Jets, but focused on the area as a key for improvement. The focus has paid off.
"It's weird, turnovers -- you just have to believe that they'll come," Bruschi said following the win over the Dolphins. "You have to keep hitting guys, keep putting pressure on the passer, keep trying to tip a ball. We just focused on it and talk about it a little bit more. 'This is a stat that we've struggled at, guys, so let's just be more aware of it.' You don't go out there and do live tackling drills where you hold a guy up and another guy comes in and forces the ball. You want to stay healthy. But you just want to focus on it more and we've done that."
It's also keyed New England's two wins heading into the bye. The two strip sacks in the fourth quarter against the Bengals turned into a pair of touchdowns that closed the door on Cincinnati. The three turnovers against Miami, each giving Tom Brady and Co. a short field to work with, turned into 17 points on the way to victory.
Suddenly, the Patriots aren't only getting turnovers, they are taking full advantage of every one they get.
"It was huge," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of getting the turnovers and turning them into points against Miami. "We'd been going too many games here to start the season without any turnovers and then they've kind come in spurts here. We got a few last week and we had some this week. Those turnovers are huge. It puts you on a short field and offensively we did a good job capitalizing on a couple of our opportunities there. That was big."
And it's a big boost leading into the bye. The two straight wins have the Patriots heading into the bye week of rest feeling pretty good about themselves.
"A win before the bye is an automatic momentum builder," Bruschi said. "You have two weeks to feel good about yourself, to heal some aches and pains, some bumps and bruises. We are going to get some guys back, the guys that are playing are going to get more healthy. It's automatic. And we have a win to give us some uplifting spirits going in to the bye."