Patriots Defense: The Hunt Is On

Through the first three weeks of 2006 the Patriots had forced just a single turnover, an interception by Tedy Bruschi on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation against the Jets. Since that time New England has returned to the playmaking defensive ways that have been the standard during Bill Belichick's successful tenure. Turnovers are key, and for these Patriots, that hunt is on.

The playmaking style continued to pick up momentum in Sunday's 28-6 win over the Bills in Buffalo in which the Patriots forced three turnovers on the way to the dominating victory. Add in New England's two sacks against the Bills, and defensive plays in New England are starting to pile up at a pace many of the veteran defenders can truly appreciate.

The turnover momentum began in a Week 4 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati when the Patriots forced two late Carson Palmer fumbles that turned into a pair of touchdowns and put the game out of reach. A week later New England returned home but continued the same type of play recording one fumble recovery and two interceptions in a win over the Dolphins.

Adding Sunday's Mike Vrabel strip sack on J.P. Losman and subsequent Vince Wilfork recovery, Asante Samuel's third interception in the last two games and Tedy Bruschi's fourth quarter fumble recovery of another Losman drop, New England now has eight turnovers in its last three games. Not bad for a team that got off to such a slow. Suddenly the defense in New England is a turnover machine reminiscent of the ones that led the team to multiple Super Bowl wins not long ago.

Aside from the obvious benefits of the turnovers and generally acknowledged relation to winning in the NFL that goes along with them, giving Tom Brady and Co. extra opportunities to put points on the board is also clearly a winning proposition in New England.

"They expect us to get the ball," safety Rodney Harrison said. "We expect them to score."

That's certainly been the case in recent weeks with the fourth quarter points off turnovers in Cincinnati and 17 against Miami. While the three turnovers in Buffalo didn't directly lead to any points, they certainly helped swing the momentum score in the Patriots favor.

All told, New England's gone from a minus-three turnover ratio after the win over the Jets to a plus-3 following Sunday's win in Buffalo.

"It's certainly what we expect," safety Rodney Harrison said of continuing to cause turnovers coming off the bye. "It's guys making plays, just being patient and understanding to just do your job. That's the emphasis, do you job and good plays will happen. Fortunately for us we are starting to make some plays."

"If we hadn't gotten those turnovers we probably would have lost," said Samuel, who leads the team with three interceptions. "It's important to go out, be physical, make interceptions and make plays."

Heading to Minnesota for Monday night's meeting with the Vikings, the Patriots clearly hope to keep the turnover momentum going against a team that's turned the ball over just eight times this season. New England has already shown this season it can win without turnovers, but in recent weeks the team has also proven it's easier to win against better opponents with them.

"That's the best way to defeat another team, to get more turnovers than them. Win the turnover battle and you have a chance to win," Samuel said simply.

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