Seventeen. It was seventeen degrees at Gillette Stadium at 5 o'clock in the morning, the time I had to be there to prepare for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, who were coming into Foxborough with a 5-7 record. There was still some disbelief instilled in my mind from last week's unbelievable one point loss to the Miami Dolphins.
By the looks of the first half, up until the last three minutes of the second quarter, the Patriots were scoreless, lifeless and looked like a group of kids playing a pickup game in someone's culdesac. As the game commentators broguht up the fact that the Patriots haven't gone scoreless in the first half since playing Miami in 2006, running back Kevin Faulk charged into the endzone bringing the score to 7-7. A sigh of relief went through the entire stadium and in my mind, it just wasn't enough to satisfy my need to see the Patriots play the way they've been hyped to. The way they've proven to be worth the hype. No on was asking New England to produce an undefeated season, Patriots fans just wanted their quarterback healthy and on the field.
Tom Brady hasn't been terrible, but he has been struggling to be Mr. Terrific. The numbers Brady has produced are above average: completing 320 of 490 passes so far with a total of 3,830 yards. Not bad. Brady completes 65.3% of his passes and has a total of 23 touchdowns in 13 games. Even better. Interestingly enough, Brady holds a quarterback rating of 95.4 this season, the second highest rating of his career. The best rating Brady has received in his career was 117.2 during the 2007 season.
But is it even fair to compare this Patriots team to that of 2007? Or even to any other past Patriots team? Not to Kevin Faulk, "To be honest with you, nobody is thinking about the old Patriots. Were thinking about the 2009 Patriots and what we have to do to make this team better Thats what this team is about. Were thinking about the 2009 Patriots and trying to get better every week and be more consistent. Thats what were trying to do...seriously.
The game against Carolina started out chilly and sloppy for the Patriots and it looked as though Steve Smith and Panthers were finding their stride and were able to strike first. As the weather got worse, ironically, the Patriots began to play better. Running back Laurence Maroney was six yards shy of a second 100 yard game for the 2009 season. In fact, the rushing game was the offensive highlight for the Patriots.
Tom Brady explained the success of the likes of Maroney, Faulk and Morris, "...I think our offensive line did a great job and we didnt get sacked today...Its what we need to do when you have a day like this and its raining the whole game and, you know, its tough to really get the ball consistently in the passing game to throw it and catch it and execute it well, so the running came up big."
During the second half something happened that needs to occur more frequently. The Wes Factor. At least, that's what I've come to call it. It's a time in the game when you almost expect a mistake or when the Patriots are about to go three and out..again. Then, as if out of nowhere, number 83 makes a catch, gets the first down and everyone in the stadium is out of their seats.
My job at the stadium doesn't always allow me to watch the entirety of the game. The sound of the crowd is how I usually gauge how the game is going. On Sunday, in the third quarter, I thought they had scored, the crowd was roaring and high-fives were being thrown. I looked up into the screen and it was Wes Welker making a catch for 23 yards. No touchdown, just a catch.
Welker completed his 100th catch of the season and has the 2nd longest career streak of 100+ catches in a season in the NFL.
The Texas Tech alum drew some praises from Tom Brady, "Yeah, hes a great player and it seems like whenever weve got to make a critical play in a game, hes the guy thats making the play. Those plays that he made there in the third quarter really sparked us...Wes was the key ingredient as he always seems to be."
A late burst of energy helped revamp the Patriots offense, two losses in a row is a rarity for New England and with a record of 8-5, they are still leading their division.
There is no doubt that losing five games, three of them by no more than three points, is frustrating for a team. The Patriots have been hit hard this season with key injuries and struggling to win on the road. Wes Welker has the right mindset about getting up after hits, "...Youre either going to stay down or get up, so might as well get on up."
New England has three more teams to send a clear message as to what they have to offer in the post season. The Bills, Jaguars and Texans will no doubt, be hitting hard. It'll all come down to just how quickly the Patriots can get back up.
Kisha Tapangan covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for PatriotsInsider.com. To read more of her material, visit her blog at www.nrwithkisha.com . To contact Kisha, you can email her here: email@example.com