The New England Patriots defense carried the team through the first part of the season, and it appears the offense is ready to return the favor as we hit the home stretch and get ready for the playoffs.
Sunday's 34-31 shootout victory over the Houston Texans was more like something we'd seen from the Patriots from 2010 to 2012, but the way the offense has performed of late, they can feel comfortable in this type of game from here on out.
Not too long ago, the offense was ravaged by injuries. Rob Gronkowski didn't play a single snap until Week 7, Shane Vereen was sidelined with a wrist injury from Weeks 2 through 9 and Danny Amendola was in and out of the lineup as he played three of the first seven games of the season.
Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen have combined for 630 total yards of offense in the past three games, while the rest of the offense has accumulated 653 yards.
It stands to reason that the return of those three players has signaled a return to prominence for the once-prolific Patriots offense. They have scored 27 points or more in six of the past seven games, and their overall improvement is palpable in the stat sheet and beyond.
|Games||Points/game||Yards/game||Third down %||Most points||Fewest points|
Quarterback Tom Brady has looked much more comfortable, with a passer rating of above 90 in each of the past four games. That's saying a lot, because his struggles through the first eight games (passer rating above 90 just twice) left some wondering if Brady's career had taken a turn toward that inevitable nosedive most players endure as their careers approach the twilight stages.
Before, Brady's passes would unceremoniously hit the turf, sometimes far away from their intended receivers and sometimes bouncing directly off their hands. Now, he appears to hesitate far less in his decision-making.
Brady said after the game, via Patriots.com:
We figured it out a little bit last week too, but it was good to get a win on the road. We talked about that, because we lost the last three on the road. Our communication needs to be better—in and out of the huddle—our execution on third down, critical third downs is important, really making some clutch plays like we did on defense.
Make no mistake, Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen have had a key role in the resurgence of the offense, but Julian Edelman's presence has also been key. The fifth-year veteran has logged 18 receptions for 211 yards in the past two games, and to the surprise of many, he is currently the team's leader in receptions and receiving yards on the season.
The Patriots surely needed a better effort from their offense after the litany of injuries they endured on the defensive side of the ball in the early part of the season.
No one will argue that they are a Cinderella story, but with Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly all done for the season, the chariot turned into a pumpkin and the offense needed to work some magic before the clock struck midnight on their season.
The one problem for the Patriots is that their bell cow, running back Stevan Ridley, has (arguably) come down with a case of fumble-itis and was held out of Sunday's game. They will need Ridley to get his groove back as the weather gets colder and the ball gets more slippery.
The Patriots can't afford Ridley fumbling once a game, but there's no denying they are at their most explosive when he is in the lineup and getting a lion's share of the workload.
With just four games left this season, they still have time to sharpen their blade on offense.
The woes on defense, it seems, are here to stay—they've have had several weeks to get those issues corrected, and it hasn't happened.
It wasn't pretty for the offense as they battled through injuries in the early part of the season, but as long as the key players stay healthy, it once again has the look of a unit that will strike fear into its opponents' hearts when the games matter the most.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.