(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )
Sometimes, that's all it takes.
One unnecessarily hard-fought game against a far less talented team. One solid performance in the stretch run from a streaky defense. One mightily ticked-off diminutive slot receiver who may shatter the single-season record for both receptions and DBE's (Defensive Back Embarrassments.
Usually stemming from missed tackles on slippery receivers that refuse to go down after hits that would be devastating to athletes twice their size) despite missing two entire games to injury.
Sometimes, that's enough to spark the momentum needed to carry a team with abundant quantities of talent, bad luck, and the stupidity of youth.
Sunday's game against the Panthers was indeed the win that Patriots fans and the team itself desperately needed, though it didn't come as easily as everyone had hoped. The entire first half was filled with the same miscues and missed opportunities that have plagued this team for most the season to date.
Despite attempts by the offensive coordinator (whoever happened to be playing that role this day) and the team to sabotage itself (including a lost fumble by Sammy Morris on Carolina's 10-yard-line), New England managed to pull it together enough to tie the game at the end of the first half. Then, something amazing happened.
About halfway through the third quarter, Wes Welker caught a six-yard pass from Tom Brady, and got absolutely smoked by Carolina defensive back Charles Godfrey . Though no "Launching" penalty was called at the time (punishment will certainly be forthcoming after the play is reviewed), the hit was clearly dirty. Then, the New England Patriots did something they haven't all season: They rallied.
Brady went right back to Welker on the next play for twice as many yards. Then, three more times on the tie-breaking drive. Welker amassed 64 yards himself on the 96-yard scoring drive, and Carolina would trail for the remainder.
New England's defense seemed to gather new life from the cheap-shot on their team's Most Valuable Player. What started out as mere trash-talking from the much-maligned defense ended in high fives, playful headbutts and genuine support for one another. It was a different team. It's tough, as a wide receiver, to try and exact revenge on the defense that slammed into you full speed while you hung in mid-air, defenseless.
Welker found a way to do it. By the time the game was over, he had 10 catches for 105 yards. He stands at 105 receptions on the season, and joins only Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice and Herman Moore as the only wide receivers in NFL history to have at least three consecutive seasons with at least 100 catches. That's elite company.
We will, all of us, have to wait and see if this translates into bigger, and more impressive wins, as well as a resulting momentum swing in the favor of the Patriots.
It was an otherwise meaningless win against a team so badly managed they kept Jake Delhomme on during his monumental compilation of interceptions over the past few years, while at the same time failing to realize they had a running back as talented as DeAngelo Williams on their team because that was DeShaun Foster's job.
But hey, sometimes that's all it takes.