New England Patriots Crawl into Playoffs with Injuries and Defensive Struggles

Mat CroninContributor IJanuary 6, 2010

HOUSTON - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with referee John Parry prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

It wasn't pretty, but the regular season is finally over, and the New England Patriots have made the playoffs. 

With the return of Tom Brady and the addition of Fred Taylor and Shawn Springs, only 10 notches in the win column seems a little disappointing.

Last season, a Matt Cassel-led offense was able to put up 11 with no playoffs. 

Brady is banged up, and Wes Welker is gone. Time for Julian Edelman to step up and become the story of the playoffs. Brady's offense loves a good slot receiver, and Edelman will have his opportunity to step up.

The question isn't if he will be given the opportunity; rather, can Edelman answer the call? The former Kent State QB probably never imagined his rookie year taking a turn like this. He has the moves, the athleticism, and the fire (look at the block he laid on Bills defensive back George Wilson) of Wes Welker. 

Will he put up Welker-like numbers? No. Is he expected to? No.

Edelman will give the Patriots another slot receiver who can gain yards after the catch. His days as a scrambling QB at Kent State (where, as a transfer, Edelman walked up to starting QB Michael Machen and told him he was there to take his job) gave him the field vision he needs to avoid defenders for extra yards downfield.

In the limited action he has seen throughout the season, he has established himself as a rookie with great yard-after-catch potential. 

In the case of the Patriots' defensive backs, there is no Edelman to save them. Blowing second-half leads is the theme of the year for New England's mediocre defense.

Regardless of how many defensive players the Patriots lost this offseason, no defense can be allowed/expected to blow double-digit leads in the second half of games. They are the Achilles' heel of this year's New England playoff team.

There are small signs of hope in Brandon Meriweather, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Leigh Bodden, and Darius Butler (to name a few). However, inconsistent play has plagued this defensive unit all year. Jonathan Wilhite, Derrick Burgess, Springs, and Adalius Thomas need to step up. Burgess, Springs, and Thomas need to realize they have to become veteran leaders on and off the field.

This Sunday, the Ravens come to town, and as long as the Patriots defense doesn't collapse in the second half, New England wins 28-14. It's a bad sign when even a 14-point lead seems like no cushion at all—rather a gap that is waiting to be filled in the fourth quarter.