After last Sunday's humiliating defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers, it was blatantly clear that the New England Patriots were going to have to play better football from top to bottom in order to survive in the topsy-turvy NFL landscape. Patriots' fans were starting to question whether or not this was a playoff-caliber team, and NFL "experts" made sure to sprinkle some doubt into any Patriots analysis.
Last night's game helped erase that doubt, at least for a week.
Matt Cassel had his best game as a pro, throwing for 185 yards and three touchdowns on 18 completions, and perhaps most importantly, did not turn the ball over. Sure, he did take some punishment from the Broncos' Defensive line, but that was a product of him holding on to the ball a bit too long here and there.
What we did not see was him tuck the ball and try to scamper for first downs, as we saw against San Diego, much to the delight of many Patriots fans (including myself). In this respect, it seems as if Cassel is truly starting to become a bit more comfortable in the pocket, even when it is collapsing. Cassel had a lot of help however, as the Patriots were able to establish the run immediately.
Sammy Morris left the game with an apparent knee injury, but in the first quarter, he was on his way to a career game, rushing the ball for 138 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Thanks to Laurence Maroney's season ending shoulder injury, Morris was able to start the game and get into the flow of things rather quickly, something that Patriots fans should be excited about going forward. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis was also impressive, going off for 65 yards and a score in Morris' absence.
Randy Moss was back to his old ways, catching two touchdown passes, including one on a slip screen play, a play that was usually reserved for Wes Welker and Dante' Stallworth last season. Any naysayers that said that Randy was quitting on the Patriots, he proved them all wrong last night, dancing and smiling on the sideline for the majority of the game.
However, the true hero of Monday night's game was the Patriots defense. Embarrassed by losing to the Chargers and giving up big plays, the defense was focused last night and played like a unit.
The defensive line, which has been very underwhelming, showed up last night and made an impact immediately, as Jay Cutler's hand smashed up against two helmets on back to back plays, limiting his throws. They forced fumbles, pressured Cutler, and most importantly, got a great push off of the line.
The defensive backfield made up for their poor effort as well, picking off Jay Cutler twice and ending drives prematurely. What a turnaround for these guys. Sadly however, Safety Rodney Harrison looked to be in rough shape, after a leg injury forced him to be carted off of the field.
The injury occurred when he planted his foot to try to make a cut, before crumpling to the ground in pain. This injury will more than likely end the season and the career of the team leader. He was a big part of shutting down Denver's offense, and they did not score until late in the game.
The Broncos' lone touchdown came on a touchdown pass to Tight End and former Patriot Daniel Graham, but this defense went out there and played shutout ball. The Patriots were clearly ready to play and did a great job preparing for the Broncos offense, a testament to Coach Bill Belichick.
So after last week people were wondering how the Patriots fit into the grand scheme of things in the NFL. Ranked number 20 in ESPN's meaningless Power Rankings, the Patriots were on the brink of being cast off. This blowout has put the Patriots back on the map, in what amounts to the quintessential statement game.
Next week, they have the lowly Rams, who are coming off impressive back to back wins and should not be overlooked. Sure, all the doubters will be back on the bandwagon as I predicted, but hey, 5-2 without No.12 won't look so bad though, right?
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