After all, the fanbase was still buzzing over the team's July acquisitions of flamboyant wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and mercurial defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. There just wasn't any room for thrills over landing a 32-year-old who had 2.5 measly sacks on a bad Washington Redskins team.
In fact, Carter's acquisition wasn't even the biggest of the day. New England also landed former New York Jet Shaun Ellis on Aug. 8. He was the one with the two playoff sacks in Foxborough last January. He was the one who was going to make a difference.
Ten weeks into the season, Haynesworth is gone, Ochocinco appears lost in translation and Ellis has vanished from Bill Belichick's defensive scheme.
Carter? Well, we got that one wrong as well.
The 6'4", 255-pound defensive end has emerged as the pass-rushing machine the Patriots thought they were going to be getting from somewhere, anywhere else. He has nine sacks through 10 games. He has been far better against the run than anticipated, logging 44 tackles. And he's gotten faster and stronger as the year has gone on.
Everything about Carter is impressive. There's the chiseled physique, making him look like a 22-year-old rookie rather than a seasoned vet. There's the humble, thankful approach he takes to the game and to life. There's the constant motor, the one that has him pushing through tackles outweighing him by 50 pounds well into the fourth quarter.
The Patriots thought they were getting depth. Instead, they're getting a menace. They're getting Willie McGinest. Maybe better.
Carter is keeping this Patriots defense alive. Behind him is a collection of nobodies, the Island of Misfit Backs. There's Phillip Adams (who?), James Ihedigbo (what?) and Antwaun Molden (huh?), to name a few, and they're the ones charged with stopping the pass for this Patriots team.
And because of Carter, there's been success. Runs against New England fail because Carter is too quick to the spot to keep the running back from hitting the hole. Deep passes are out because Carter has been too fast and too strong for tackles to keep him contained long enough. Quarterbacks have a largely undrafted defensive backfield to feast on, and they can't do it when No. 93 is crashing through the pocket.
The Belichick Patriots have never had this player. McGinest was the closest match, but he was usually a linebacker rushing from the strong side. Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel were linebackers. Richard Seymour was a hybrid defensive tackle.
Carter is Belichick's first quarterback-killing end. His teams have been beaten by them, by the likes of Dwight Freeney, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Now, New England has one of its own.
Carter may be different from the great Patriots defenders, but he has an important quality in common with them. In a crucial November 13 game against the Jets, Carter had the game of his life. He had Mark Sanchez running for his life as he racked up four sacks in a convincing 37-16 knockout.
Like those previous Patriots stars, Carter is clutch. He's a winner. On the biggest stage of the season, in a game the Patriots had to win, Carter was better than he had ever been.
As ravaged as the New England secondary is, Carter gives the Patriots a chance by giving the defense an intensity it hasn't had in years. In both of the Patriots' recent playoff exits, they've been punched in the mouth by meaner, nastier defenses that get to the quarterback, ruin carefully designed plays and wreak havoc for 60 minutes.
The Patriots finally have a player who matches up.
Carter's always had this in him. He had it in 2002, when he had 12.5 sacks, he had it in 2007, when he had 10.5, he had it in 2009 when he had 11 and he's had it ever since he first got to Foxborough.
This time, everyone's taking notice.
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