Someone paying attention to nothing but final scores over the years would not have been the least bit surprised about what happened in the fourth quarter Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The New England Patriots charged out to a lead, the Indianapolis Colts rallied back and the final result was a seven-point victory for New England. What's the surprise? It's always a nail-biter when the Flying Elvis meets the Horseshoe; why should this one have been any different?
All it takes is the slightest bit of awareness of this NFL season to see the alarm in the situation. The Colts are winless, the Patriots are Super Bowl hopefuls. The Patriots had a 28-point lead and the game in hand, and yet, there was Dan Orlovsky, the third quarterback for an 0-12 team, carving up the Patriots to the tune of 21 points in just under 10-and-a-half minutes.
That's been the story, at least. It's also complete nonsense.
Allowing 21 straight points in a blowout tells us absolutely nothing about the Patriots going forward. Some would like you to believe it does—that a fourth-quarter meltdown shows this defense doesn't have the 60-minute mentality necessary to win games in January.
Maybe this defense won't be enough in the playoffs. But it won't be because Sterling Moore, Antwaun Molden and Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater or whichever wide receiver feels like playing defense that week lets off the gas.
It'll be because Moore, Molden, Edelman and Slater are out there in the first place.
If the Patriots lose in the playoffs and the defense is to blame, it'll be because that defense just doesn't have the talent necessary to provide enough balance to a potent offense. Not because it doesn't have the focus to hang on to a lead.
And certainly not because of a nearly blown 28-point cushion.
If you are concerned that the fourth quarter against Indianapolis reveals weaknesses in this defense, you are admitting that the Patriots are not a mentally strong group and that they don't have the resilience to avoid mental lapses.
In reality, that's the strength of this Patriots defense. It plays better in the clutch. It came through in home and away games against the Jets and gave the offense a chance to win a down-to-the-wire game against Dallas. In each case, the defense was asked to do the job for 60 minutes, and it succeeded.
Critics love using statistics to bury the New England defense, when in reality, they can do the opposite. The Patriots are dead last in yards given up but 13th in points allowed—a testament to their ability to come through in the red zone, where the urgency for a defense to buckle down is never higher.
The Patriots certainly let the final stretch of the Colts game get away from them. No debate here. It's hard to allow 18 more points in the final 15 minutes than you did in the first 45 without getting a little fat and happy.
But that's not a fatal flaw with this team. If it were, we'd be bemoaning a 2009-esque tendency to lose big games rather than win them.
This is not a celebration of this defense. The Patriots could still get lit up like a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree come January and the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. They can't play man, are consistently late to the ball and, aside from Kyle Arrington and his league-leading seven interceptions, struggle to make game-changing plays.
Those are the problems that could come back to haunt the Patriots when it matters most. Not discipline. So save your scorn.
In that regard, they've actually earned your praise.
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