New England Patriots Are Ready to Win Games in 2011 NFL Playoffs

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New England Patriots Are Ready to Win Games in 2011 NFL Playoffs
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

New England Patriots fans probably don't feel much better about the defense now than they did before Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, especially with defensive end Andre Carter now done for the season.

But it's not crazy to feel a little better about their chances in the playoffs.

Tom Brady said it was the first time the team played a full 60 minutes all season. He must have forgotten about the defense waiting until the second quarter to show up, but he was right in a couple of ways.

For the first time in a long time, the offense started hot and stayed hot. According to Christopher Price of WEEI.com, the Patriots had scored an average of just 5.8 points in the first quarter this season, including three scoreless first quarters

They were able to put those demons to rest with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on their first drive against a talented Denver defense.

For the first time in a long time, the Patriots got the ball moving on the ground. They racked up 141 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.

Stevan Ridley was a revelation in the backfield, running hard to the tune of 65 yards on 11 carries. That was a big step in finding a consistent, reliable running game that they can count on to be there in January.

Also for the first time in a long time, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker were largely non-factors (side note: how many owners and GMs would give up an extremity to have two "non-factors" total nine receptions for 84 yards?) But Aaron Hernandez was waiting to answer the bell with nine receptions, 129 yards and a touchdown to go along with a nifty 16-yard scamper on a shotgun handoff.

The Patriots continue to get big plays out of their defense at key times. Three fumble recoveries on Sunday resulted in 13 points and a huge swing of momentum. 

That, however, wasn't the first time in a long time they have played opportunistic defense. It was the first time in seven days.

"Bend-don't-break" has been the mantra for the defense for the duration of the Bill Belichick era, but they're living up to it more this year than in years past. It's that mantra that has given the Patriots hope that if they can get one or two key plays at key times, they have a chance to win games in January.

It's no accident that this defense has 28 turnovers and ranks fifth in the league, but they likely won't get three turnovers in a span of 8:29 on the game clock against a playoff opponent. Or will they? 

It looks like their potential playoff opponents aren't exactly the best teams in the league when it comes to ball control, and that alone gives the Patriots a real shot at knocking off anyone they face.

New England's ability to move the ball multiple ways—even when their best offensive threats are virtually removed from the game—as well as their defense's ability to get big plays when they need them gives the Patriots a very good chance to do damage in the playoffs.

Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter.

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