It was a dark and stormy night…
…In London, so close to All Hallow’s Eve that the misty rain threatened to cast an eerie and ominous shadow on the New England Patriots’ season – with the aid of the St. Louis Rams.
The Patriots entered Sunday evening’s contest with the top offense in the NFL, but it was an offense that had been frighteningly inconsistent, both in play calling and in execution – affording their opposition opportunity to hang in games with the powerful Patriots.
The defense, stout against the run all season, had also fallen victim to poor play calling and inconsistent execution, particularly in the secondary. To make matters worse, injuries had begun to mount, forcing the Patriots into plug and play mode, with untested rookies thrust into starting roles.
That may be the best thing that’s happened to this secondary in years.
Aggressive from the outset, this much maligned secondary gave up a 50 yard strike from Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford to Chris Givens just moments into the game, conjuring up memories of the last minute loss to Seattle two weeks earlier…
…but instead of hanging their heads, the rebuilt secondary made their adjustments and helped the defense shut out the Rams’ the rest of the way – and New England’s offense scored touchdowns on all four of their 1st half possessions, opening up a 21 point halftime lead enroute to an easy 45-7 victory over St. Louis on a dreary Sunday evening in London.
The defense, giving up an average of almost 300 passing yards per game coming in, gave up 69 passing yards to Bradford on the Rams first drive, and just 136 passing yards the rest of the way. Rookie safety Tavon Wilson, whom Bradford victimized on the long touchdown pass to open the game, became stronger and more aggressive as the game wore on, a testament to his mental toughness.
He and 3rd year corner Devin McCourty were solid on the back line as replacements for injured starters Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory – making a case for keeping the job even when the incumbents are ready to return, while 7th round draft pick Alfonzo Dennard and 4th year man Marquis Cole blanketed St. Louis’ wide receivers, limiting their yards after the catch and staking a claim to being the starting corners in the same scenario.
As usual, New England’s run defense was stifling. Though surrendering 107 yards, most of those went to backups Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead on trap draws after the game was well in hand and starter Steven Jackson was rendered ineffective by the aggressive, attacking New England defense.
On offense, the Patriots set the tone early, rediscovering the nerve and risky behavior that tends to give a team – if successful – the appropriate amount of swagger and momentum to dominate their opponent, and one play not only set the tone for the game, but may prove to be a turning point for the erratic play calling thus far in the 2012 season.
With the score tied at 7, New England drove the ball down to a 1st and goal at the Rams one yard line courtesy of an acrobatic catch by Rob Gronkowski. The St. Louis defense stiffened and held the Patriots on three consecutive tries for the end zone, forcing a 4th and goal from the one.
Many times we’ve witnessed Belichick and Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels play it safe, sending out the field goal unit, leaving 4 points on the field and denying the offense it’s chance to build confidence by picking up the desired yardage – but when New England lined up and punched the ball into the end zone for a 14-7 lead on Shane Vereen’s run into the teeth of the Ram’s defenders, the Patriots may have turned the page on their past play calling transgressions.
So on a dark and stormy night in London, the New England Patriots rediscovered their swagger – on both sides of the ball – and at 5-3 going into their bye week, the Patriots have the opportunity to rest and to heal and build upon their newly found consistency, and the resultant swagger.
And that is very bad news for the rest of the NFL.