Revenge and Redemption

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Patriots return from the bye a changed team

Heading into the bye week there were a lot of questions still about the New England Patriots. The status of Randy Moss was just one of these. The growth of the defense was another.

And then … then Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft did what they always seem to do … the unexpected and unconventional. They traded Randy Moss – the jewel of the offense – to the Vikings. Then they brought back Deion Branch from the Seahawks. Oh, this was all after they traded the closest thing they had to a “franchise” running back (Lawrence Maroney) to the Broncos.

Heading into the bye the Patriots won a game which changed the 2009 dynamic – they won a tough game on the road. Now, today, they needed to defend home turf against one of the top seeds in the conference – and absorb all the change in personnel.

And a funny thing happened. It all worked out, kind of like it started to all work out in 2001.

Deion Branch matched Randy Moss’ 4-game reception production in his first game back. And caught a touchdown. He was back in sync with Brady almost like he never left.

Rookies stepped up on both sides of the ball. From a pair of new tight ends to rookies throughout the defense, they all got their job done.

Plays were made by unlikely names – Ninkovich, Woodhead, Fletcher, Arrington – the “scrubs” that Belichick likes to collect.  Guys with more heart than talent in some cases – but guys who just flat out play and make plays. Belichick loves these guys and they thrive under him.

And Belichick, once again, coached his butt off. Using every time-out at his disposal to coach his young players, the Patriots moved people around, changed formations to a variety of uncommon configurations and simply Found A Way.

Like they used to. This game, and the Miami game, reminded me of the Patriots of old. They got better as the game wore on. The made more plays. The defense got tougher. They didn’t blink, the other guys did. No-name players made game-changing plays. The guys who were supposed to deliver did so.

A lot was accomplished today. Branch redeemed himself with the Patriots fans. His popularity plummeted when he left the team four years ago, but he was back “home” today. The team made up for the home-field playoff loss that ended last season. They beat a team that was favored to go all the way – a game most people said they wouldn’t win.

It would be unrealistic to say this team can “go all the way” right now. There is still a lot to be worked on. The pass-rush is still very suspect, the secondary still makes back-ups often look like Pro-Bowlers, and the running game is hit-or-miss. But you can see where they’re heading. It’s almost unheard of for a team with this many rookies, deep in the middle of a multi-year rebuilding process, to be 4-1. But they are. The rest of the NFL better hope the Patriots don’t make the playoffs because this could be a very, very dangerous bunch by December.