The Patriots' defense finally impressed us for 60 minutes last night. Which was good because their offense was absent for 58 minutes. If you'd told me before kickoff that the Pats would turn the ball over 4 times, lose the time of possession battle, and only score 20 points, I'd just assume that they'd lose the game. But the defense showed up, big time.
They made Romo uncomfortable (2 sacks, 4 hits), they didn't allow Dallas to mount any consistent running attack (apart from Romo's 17 yard scramble, the Cowboys averaged 2.6 per carry), they forced negative plays (7 tackles for loss), they shut down Witten (4 catches, 48 yards) they got off the field (Dallas was 4/12 on 3rd downs), and they went and got the ball (1 fumble recovered, 1 interception).
And they made the big plays at the big moments. That 3 and out in the 4th quarter won the game. The Red Zone stops and limiting Dallas to field goals kept the struggling Pats' offense in the game.
It didn't have to be so exciting. The Patriots turned the ball over 4 times. They turned it over 10 times all of 2010. Brady's first pick was a glanced ball and a bit of misfortune. His second pick was Favresque. He was throwing on the run and against his body to either to Welker in triple coverage, or Hernandez in double coverage. All on a 2nd down.
Then the fumbles. Slater's was too easy. The ball was just tapped and it flew out. And Hernandez continues to worry me with his occasional lack of grip on the ball. It's not a major liability right now (especially when he can also catch 8 passes for 68 and a TD), but of all the Pats on offense, he's the only one who regularly loses his handle on the ball.
The defense minimized the damage of these setbacks with turnovers of their own, and holding Dallas to field goals.
Watching the defense play this well was quite enjoyable. Typically, this defense is so shaky that late in the game I'd rather the Patriots be down by 4 points with the ball then up by 4 without it. They showed up Sunday, made a statement, and hopefully they can build something from this game.
Pats have a bye before travelling to Pittsburgh in two weeks.