Special Teams, Special Win

I’ve seen a lot of MNF games in my life, and a lot of Patriots MNF games. I’ve seen great defenses, better offenses, and pretty good special teams. But I have never seen anything like what happened on Monday night.

The Patriots set an NFL record for scoring a touchdown 5 different ways:

1. Brandon Tate kickoff returned for a touchdown (start of the second half)
2. Patrick Chung blocks a punt with 13:32 remaining in the 3rd quarter, which leads to a BenJarvis Green-Ellis rushing touchdown with 12:50 to play in the 3rd.
3. Tom Brady threw to Danny Woodhead for 11 yards and a touchdown with 4:09 left in the 3rd.
4. Patrick Chung blocks a field goal attempt and Kyle Arrington picks the ball up and scores with 14:16 left in the game
5. Brandon Marshall doesn’t commit to his route which leads to Chad Henne throwing the ball right to Patrick Chung who promptly runs the ball 35 yards for a pick-6 touchdown.

Actually, that’s pretty much the only ways you can score a touchdown, the only one missing was a punt return.

By the way, Rob Ninkovich is the honorary Yeti of The Week for stopping two Miami drives with his first and second interceptions of his career. Chad Henne will be seeing number 50 in his sleep this week.

Also, kudos to Randy Moss. He didn’t see a lot of action this week, but his presence on the field opened things up for the running game, the tight ends and the slot receivers. (PS…please don’t trade him!)

Tom Brady also won his 100th game of his career, 7 games faster than any other quarterback, the next quickest being Dan Marino at 138 games, in the Superbowl Era (yes, that includes Peyton Manning, it took him 154 games). In fact, only two coach-quarterback combinations have more wins together than Brady and Belichick, and if they stay together for the next two years, they will easily surpass that number.

But the offense was not really the story on Monday. It seems the thing missing last year was Rodney Harrison. Not necisarily him, personally, but his ability to get the team feeling like they were being disrespected, overlooked, and underappreciated by everyone else. For the first time in a while, that team looked around the locker room and knew that all they had was each other. If you don’t think that’s a powerful thing, you haven’t seen the difference between a team gelling on defense and a team not gelling on defense.

It’s night and day.

This time the lack of respect was brought up by the Hood Man himself. In the Patriots weekly newspaper, they post the “expert” picks from around the NFL. None of the experts picked New England, and most of them were down on the young defense, calling them the worst pass defense in the league. Bill Belichik thought it appropriate to share that with his team, and most of them did not appreciate the lack of faith from the leagues “experts”.

Yes, the defense needs work, but its hardly the worst in the league. The defense is young, and with that youth comes the propensity to make mistakes. Without veteran leadership from guys like Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi, who are, admittedly, the one-in-a-million type guys who lead without trying, some of the young guys fall apart when they make mistakes instead of fighting back.

This Patriots defense fought back, and fought back hard.

The first half wasn’t pretty. In fact, Miami would have scored another two touchdowns if it weren’t for Rob Ninkovich. But Ninkovich was prepared, he knew the routes Miami was running, and it paid off. So despite the fact that they gave up 400 yards, they only gave up 14 points. And I’ll take that any day. When they needed stops, they got them, and as such looked much, much better then they had the previous two weeks.

Which is good, because you can’t give up thirty points to Buffalo and have people take you seriously as a defense. But I was really impressed at how everyone stepped up their game this week. Mayo seemed to be all over the field, making tackles left and right, Banta-Cain got some good pressure in Henne, Patrick Chung made some outstanding plays and so did Rob Ninkovich.

The most important improvement from the defense this week was confidence. When the game was close, they held it together. They shut down the Dolphins and kept them down. And confidence can be built on. Now they know they have this sort of game in them, now they have a huge chip on their shoulder by being doubted so completely, now they are playing as a team.

Bill Belichick needs to take a page out of Doc River’s book and have his defense working on Ubuntu. It means “I am what I am because of who we all are”. It is the Celtics mantra, and what helps them remember that individuals do not win games, teams do.

So I am heading into the bye week with hope. Hope for the Patriots, and hope for that young defense.

And since the Red Sox are officially out, I’m going with my hometown boy Mike Cuddyer and saying “GO TWINS!”. This could also stem from a hatred of the Rays, dislike of the Texans, and a burning, intense hatred for the Skankees.