Lights. Camera. Action. Monday Night Football came to Foxborough, Massachusetts and the country got quite a show, as the Patriots made a statement to everyone watching that they may be the team to beat in the NFL. With their 42-14 rout of Houston, the Patriots (10-3) chances of a bye in the AFC for the playoffs have vastly improved, as there are now multiple scenarios that could land New England at home on their couches watching wild-card weekend instead of participating in the dreaded first-round of the playoffs.
Defense Becoming Consistent – Fast-forward to the 7-minute mark in the third quarter of Monday night’s game – the Texans had yet to score a single point. That alone shows how much this defense has turned their performance around in the past few weeks. After New England barely held on to beat the Bills in Week 9, the defense has proven that it can actually be a positive aspect of this club instead of its inevitable downfall. With Devin McCourty’s interception halfway through the first quarter, the Patriots are now 2nd in the NFL in takeaways and remain 1st in the league in turnover differential. If this defense can stay anywhere near as consistent as they’ve been in the past four weeks they will benefit greatly come playoff time.
Brady for MVP, Still – What has yet to be said about Tom Brady? He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He not only wins big games, but also has found a way to win these games decisively. His touchdown to interception ratio is through the roof, and oh yea he’s married to Giselle Bundchen. That’s a perfect score for MVP if you ask me (Giselle aside). Brady lives for these primetime games. Yes, Tom still gets up for the road games in Buffalo and the occasional home game against, say, Jacksonville, but at the end of the day he shines when the lights shine the brightest – in primetime. It took Brady’s 298 yard, 4 touchdown performance on Monday night to finally make the nation aware that he should not only be in the MVP discussion, but that he should be the front-runner for the coveted award at this point of the season. To quote myself from three weeks ago: “Brady for MVP: it could happen.”
Lloyd Responds to Pressure – Heading into Monday night’s clash against the Texans, veteran Brandon Lloyd received his fair share of criticism for a dip in production over the past few weeks. Lloyd silenced these critics early and often on Monday, as he totaled 89 yards receiving with 1 receiving touchdown and a recovered fumble for a touchdown for good measure. Lloyd had seemingly lost Brady’s trust over the past month, as he had dropped some passes and done a poor job of creating separation between himself and opposing defenders. Monday night was a whole different story, as Brandon knew he had to step his game up and he did just that. With Julian Edelman being place on injured reserve last week, Lloyd’s importance to the Patriots offense has significantly increased. He understands that he has to stay a top priority in this offense, but we won’t give him too much credit until he strings a few of these performances together in the coming weeks.
Regular Season Super Bowl Hype – Remember the Patriots road game in New Orleans on Monday Night Football in Week 11 of the 2009 season? Well, if you do, you would remember that that game had the type of hype you would come to expect for a Super Bowl as New England, who was 7-3 at the time, was deemed the toughest opponent that 10-0 Saints team would face all season. Well, anyway, the general consensus heading into that showdown was that we would learn the true identity of each club from the outcome of the contest. The Patriots went on to get blown out by a score of 38-17. They then went 3-2 the rest of the season and got crushed in their wild-card playoff game at home against Baltimore, 33-14. The Saints, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl that year and the rest is history. Anyway, heading into this past Monday night bout, the talk from the Houston locker room was how this was potentially their biggest game in the team’s history. While the Patriots carried the approach of Monday night being just another game, Houston and the national media made it out to be another “We’ll know how good these teams really are after tonight” type of game. Long story short, (or long story long) this game may be a measuring stick for how the rest of these respective team’s seasons unfold. New England is looking as good as they have all season, and the seemingly unbeatable Texans looked, well, very beatable. Only time will tell, but this game could have greater importance than just one win and one lose in the overall standings.
Bye, Bye, Bye (Pats three chances to clinch) – It’s mid-December in New England so you know what time it is – yes it’s time to talk about the Patriots chance of clinching a first-round bye for the playoffs. Looking at the top of the AFC, it has become apparent that the Patriots have three realistic ways in which they can receive this sought-after first round bye. The Pats best chance of clinching a bye would be to do the obvious and run the table through the rest of their schedule. The only true challenge left for New England is this Sunday night, as they host the battle-tested San Francisco 49ers in Foxboro. Winning their remaining three games would guarantee at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC for the playoffs. Monday Night’s win over Houston kept the possibility alive for the Patriots to potentially clinch the overall No. 1 seed in the AFC, yet that would imply that New England wins out, and that Houston loses one of their remaining three games (vs. Indianapolis, vs. Minnesota, at Indianapolis). This may seem to be a bit of a long shot, but the possibility still remains. The last realistic chance that New England could squeak out a bye is if they had a setback and lost one of their last three games, (most likely being San Francisco) but the Broncos also lost one of their remaining games (most likely coming at Baltimore). If this were to take place, then New England would go on to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC. All of these scenarios aside, the Pats can feel comfortable knowing that they have the luxury of controlling their own destiny.
Number of the Game – 472: The Patriots have now scored 472 points so far this season, while the second closest team in this category trails New England by 97 points (Broncos-375).
Up Next – The Patriots host the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday night at 8:20 PM.
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