by Greg Doyle

In 2001, the Patriots had to go into overtime in week 14 to beat Buffalo 12-9. Buffalo finished 3-13 that year. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2003, the Patriots had to go into overtime against Houston in week 12 before winning 23-20. Houston finished 5-11 that year. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2004, the Patriots played a very sloppy game, barely sneaking by 35-28, against a pre-playoff caliber Cincinnati team in week 14 and then went on to lose the following week against a bad Miami team that finished 4-12. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.

The point is, Sunday’s game did not bother me too much. They played poor, got the win against a bad opponent, but were pretty much in control at the end. Had that game gone a bit longer, it wouldn’t have been close. Sure, you’d like to see a superior team like the Patriots blow out an inferior team like the Lions. Call it human nature, the way the NFL is, whatever. It just happens sometimes. It doesn’t mean the Patriots didn’t care. It doesn’t mean they’re doomed the rest of the year. They just did what they had to do, and no more, and got the W. On to Miami. Lets take a look at each unit.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady played his third top-notch game in a row. He seems to finally found his rhythm this year. There was one bad throw that Dre Bly intecepted. But Bly is one of the top corners in the NFL at jumping routes and he got Brady. Not a big deal. Otherwise, Brady was on top of his game, completing 14 of 15 in the fourth quarter when the game was in the balance and spreading the ball around like a magician. He seems to be getting better and better as the season progresses, after a slow start, and that could be very good news if that trend continues into the playoffs.

RUNNING BACK: A so-so day. Laurence Maroney got injured early after a somewhat promising start. Corey Dillon didn’t produce much yardage, but did display good, hard running in the red zone and racked up three touchdowns. Kevin Faulk had his best game of the year, doing yeoman’s work catching the ball out of the backfield. Patrick Pass got back involved, but had a costly fumble. He did make a nice play on a screen pass that went for sixteen yards.

WIDE RECEIVER: A great day for Reche Caldwell once again. This guy is getting better and better as well, almost in sync with Brady in their progression. It seems humorous at this point to look back at how this signing was ridiculed by some in the preseason when he has turned out to be one of the best signings of last off-season in the entire NFL. None of the other receiver did too much, though Jabar Gaffney chipped in a nice 28 yard reception and Troy Brown did good work on a reverse.

TIGHT END: A good day for Daniel Graham. Ben Watson had a lost fumble and holding onto the ball has become an issue with him. If he could only correct that, you’d have a top tight end in the NFL. But until he corrects that, you can’t consider him that way. It is important to remember this is really his second season in the NFL when one considers he lost his rookie year to injury, so he’ll continue to improve. But being sure handed is an issue he needs to work on.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Decent protection for most of the day from this group. Nick Kaczur did have a holding penalty which wiped out a nice gain. And the run game was stagnant against a defensive line missing their best run stuffer. This group hasn’t played quite as well recently as they did early in the year and you’d like to see them do a better job, particularly in run blocking, heading into the playoffs.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A great day once again for Ty Warren. I may have said this several times this year, but if he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl its a crime. He hasn’t just been one of the best Patriots players, he has been one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL this year as far as I can see. Richard Seymour also had a nice day and managed to tip a couple balls. Mike Wright came in and caused some disruption and also recovered a fumble.

LINEBACKER: Pretty solid, overall, with a few hiccups. Roosevelt Colvin was hit or miss. He caused some pressure rushing the passer, but got sucked inside several times on run plays and also missed some plays on screen passes. So his day overall wasn’t great. Mike Vrabel looked comfortable inside at linebacker and had two interceptions, but his replacement outside Tully Banta-Cain didn’t do much. We’ll chalk Banta-Cain’s invisible day to unfamiliarity with his now every-down role. Give it time. He’s got ability and should improve.

DEFENSIVE BACK: A good day once again for Asante Samuel. Chad Scott replaced Ellis Hobbs frequently and was back from injury, but looked rusty and had a bad day. Hobbs wasn’t great either when he came back in. Both of which may help explain the signing of Ray Mickens at corner this week. Artrell Hawkins had a nice day. And James Sanders was again active in run support and had a decent day. When Hawkins got banged up and Rashard Baker came in briefly for him at safety, it was a disaster and Baker was confused and out of position, allowing for a couple decent gains. Safety depth could be an issue until Rodney Harrison gets back.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Good day for the coverage teams and Ken Walter did not allow any return yardage himself.

Miami is up next. Should be a tough game even though Miami isn’t a great team. The Patriots have traditionally struggled there and Miami always gets up to play them and play them physically. Until then.