by the Patriots Daily Staff

First, let’s pause and give thanks for that for once, the Patriots are playing a game on Sunday afternoon. I suppose four consecutive prime-time games would have been excessive.

Second, let’s also give thanks that the PD Kitchen Staff is back with a hardworking, straightforward Patriots Buffet Table fit for a steel worker.

With that out of the way, let’s head to the Roundtable and listen in as the boys knock around the latest:  

After tearing through most of their schedule untouched by human hands, the Patriots have now completed two straight fourth quarter comebacks to remain undefeated. How much of these last two games can be credited to excellent game plans and execution by the opponents, and how much has been due to a step back in play by the Pats?

Scott Benson: All due credit to two teams that brought their best game to the Patriots. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the defense isn’t playing particularly well, though I think you have to be heartened by the fact that three times in the last month they have rallied to make 4th quarter stops to give the offense a chance to win the game. To me the question is whether they can keep it up as fatigue and injuries become more of a factor. Probably the best hope they have is for the offense to give them back those big early leads they enjoyed earlier in the season. I’m not sure there’s a necessarily a better ‘fix’ on the horizon.

Greg Doyle: Indianapolis lost 44-17 in week 13 last year and gave up a remarkable number of rushing yards. They were pushed around all over the field. But in the grand scheme of things, it made no difference to what would happen later on. In the same way, it just doesn’t matter what happened last week in Baltimore. In two weeks, something new will have happened, for better or for worse, and that will be everyone’s focus. Two weeks ago they beat Buffalo 56-10. Now they’re supposedly in trouble? And if they dominate this week, they’ll be the greatest team in history again? Does anyone remember that the 1988 49ers lost two consecutive games to the Cardinals and Raiders in weeks 10 and 11, both of whom were 7-9 teams? Of course not, All they remember is the 49ers later went on to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots didn’t lose and yet I sense there is this strange sense of panic among fans and the media. They were tired on the road, with the other team treating it like their Super Bowl, and they still won. Period. I know this, whatever happens….in two weeks the conventional wisdom will be different than it is today.

Bruce Allen: Teams are definitely keyed up each week to play the Patriots, and as the season has gone on, opposing scouts have been able to find ways to attack the defense and keep the offense off the field. It’s a long season, and every team goes through a little bit of a funk during the 16 game schedule. The Patriots haven’t lost a game yet, (Although a caller to WEEI this week did give out his reasons for “why the Patriots are losing.”) but they’re not executing as well as they were earlier in the year. I think we can attribute it to a number of things.

Dan Snapp: I think the manner in which they lost is what’s driving perception here. Wait, what’s that? They won both games? Seriously, though, when your run defense gets beat up as bad as the Patriots did Monday, it leads people to think the team is reeling. As Greg said, think about how vulnerable we thought the Colts were last year after the Jaguars hit them up for record yardage. I don’t care about Philly’s or Baltimore’s records. Both had excellent game plans and great execution, better than what we saw from Dallas.

Travis Graham: In Belichick’s post-game interview I heard him praise Raven’s LT Jon Ogden’s performance and he said that Ogden was “one of the best in the league” and probably the “best ever” to play that position. Last night I was bored, so I watched the game film and focused on Ogden. He really was a beast. Every big running play for the Ravens started with Ogden pushing the Pats DE five yards back and McGahee running right behind Ogden. Every one. Seymour was the one who mostly got schooled and Jarvis Green wasn’t far behind. On passing plays, Ogden made sure that nobody would touch Boller’s blind side, so the Patriots had to become one dimensional by bringing the pass rush exclusively from the right. Ogden was clearly the MVP for the Ravens in that game, and the good news for the Pats is that they won’t have to face him again this year.

Scott: In this morning’s Globe, Mike Reiss has a good article on the Pats struggles in run defense Monday night

This week the Pats entertain their longtime rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the line is New England’s undefeated record, but not its AFC lead, as the Steelers currently trail the Pats by three games in the loss column. How big is Sunday’s game for the Patriots?

Scott: I’m sick of this undefeated stuff already. What does is do for you unless you go undefeated through the Super Bowl? You don’t need to be undefeated to get first seed in the playoff bracket (though it helps), and let’s face it, that’s all you can really do with any regular season. The Steelers can tighten up the race to the first seed a bit with a win, but as noted, one loss wouldn’t kill the Pats there either. Still, it feels like a huge game to me. This type of team is exactly who the Patriots will have to beat in January, so in that sense, its important that they play well against the Steelers.

Travis: If you don’t put much weight in going 16-0, then I don’t think it’s very important at all. I can’t see the Pats losing to the Jets or Miami in the coming weeks, so with those two wins they clinch everything. Personally, I would like to see them run the table, so for me this one’s big. I’m glad they are at home for this one.

Greg: Well, it’s big in that I think a win pretty much ends any shot at all, even a long shot, that they could lose the number one seed. And they need to right the ship a bit in terms of their level of play. I know an undefeated season is secondary. They can still accomplish every goal with or without that. But it is historic and something that will long be remembered if they can pull it off. A win on Sunday may be the last, major obstacle to accomplishing that.

Bruce: It’s a much bigger game for the Steelers, as the Patriots are in very good shape for postseason positioning. If you’re concerned about the perfect record, the Steelers could present a stiff challenge, as they do a lot of the same things that the Ravens did…only better. Whenever these two teams get together there also seems to be a lot of drama, and this week is shaping up as no different. The Patriots could use a good showing this week to give them a little boost and also to shut up yappers who are saying that they’re ripe for defeat.

Dan: The Steelers lost to the Jets and barely beat the winless Dolphins. Where’s the hue and cry about their vulnerabilities? A win here would be big for our own edification, as it would shut up the self-entitled Steelers. Aww, who am I kidding? Nothing shuts those jerks up.