The bye week is a time for focus.
Whether it be immediate improvement on the defensive front or trying new options offensively, the bye week is the prime time to do so.
As for the New England Patriots, it was during their bye week when they unexpectedly said goodbye to one of the league’s best offensive weapons: wide receiver Randy Moss. Once the dust settled, the Patriots traded Moss to the Minnesota Vikings for a 2011 draft pick.
This wasn’t the only event that happened during the Patriots’ bye week as a familiar face gladly made his way back to Foxboro, Massachusetts. Acquired from the Seattle Seahawks, wide receiver Deion Branch, the original top slot option for Brady, was all smiles during his first press conference back as a New England Patriot.
Branch had plenty to be happy about, as it was his stellar and surprising performance that greatly contributed to the Patriots victory over the Baltimore Ravens with a final score of 23-20 in overtime. After the win, the Patriots are now 4-1.
When asked how he felt about returning to Gillette Stadium, Branch replied with a smile, “...It's like I never left. I truly appreciate the support from the fans. It feels like it's my family.”
The Patriots were not perfect against the Ravens, even Branch admitted to his in-game mistakes during the post-game press conference. That being said, it would only be fair to give some praise to the Patriots defense who, surprisingly, just never quit.
The Patriots defense has been discussed, debated and broken down in every way possible. This time around, the talk was full of high praise. Bill Belichick explained,
“We kept playing hard and we eventually got a couple stops there in that overtime period.We were able to give our offense enough field position to eventually get it in there for the kick. [It was] team defense”
The defense’s revamped performance in the second half and overtime is what helped secure the win for New England.
Pass rushers are in high demand in New England and since rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham has recently been able to contribute; this need is finally being met. Cunningham managed five total tacklers, one sack and a forced fumble during Sunday’s game. Bill Belichick praised the Florida rookie during his press conference on Monday.
“He had a good pass rush there, got a holding [penalty] on [Michael] Oher. Made some plays in the running game. He still has a long way to go, but he’s working hard and I thought he did play very aggressively, which is what we need at that position.”
Another notable performance has been by linebacker Jerod Mayo has been amassed a total of 35 total tackles in the last two games.
While it was a notable performance for the defense, a jarring play that included Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Ravens tight end Todd Heap was a little too scary to watch. After making a catch, Heap was hit helmet-to-helmet with Meriweather who later defended his aggressive approach to the game. Meriweather’s hit was one of many on Sunday that has drawn the attention of safety concerns for players and also the necessary consequences for such hits.
Brady’s Struggles and Branch’s Return
As the Patriots defense was able to come up with some much needed plays to secure a chance at a win, quarterback Tom Brady and the offense were not nearly as dominant.
The debut of Deion Branch added some familiarity to the offense but overall, the Baltimore offense more of a productive showing. Brady completed only 27 of 44 passes for 292 yards, three sacks and two interceptions. The Ravens’ Joe Flacco was above average with a quarterback rating of 119.3. Flacco completed 27 of 35 passes for 285 yards although he was sacked twice, he managed to stay interception-free.
The Patriots time of possession is another area of concern. In the last two wins, the Patriots offense has not had much time on the field. Against the Ravens (an overtime game), the Patriots possessed the ball for 32:50, while Baltimore controlled the game flow for 40:14. Brady also discussed what shorter time of possession can force an offense to do.
“You have to be able to protect the defense when they've been on the field for a while, we have to go out there and put together drives.”
On the receiving end of the more successful drives was the familiar Deion Branch. Branch’s return was a stellar one as he completed the game with nine receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Branch also averaged 10.9 yards per catch.
When Bill Belichick was asked about what two skills of Branch’s were the best, he simply replied, “He can get open and catch the ball. Don't make it too complicated.”
There’s no guarantee as to whether or not Branch will maintain this level of productivity as Branch is now 31 years old and is entering his ninth year in the NFL. Regardless of what the rest of how the rest of the season will turn out, Branch’s return to the Patriots has been beneficial for the team so far.
Special Teams Continue to Produce
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was back to his usual accurate self on Sunday going three for three in field goal attempts including the game winning 35 yard kick in overtime.
Gostkowski spoke about the difficulties of being a kicker, “As a field goal kicker you can't make your own opportunities.”
As he enters his fifth year as the Patriots only kicker, Gostkowski has become very familiar with the teamwork mindset, “...when you get an opportunity to come through for your team it’s very rewarding to be the last person to touch the ball and come off winners.”
Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko also had one of his better games with a game changing 65 yard punt in overtime that forced Flacco to start at the Baltimore 20 yard line. The drive ended with a punt and gave the Patriots enough time and adequate field position to set up the Gostkowski field goal.
The Patriots are becoming a team with a rather short memory. Never one to relish in success too long, Bill Belichick commended the team’s performance but has already started to look ahead to Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.
Although the Chargers will be without tight end Antonio Gates (toe injury) and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hamstring injury), they are still a team holding onto a 2-4 record and a lot to prove. With the passing game hindered, look for the Chargers to go to running backs Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles to add more depth to their offensive scheme.
The Patriots will face the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, October 24, 2010. The Patriots will face the Chargers on the road at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. Kickoff is set for 4:15 p.m.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check back for regular updates by Kisha